Warlords in Syria and Turkey

Warlords in Syria and Turkey

Today I will leave aside the “strategically deep” topics and focus on a smaller problem. The Turkish General Staff has recently shared on its website a number of news items, such as the following: “In the area under the responsibility of the Hatay/Narlıca Oğulpınar Border Station on the Turkish-Syrian border, at around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, a large group of smugglers, 200-250 of them on horseback and 2,500-3,000 on foot, with 150-200 vehicles, gathered on the Syrian side of the border and tried to enter our territory.” 

The size of the numbers and the continuing nature of the phenomenon point to a problem in need of urgent solution or management. If the situation persists, border security will no longer be a mere “law enforcement” issue, but will turn into a “national security” problem not only for Turkey, but also for the European Union.

In Syria, the state authority has been replaced by groups with political, religious, ethnic, sectarian, social and economic motivations. They are nurtured by Syria’s inner dynamics and the ecosystem of the ongoing war. Although the armed groups draw most of the attention, warlords playing according to mafia rules are the new powerful masters of the field. Thanks to the transition from the pre-war state-centered economy to a black market, these have gone transnational and are stronger than ever. For ordinary people, survival is the utmost priority. For these warlords, however, the opportunity to strike it rich has presented itself.

The future of the warlords depends on the possibility of establishing a new state authority in Syria and the supply-demand equilibrium in the market. Current developments show that establishing a state authority will take years. The big Turkish market, however, is an exciting prospect for the smugglers.
As leaders of learning organizations, warlords diversify their goods and find ways to compromise security barriers in cooperation with the other organizations in the field.

Previous experience shows that warlords live in symbiosis with terrorist groups. They cover each others’ backs in the arms trade, border penetration and intelligence. Moreover, if the currently popular oil business becomes less profitable and more risky, arms, drugs, humans, precious metals and chemical weapons will be introduced into the market.

The new border ecosystem is bound to have many unpredictable outcomes. As trust in the Turkish state deteriorates, the army obligated to protect the border and the local people will confront one another. Inevitably, social and moral values will be suspended and corruption will increase. There is also an asymmetric political aspect of the whole situation. Nowadays, everyone is bogged in “strategic depths,” but a disproportionate response from the soldiers to the “smugglers’ division” could easily turn a “tactical” problem into a “political” crisis.