Turkey, NATO Syndrome and Cessation of Hostilities in Syria

Monday, March 7, 2016

Behzad Khoshandam
Ph.D. in International Relations & Expert on International Issues

The type of political game, the game played by actors, rules of the game, coalitions formed among actors, solution of the game, and the result of the game in the Middle East have been subject of frequent protests and criticism by various players, including Kurds for many decades. Due to this concern, Turkish officials have been constantly negating realities as well as expectations of their own citizens and peripheral actors in order to achieve their ethnic and partisan goals through membership in, attracting the support of, or participation in such security intuitions as the NATO and the European Union (EU) in a bid to cover these ethnic concerns.

After the official implementation of the cessation of hostilities in Syria’s strategic crisis started as of February 27, 2016, Turkish politicians, including the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saw their plans and aspirations with respect to Syria in a deadlock. Therefore, they formed an ad hoc coalition with Saudi Arabia, other Arab countries, terrorist groups and Israel in order to put pressure on Kurds and other solution-oriented actors, who insist on the political process and diplomacy, in order to keep the Syria crisis going and cause it to look like a global crisis in the future outlook.

An example of this way of thinking in Turkey was reflected in remarks made by Erdogan in opposition to the political trend aimed at resolving the Syria crisis on Wednesday, February 24, 2016. In those remarks, he said that Kurdish militants should not be part of the Syria ceasefire process just as is the case with Daesh and other extremist jihadist groups, including al-Nusra Front. By showing this reaction, Erdogan actually implied that solutions sought to Syria crisis by the West, the United States, Russia, Iran, the EU and the UN were all the same, while accusing all of them of seeking their own interests in Syria.

When new groupings made their debut after the beginning of the Syria war in 2011, and following the rise of Daesh, conclusion of the Iran deal and consensus among major actors to return to the Iran option in order to boost effectiveness of the political process in Syria, Turkish statesmen took reactive measures to get the NATO in line with their ambitious regional policies, especially in Syria. They have been making great efforts in this regard, especially after Russia started its airstrikes in Syria in September 2015, and after Turkey’s F-16 fighter jet downed Russia’s Sukhoi bomber over Syria. Through such provocative and instrumentalist behavior in resorting to the NATO under the excuse of resolving the Syria crisis, Turkey has been trying to cover up its domestic ethnic, religious and sectarian concerns. In doing this, Turkish officials have been trying to take advantage of the serious hostility in NATO’s relations with Russia over the past few years and have spared no effort to bank on NATO-Russia hostilities in  line with Ankara’s western-minded goals.

Following talks about possible entry of Turkish and Saudi forces into Syria in early 2016, the NATO and some Western officials, including the foreign minister of Luxembourg, indicated their indirect opposition to this decision by announcing that they would not support Turkey in case of waging a possible unilateral war in Syria. These positions, however, elicited remarkable reactions from Turkish officials against the NATO and Luxembourg. On the other hand, the reaction shown by Russia to an effort by Georgia, Ukraine and Montenegro to join NATO through aggressive and preventive tactical moves in Syria, and describing Serbia’s effort to engage in more serious cooperation with the NATO as the “Stockholm syndrome,” clearly showed high sensitivity of Russians toward the NATO even under present circumstances.

Under these conditions, when the NATO is on course for serious confrontation with Russia, Turkey is trying to widen the gap between international and regional interests, values, goals and approaches of Russia by attracting cooperation of the NATO, the EU, and the UN in order to achieve its western-minded goals. The point is that according to essential goals and the statute of the NATO, which is based on the “collective security” doctrine, the euro-Atlantic front is traditionally focused on fighting off global threats and challenges, including in case of more serious confrontation between the NATO and Russia. Turkey’s effort to push the NATO in the direction of confrontation with major nation-states in the Middle East, citizens in this region and asylum seekers, who are moving toward Europe, is like putting this organization on course for increasing lack of identity in the third millennium.

The return by the Western front to the Iran option since late October 2015, which has been aimed at making the most of relative advantages of regional actors like Iran for the resolution of the Syria crisis, has not been desirable to Turkey on the basis of the country’s regional rivalries, its Westernized and anti-regional foreign policy, and also due to its extreme ethnic tendencies. After both the United States and Russia gave the green light to cessation of hostilities in Syria based on an agreement endorsed by the two countries’ foreign ministers, John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov, negotiations between the NATO and Russia, which were suspended about two years ago, would be possibly resumed. There are also fears that following decisions that will be made by leaders of the NATO during their July 2016 Summit in Warsaw, NATO – Russia, NATO – Turkey, NATO – Middle East, and NATO – Syria relations would become more complicated.

According to the philosophy of the balance of power, as well as intentions and expectations of actors in the Middle East, no actor can be considered as the main and determining actor on its own. Iran is one of the actors, which play a role in emerging developments related to strategic, political and geopolitical architecture of the region. Out of all different options, the option of resorting to Iran’s approach is one of the cooperative and result-based solutions for the promotion of the political process in Syria as opposed to Turkish – Russian, Egyptian, Israel, Saudi, Western, Chinese, European, Arab and other options, which cannot be rejected by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and even the NATO. According to the NATO’s philosophy and orientations, rights of neighborhood, balance of powers, principles of sovereignty, equality and equity, demands of the public opinion and the civil society, as well as concerns of all legitimate actors in the Middle East, including Kurds, Turkish government and Erdogan himself would be future losers and main victims of the forthcoming political process in Syria if they continue to insist on their current positions and orientation.

Key WordsTurkey, NATO, Syndrome, Cessation, Hostilities, Syria, European Union, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kurdish Militants, Daesh, Iran Deal, Iran Option, Russia, Saudi Forces, John Kerry, Sergei Lavrov, Khoshandam

More By Behzad Khoshandam:

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*Photo Credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

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