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PINAR TREMBLAY

CONTRIBUTOR > What are the Turkish national interests in Syria?

PINAR TREMBLAY

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When designing foreign policy, one first has to clarify what the national interests are, then try to generate a strategy to best achieve these goals. This is easier said than done. We all know that the survival of the state is the most crucial goal for every nation, yet, how do we define survival? What it means for the Norway of 2010 is not the same as for the Israel of 1967. National interests are dynamic-, time- and context-dependent. Even if slogans like “in the name of our national interests” remain the same, what these words mean change constantly. Sometimes change happens before scholars and pundits can catch up with the events.

The Syrian civil war has generated a situation as such for Turkish foreign policy. TV channels, social media outlets and print media are filled with information and arguments about Syria. There are several factions in the Turkish public opinion about what Turkey should do in Syria. One can very easily be accused of being a criminal for not tweeting curses against the al-Assads fast enough, while one can also be seen as a warmonger for just typing a message in defense of the Syrian people. Leaving all this aside, I would like to ask a very simple question. What are the Turkish national interests in Syria? Unless we can provide a rather clear answer delineating Turkish national interests, we cannot judge how (un)successful Turkey has been in Syria. 

My aim is for us to start a healthy debate on what Turkey aims to accomplish in Syria. I do not necessarily hope for rally-around-the-flag sentimentality but one that a majority of the foreign policy elite can agree upon. I can dissect at least three intertwined goals.

First and foremost, civil wars are contagious. Therefore, Turkey should aim to minimize the spillover effects of the Syrian civil war on its own territory. Turkey has already decided not to close its border to the refugees, and has declared the Syrian issue a domestic matter. This indicates that Turkey will most likely keep the border open and increase its involvement in Syria on multiple levels. While continuing on this path, we need to be vigilant that the events do not get out of control. Can Turkey survive its neighbor’s civil war?

Second, Turkey, along with other “involved” parties in the Syrian civil war, should decide what kind of a post-civil war Syria serves its interests best. In the medium term (5-7 years) of foreign policy planning, we need to consider not just the post-al-Assad era, but the end of the civil war. What kind of peace would serve Turkish interests best? The current players’ relative powers will change and what matters is maintaining steady and consistent involvement in Syria so that it can be an effective partner at the end of Syrian civil war. We must prepare for multiple contingencies, one of them being that Syria might not remain unified at the end of the war. In order to reach this goal, we need to have an idea of what we want in Syria.

Last, Turkey should consider how it can help prevent or minimize the possibility of a potential regional war. Many pundits have argued that Syria will explode. If we see the impact of sectarian fighting spilling over into other parts of the region, how does Turkey deal with that? So far Turkey has fought to remain outside sectarian rhetoric; however, some of its actions in Syria have been interpreted as sectarian by others. Turkey will have to clarify its path and consider the costs and benefits of taking and not taking sides, whether or not these options are available.

It is not easy to chart the waters of civil war in your backyard. Modern Middle Eastern history provides poignant examples of different types of interventions and involvement levels in civil wars, such as the Lebanese, Yemeni and Iraqi civil wars, for example. The most necessary step at this point, and a healthy point of departure for all pundits, is to question what we really want in Syria. It seems an easy question but it really is a devilish one once you start to imagine the tragic possibilities.

July/17/2012

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zara fakename

7/17/2012 3:02:44 PM

well put! finally someone spelled it out for the rest of us, clear short and to the point. thank you thank you kind sir, this was very informative.

Johanna Dew

7/17/2012 1:55:04 PM

@ronald: is it too much for you to simple respect someone else opinion and refrain from personal attacks? That you admire your prof or is it dr... is okay. But make your points regarding 'national interests and how to achieve that'. I work in that area for 30 years, no need for another class. But I am always open for new young fresh ideas which this column lacks together with your contributions.

ronald orubian

7/17/2012 1:22:02 PM

@joanna looking at your other "reviews" it is very clear with what agenda you wrote. It is also clear that you need Intro to IR class. May I kindly suggest a semester in los angeles, dr tremblay could surely give you an education very promptly. She is awfully good at bringing people upto speed. Populism? please show us which sentences above reflect populism? in 600 words of a daily column, i know the kind of theoretical explanations you are used to seeing. Dont fret it.

Johanna Dew

7/17/2012 12:10:47 PM

@ronald: selfish column means: with no vision write a column without tactical and strategical principles for the short gain;populism And please dont put words in my mouth which I don't say: national interest is only a long term vision based on sustainable developments and not by chat or bazaar talk. I stand for humanistic solutions which benefits the citizens, not an opinion based upon populism.

ronald orubian

7/17/2012 12:00:15 PM

one last issue, dr tremblay is not after bashing anyone, any gov, party etc. She is after the real information and analysis. That is precisely why a piece she had penned 15 days ago can still be valid in this ever so fast moving world. Always learning from you.

ronald orubian

7/17/2012 11:52:35 AM

i dont think may people have asked what turkish national interests in the region are before. So if nothing else, this piece is valuable to guide discussions in a more productive way, rather than debating how to spell al-assads' names, and make fairy tales abt what kind of mafia family they are. There is a lot of garbage out there and Dr Tremblay has managed to put the mess in a succinct way. Surely policy makers would read between the lines and get the appropriate messages.

ronald orubian

7/17/2012 11:44:41 AM

great piece dr tremblay as usual. @ joanna dew -- how does one pen a selfless column? for someone who claims "national interests" are not public issue, you seem to have a dream vision of what is best for Turkey? Dr Tremblay knows Syria very well, if you cannot see the underlying messages she strives to pass in such short space, may be it is bec you are used to shallow analysis with little knowledge? Let me guess whose fan are you in this paper? U r too easy, no?

dogan kemal ileri

7/17/2012 10:44:48 AM

Admirably expressed sentiments I am in total agreement with.Well said sir!

Deniz Can

7/17/2012 5:35:52 AM

PART1 The interests are desired conclusion out of a war scenario. It seems that the author is not aware of the core foreign policy of Davutoglu and the AKP to connect with issue. Both subjects are interdependent and interconnected. Turkey’s foreign policy is the part of the current chaotic problem with US. Collective diplomatic pressure would have changed the power in a peaceful way. Turkey papered the opposition politically and militarily. Support of weapons for war is beyond the imagination.

Deniz Can

7/17/2012 5:34:49 AM

PART2 Turkey with AKP’s government has being trying to be a regional player, even if it hasn’t got a vision to be a global player. What are the tools that Turkey is using for the role: size of economy, population, geostrategical and geopolitical position, and most importantly religion. Expected interests in Syria a) regional influence through deepening of Neo-Orthodox-Sunnism for which Syria is suitable b) weakening of military and political strength of the PKK, c) new market
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