Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Prospects of U.S.-Turkish Strategic Cooperation In the Syrian Crisis

On Monday February 13th, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Turkish foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu held a press conference in Washington in which both accused the Syrian regime of escalating violence and using artillery against civilians. They also expressed their support for the proposal of sending Arab troops to Syria after the Arab League announced its intention to formally request the Security Council to send a joint peacekeeping force to Syria.
Hillary Clinton stressed that "Washington strongly supports the efforts of the Arab League initiative on Syria." She added that the United States is working with Turkey to address the humanitarian problems in the country, stressing that the two countries "are determined to allow materials to enter urgently" to Syria.

Clinton also confirmed that the United States is "eagerly" looking forward to join the "Friends of Syria" initiative. On his part, Davutoglu considered the meeting in Tunisia, scheduled on February 24th, to be "an important international platform to show our solidarity with the Syrian people and to send a strong and clear message, to the Syrian regime that it cannot continue repression". Clinton pointed out that it will work with her ​​Turkish counterpart to intensify diplomatic pressure on the Syrian regime and "to stop the campaign of violence", and noted that the tighten pressure will sanction targeted aspects[1].


According to the Turkish newspaper “Sabah”[2], which is very close to Recipe Tayyip Erdogan government, in an article published in the 16th of February: Ankara favors the establishment of «humanitarian corridor» to Syria from the Mediterranean and not from the Turkish territories, because the Turks are not enthusiastic about the idea of ​​opening their borders to serve as the «humanitarian corridor» due to the security risks shrouded in such an option, in addition to the fact that such decision needs the approval of the Turkish Parliament. However, this does not apply to humanitarian waterway (humanitarian waterways do not require the approval of the parliament). The newspaper justified Turkey's refusal to convert its borders with Syria to a «humanitarian corridor» that such step requires the approval of the Syrian government and that, of course, will never happen. Therefore, the newspaper deduced that military intervention should come next to the option of humanitarian corridor.

To elaborate more on Turkey’s position, the newspaper claimed that the Minister Ahmet Davutoglu discussed the idea of ​​ sea access to Syria with his U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton during his visit to Washington. Upon return to Turkey, Davutoglu told reporters he hoped that obstacles impeding the application of the «humanitarian corridor» option will vanish without explaining the type of «corridor» they agreed (or did not agree) on and the nature of the so-called constraints. But, according to Turkish newspaper sources, the Turkish authorities believes that the best solution to the Syrian matter lies in establishing a « Naval humanitarian corridor» to Syria from the British military base in Cyprus.

In this context, the ​​«humanitarian corridor» option will be carried out under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which regulates the forms of foreign intervention for humanitarian purposes, despite the continued Russian and Chinese veto. On this subject, the newspaper mentioned that Ankara is still convinced that the UN's role is crucial in the Syrian crisis; therefore, Turkey intends to sponsor the “naval humanitarian corridor proceeding from the British base on the island of Cyprus” option at the “Friends of Syria” convention.
Davutoglu is expected to deliver a strong message to the Syrian regime at the Friends of Syria Conference, in parallel with his call for the United Nations to intervene to provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.
According to inside resources in the Turkish Foreign Ministry, during the Tunisian conference Turkey intends to suggest tightening diplomatic pressure on Damascus in conjunction with the establishment of humanitarian corridors[3].


Based on Davutoglu’s remarks in Washington and after he went back to Turkey, Ankara seems to be reluctant to interfere directly in Syria, whether by military or by humanitarian interventions-. Turkey is throwing the ball in the United States, the UN, and the NATO’s court.

There were many reasons behind Ankara’s behavior. The Turkish economic boom in the past decade is based mainly on exports. This boom made the Turkish economy the eighteenth in the world, and formed one of the most important causes behind the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) sequence electoral victories. Thus, the prolonged Syrian crisis and the economic sanctions are forcing the AKP government to search for alternative routes to Southern importing markets, including the Gulf markets, not to mention the Syrian market itself which constitute one of the most important commercial revenue sources for Turkey. Thus, in light of huge budget deficits and debt, undesirable consequences are forcing Turkey to carry out many calculations before embarking on political and military steps with a direct economic reflection on the export capacity.


Another reason for Ankara’s hesitation towards Syria is Iran. For the past few years, Ankara made sure to be friendly with Iran, as it appeared to be concerned with cooperation and coordination with the Iranians on many regional as well as bilateral issues especially issues stemming from the Iranian nuclear proliferation and Tehran problems with Western countries.

In fact, Ankara is forced to calculate the expense of the Iranian military power and the possibilities of sever Iranian reaction in case Turkey decided to go ahead with military intervention. The Turkish National Security Council[4] made a clear and decisive decision that the Turkish military will not intervene in Syria because it means Turkey will enter in a war with Iran and there is no need for Turkey to go to war with a country in the size of Iran. Despite the Council’s confidence in the Turkish armed forces capabilities and its Atlantic alliance, any involvement in war with Iran will not bring any benefit to the Turkish people. The Iranian decision to declare war on the Republic of Turkey to retaliate any Turkish intervention in Syria is not a maneuver, but is the decision of the Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei, who recently sent one of the closest politicians to Syria to hold the post of ambassador there.
Iranians consider toppling the Syrian regime by foreign military forces as mere prelude to attacking Iran, so they are fully prepared to retaliate and defend their existence and they conveyed their position to Ankara and Washington. Therefore, institutions of the Turkish army will not allow the AKP to take the country into disaster; Turkey will not benefit anything at all.


Finally, there is a lot written recently about the Kurds and Syrians Alawites effect on Turkish internal stability and security. In this subject, we can easily notice that Syrian and Turkish domestic affairs intertwine especially in the shadow of the continuing war between Ankara and the "PKK" and the Turkish Alawites support to Turkey's secular parties against the "AKP", whether the left-wing parties or high rank officers in the army.
Syria can employ the Kurdish pressure on Turkey, and if it moved the Kurdish separatist movements in the south of Turkey, this can cause a severe internal instability that the AKP cannot afford and the reaction of the Turkish military might lead to unpredictable consequences internally and externally.


On the other side of the equation, the United States and the NATO do not want the ‘ball thrown by the Turks to their court’. According to Reuters, the Secretary General of NATOAnders Fogh Rasmussen’ declared on Friday, February 17 that the alliance will not provide technical assistance to ensure corridors for humanitarian aid to Syria. He also ruled out the possibility of NATO intervention in any way in Syria, stressing that a regional solution must be the framework to resolve the Syrian conflict. The NATO Secretary General expressed his conviction that the Syrian crisis cannot end except by achieving political changes designed to meet the democratic aspirations of the people. He said that the recurrence of the Libyan scenario in Syria is impossible, because "the structure of the Syrian society is different," and that it is "more complex from ethnic, political and religious perspectives".
These remarks Rasmussen made ​​during his visit to Ankara on the occasion of 60th anniversary of accepting Turkey in NATO[5]. This means that the NATO still wants Turkey to take the lead in any actions against the Syrian regime.


For President Barack Obama, the priority is to find a way to support the Syrian pro-democracy opposition forces, without feeding the conflict, which can be extended across the Middle East, knowing that Bashar al-Assad already threatened to ignite a horrific regional war if there is any military intervention in Syria in Davutoglu’s last visit. But how can the NATO and the United States avoid regional war and solve the Syrian crisis facing a rigid situation like this?


Washington knows that until last year Turkey was an ally to the Syrian regime, but it has emerged in recent months as one of the main competitors and opponents of al-Assad.

Turkey presented itself as one of the most important U.S. policy allies in the Middle East and the Caucasus on the bases of several considerations including:

• Turkey’s important role as a window to many regional axes and countries of particular importance to Washington, like Israel, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, and its central role in the maintenance of stability in the belt extending from central Europe to the borders of India and Russia.
The strategic location of Turkey as a naval corridor that runs through the Black Sea, Caucasus and the Mediterranean.

Turkey as a corridor for reserve supply of oil and gas from Central Asia to Europe via a line (Jehan - Baku) as an alternative to the Russian line that extends across the Ukraine.

• U.S consideration of Turkey as a model for Muslim democracy that has a close alliance with the United States which may help in improving the U.S. image in the Middle East.


In this context, the United States considers Turkey a useful ally not only in Syrian issue but the entire Arab Spring and the Middle East. It seemed clear that the more involvement of Turkey in the files of the Middle East, the greater the United States demand its cooperation and partnership.
So, Turkey engaged in the Syrian crisis on behalf of the United States. The Turkish policy and scenarios in Syria were as follows: -


1 – Turkey’s attempts to direct and exploit so-called moderate Islamic groups such as the Brotherhood (whose Islamic model is the only one consider acceptable by the United States in the region because it is totally incompatible with the sectarian system on which the Syrian-Iranian Shiite alliance is built) who came to the political forefront in all the meetings held by the opposition. Turkey made a great effort to present them as the most influential political force in Syria.

2 – The Turkish efforts to pressure the Syrian regime in order to weaken it politically and economically both internally and externally. The Turkish declaration that it will tighten the screws on the Syrian regime economically came after the U.S. failure to pass a Security Council resolution to tighten the noose on Syria, which collided with the Russian-Chinese veto.

3 - Turkey’s efforts to control all possible scenarios and developments in the Syrian Revolution. While trying to weaken the Syrian regime politically and economically, Turkey is working on the other hand, to play the role of guardian of the opposition political parties through organizing numerous meetings, uniting them in one front, and establishing the Transitional Council that will lead any future change after the collapse of al-Assad regime.

4 - Harboring dissidents from the Syrian army who could become the basis of any military solution to the situation in Syria.

5 - in respect of any possible military intervention in Syria, at the beginning, Turkey was ready to play the role required of it on behalf of the United State who understood very well that any direct U.S. of NATO military intervention in Syria could be used by the Syrian regime to ignite the entire region in war without the possibility of determining or controlling the outcomes. It is a certainty that the possible military scenario in Syria will be creating a safe zone for refugees (humanitarian corridors) near the Turkish border in a specific depth inside Syrian territory, which might turn to springboard to launch attacks on the Syrian army . Such territories will be under the supervision of the Turkish army and the Turkish government and thus will ensure Turkey’s involvement in arranging the military and political scenes in Syria. It will also ensure the Turkish pressure on the opposition to weaken the expected political role of the Kurds in Syria after Bashar.


The United States has been so far cautious in approaching the Syrian crisis; the administration officials insist that the focus remains on supporting the Syrian people without stoking the conflict. Yet, the biggest disappointment of the United Sates from its Turkish ally is Ankara's failure to provide any concrete solutions to the situation in Syria or succeed in its attempts. Although we do not know much about the meetings’ content between Clinton and Davutoglu, but media sources indicated that the Turkish Foreign Minister has repeatedly shown floating and loose position. But despite the "sensitive" internal Turkish concerns about the latest developments in Syria, U.S. officials accuse their Turkish counterparts by “too many words and few deeds." In this context, it was revealed that Washington thought that it can depend on Ankara to provide the free Syrian army with logistics support to enhance its combat capabilities in the face of Assad forces. There are also leaks that the Defense Department made plans for military intervention in Syria, and Turkey would be in the forefront of the military campaign with the participation of Arab countries and the backup of the U.S. and Europeans. But Turkey has not shown enthusiasm for any military intervention in Syria due to the risks Ankara fears (which we mentioned earlier).


However, without the Turkish cooperation, any military intervention in Syria will be impossible. Syria is strongly backed by Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Russia, and China and if the last two continue to use their veto against Security Council decisions the situation will escalate and Turkey will have to lead the intervention to stop the humanitarian tragedy in Syria. This scenario is not far from becoming a reality.




[1] U.S. State Department "Remarks Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu After Their Meeting", Hillary Rodham Clinton Secretary of State, Treaty Room, Washington, D.C, February 13, 2012 <>
[2] SABAH, "Davutoglu and Clinton discuss solutions and delivering aid for Syria", February 14, 2012
[3]SABAH, "Davutoglu and Clinton discuss solutions and delivering aid for Syria", February 14, 2012
[4] Includes the President and the Prime Minister and Chief of Staff and commanders of maritime power, air and land in the Turkish armed forces

[5] See Rasmussen remarks at the following link: Reuters <>

No comments:

Post a Comment