Does Ankara have a plan B for Syria?

Does Ankara have a plan B for Syria?

The disappointment Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu feels following his failure last week to convince the UN Security Council to act against the al-Assad regime and establish a safe zone or buffer zone for Syrian refugees is apparent from his recent statements.

His remarks after his address to the Security Council, to the effect that he expected the UN to provide hope to the Syrian people but saw it instead fail as a system, clearly reflected this disappointment. There is also a confession of serious failure embedded in Davutoğlu’s words, of course.

This failure in its turn also provides a good gauge for us to understand just how influential Turkey really is on the international stage. Davutoğlu’s oft-repeated claim that Turkey is not just a key regional player, but also an influential global player, is thus put in real perspective. Let alone the “global” level it is questionable that Turkey is even getting the support it wants regionally. Davutoğlu reportedly told the Security Council last week that Turkey is doing all it can for the Syrian refugees, but will soon be facing a situation it cannot cope with.

It is therefore worth noting that Turkey’s closest regional Islamic allies against al-Assad, namely Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have done little to help, despite being among the richest countries in the world. Neither do these countries seem keen to provide the military capability that would be required if a safe zone were to be established for Syrian refugees.

The only thing Turks see now is refugees piling up on the border and a government that is finding it increasingly difficult to cope with this. This is why Davutoğlu lamented “the failure of the UN system.” It seems, however, that just as he failed to foresee developments in Syria realistically, he has also failed to understand how “The UN system” works. If he remembered Bosnia, Rwanda, or Darfur, he would have realized that the UN’s inactivity in such cases is the rule and not the exception.

The seminal point here is that the UN is not an organization with an independent corporate identity, and an ability to act independently. As for the UN’s secretary-general, he is no more than an appointed official who answers to the Security Council. If the UN system is not working the way Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Mr. Davutoğlu would like it to, this is due to the positions of its members on specific issues.

Those positions, in turn, are determined by national interests. That is why Russia and China have put their foot down about Syria at the UN. However, if these two countries went with the rest of the Security Council, it is still unlikely that Turkey’s allies would give the go-ahead for a safe zone in Syria at this point in time.

The U.S., Great Britain and France are very much on Turkey’s side against al-Assad, but they do not appear all that keen about a safe zone whose security they too would have to maintain militarily. These countries have not gone beyond saying that a safe zone or buffer zone in Syria is one of the options on the table, and are clearly sating so to appease Turkey. But they have not endorsed the idea officially yet.

This also shows how isolated Mr. Davutoğlu was in New York last week as he pleaded for help for the Syrian refugees in Turkey. One inevitably wonders what Turkey’s Plan B is in this case, its Plan A having failed thus far. This is why the Turkish public’s concern is mounting, because it is becoming clear that other than hoping for help from others, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration does not have a Plan B.

Of course Prime Minister Erdoğan and Mr. Davutoğlu, who are known to make grand statements reflecting giant ambitions, may make it their mission now to reform the UN system, so that it works according to their desires. Why not? There is no limit to ambition, even if it brings no results.