Objectives in Turkish foreign policy
Turkey has been facing an array of foreign policy challenges. How to tackle them and what objectives the country should have in trying to resolve them have been questions not only difficult to answer, but most of the time as much as Turkey’s resolve, the position, expectations, interests of the other parties to those matters play a major role in making the issues indeed intractable ones.
It is rather simplistic and indeed easy to say Turkey supports the integrity of Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Preserving geographic or cultural neighbors’ territorial integrity is of course an honorable and respectable position. But, if in the case of Syria, for example, Turkey continues to shun the government in Damascus, consider the president of that country “illegitimate,” abet and support some “mild Islamist” groups – considered by most allies of Ankara as no different than the ISIL terrorist group – can it be possible for Turkey to indeed contribute to the integrity of Syria? If Syria’s integrity, as much as the reestablishment of some sort of normalcy and government rule, is a requirement for Turkey’s national security, should Turkey not have patched up relations long ago with the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus?
The Dec. 14 declaration of American President Donald Trump to withdraw from Syria with the expectation that Turkey would deal with whatever is left of ISIL in Syria was a major step taken in the right direction by Washington. The declaration managed to halt at least for now a probable mishap: Turkey engaging in a major gamble in Syria with a major operation on the self-rule elements Ankara has been considering as the Syrian wing of the PKK separatist group, which is on the terror group lists of both the EU and the United States. Yet, despite the clear and declared organic links between the PKK and Kurdish groups in northern Syria, some of Turkey’s key allies continue actively and publicly to support them, providing truckloads of heavy weaponry and ammunition without feeling a bit concerned of betraying interests or endangering the national security of their NATO ally Turkey. The U.S. move, therefore, was a very important development, though there are already signs, as was seen in the latest remarks of top U.S. officials in Washington as well as during a trip to Turkey this week. Of course, rather than American withdrawal, how will the U.S. go and what will happen to the American bases as well as the truckloads of weapons systems and ammunition so far provided to northern Syria groups with a pledge that they would all be collected when the U.S. would leave the region? Ankara is demanding those bases be given to them while Russia and the Damascus government, in cooperation with northern Syrian groups, prepare to re-establish government rule in those areas.
Now, talk of a military operation into the Kurdish-populated eastern Euphrates area of Syria has resumed in Ankara once again. Will such an operation contribute to Turkey’s interests? What will be the situation of the Astana process or, more important, what will be the fallout of such a move on fragile Turkish-Russian relations?
On the other hand, Turkey ought to be determined to eliminate what it describes as the “terror corridor” in northern Syria. But as Turks were telling Americans, can one really defat a terrorist group by aligning with another terrorist group?
Another important problem has been the Cyprus issue. For Ankara it became clear a long time ago that Greek Cypriots were not at all interested in a power-sharing deal with Turkish Cypriots and therefore a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation based on political equality of the two people of the island was not an achievable target. The U.N. chief reached the same conclusion in Crans Montana when although almost all demands of the Greek Cypriots were agreed to (verbally of course) the Greek Cypriot leader walked out saying he cannot sell such a deal to his people. Of course, publicly he cited disagreements over the guarantee system and the withdrawal of Turkish troops, but everyone interested in the Cyprus issue saw what the real reason was. Now, there are claims that as early as May a new round of talks might kick off. How, with what objective or will the new process have a timetable and a deadline as Turkey and Turkish Cypriots demand? Or will the new process serve once again the Greek Cypriot legitimacy designs?