Turkey: Willing for the coalition

Turkey: Willing for the coalition

The chemical weapon attack in Syria caught the world’s attention. Experts who see this as a turning point are debating how to respond to Bashar al-Assad. The most likely option is seen as a military operation that would force al-Assad to start negotiating. The operation will most probably be conducted by a coalition of the willing.

Interestingly, although a clear political objective concerning a possible operation is lacking, the Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated that Turkey would participate in such a coalition. This hasty statement is understandable. It is good news for Davutoğlu that the prolonged civil war in Syria has entered a new phase. He considers a military response an opportunity to break the Syrian deadlock in relation to the following aspects:

First of all, although the Turkish government successfully managed and regionally contained the problem caused by around 500,000 refugees and thereby encouraged more Syrians to become refugees, it is undeniable that the related economic, social and political problems are reaching intolerable levels.

Secondly, the Syrian situation has complicated the Kurdish problem. The government continues to negotiate with Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), while the PKK amasses power in Syria.

Another potential complication that could trouble the government concerns border security. According to the Turkish General Staff, more than 3,000 smugglers are regularly trying to cross the Turkish border at night. Such economically motivated attempts can easily transform into activities involving the drug trade, human trafficking, terrorism, and even transporting weapons of mass destruction.

Fourthly, al-Qaida-affiliated jihadists have settled on the other side of the border. They have effective networks inside Turkey, making it prone to future terrorist attacks and compromising the relations with the West based on “trust.”

Fifthly, as the bitter experience of the Reyhanlı attack shows, Turkey remains an open target of al-Assad’s intelligence forces and their affiliates. 

Finally, the perception that Turkish foreign policy has taken a “sectarian” turn has spread.

All these factors worry Davutoğlu, and with good reason. His biggest concern, of course, is the damage to his career caused by the Syrian conflict. Therefore, he need not wait for a clear political objective assigned to a possible military operation. He is all too willing to join the coalition. Still, it seems that the political objective will not entail the overthrowing of al-Assad. In that case, Turkey’s and Davutoğlu’s problems will last much longer than expected. An operation might even trigger new waves of refugees, provoke terrorism, and make Turkey a military target. The only hope is that a missile will go astray and finish off al-Assad.