Cold war? Not really
The Syria crisis has not only crystallized sectarian lines between Sunni and Shiite Islam, it has also crystallized Cold War-like polarization: the West, Gulf monarchies, Turkey and Egypt on the one hand and Syria, Iran, China, Russia, Iraq, non-state actors such as Hezbollah, and emerging powers such as India and Brazil on the other. While the dust of the Cold War has certainly been kicked up, don’t let it impede your visibility.
After a Syrian commercial airplane was forced by Turkish officials to land in Ankara on its way from Moscow to Damascus on Oct. 10, there was much speculation about rising tension between Turkey and Russia. Yet, just four days later Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the incident wouldn’t hurt Turkey-Russia relations. He even justified Turkey’s action by saying it acted within rights stemming from the 1944 Chicago Convention. The two countries have apparently agreed to disagree over Syria by decoupling this issue from other areas of cooperation. Just as they did after Turkey’s decision to host a U.S. radar system in Turkey’s territory as part of the Alliance’s missile defense project.
The United States and Russia, on the other hand, are having a proxy war in the region. The U.S. will soon launch a major joint military exercise with Israel, announced to be the largest in their longstanding relationship. Russia, on the other hand, has become the world’s largest arms exporter after the U.S. As the main arms provider to Iran and Syria, it has very recently concluded a huge arms deal with Iraq. Yet, the U.S. and Russia also seem to be having a way with each other. Referring to the Russian military equipment detained by Turkey last week, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the equipment was being delivered to Syria in line with earlier signed contracts. Meanwhile, Russia had approved the UN statement condemning Syria’s shelling of the southeastern Turkish town Akçakale.
Amid speculation about deteriorating Turkey-Iran relations, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met at the Economic Cooperation Organization Summit in Baku last week. Ahmadinejad, as the leader of Syria’s main regional ally, concurred that Turkey is justified in its reaction towards Syria, referring to the incident in Akçakale.
And so it goes. Apparently, key players distance themselves from debacle. If there was ever a moment for rising tension and reviving the Cold War, this is probably it. Seldom has polarization come with so distinct fault lines. Yet, it is highly unlikely to expect key countries to tolerate long-term deterioration in their relations. Not only because the Syria crisis would develop into a much broader and deadly regional conflict. Interests are so intermingled today that they desperately need each other. And in this hyperconnected world, states proved to be able to contain crises much better than ever in history.
The spirit of the Cold War has long gone. Now “agreeing to disagree” rules.