A diplomacy that does not provide security

A diplomacy that does not provide security

Tens of thousands of Turks and Turkish Cypriots flocked to Nicosia yesterday to pay their last respects at the funeral of Rauf Denktaş, the founding president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC). Considered a “national hero” by both the mainland and the island, Denktaş first fought for the survival of the Turkish Cypriots during the 1950s and 1960s, and then for the survival of the independent republic that he founded in 1983. The most important achievement for him was to create an environment in which nearly 200,000 Turkish Cypriots could live in full security and without fear of ethnic cleansing at the hands of ultra-nationalist Greek Cypriot gangs. May he rest in peace.

This made me think about how secure Turkey is today, especially with concerns growing about a potential ethnic and sectarian conflict in the Middle East. To put the issue more directly: Is Turkish diplomacy providing security for Turkey?

For many, the Middle East is going through a very dangerous period and could turn into the theater of a large-scale regional armed conflict involving Iran, Syria, Iraq, Israel, the United States, Britain and Turkey. Apart from the nuclear program that strains Iran’s ties with Israel and Western powers, the Sunni-Shiite tensions that have flared recently and the ongoing violence in Syria are seen as major fault lines.

Turkey’s standing in these equations is very important and worthy of examination.

On Syria, Turkey has long aligned itself with the United States with calls for Bashar al-Assad to step down. Al-Assad recently warned that “a fire could be sparked in Syria that will surely spread to Turkey as well.”

Likewise, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pointedly remarked that Turkey is made up of different ethnic and sectarian groups and could face similar problems if it intervenes in the internal affairs of regional countries.

Senior Iranian officials have threatened to hit NATO’s early-warning radar system in Turkey’s Malatya province in the event of an attack by Israel or the U.S. The rhetoric of the leadership of all three neighboring countries seems to be in unison as they defend the rights of Shiites at the expense of challenging Turkey and Western powers.

The current picture indicates the emerging of two major camps. One is led by Iran and includes Iraqi Shiites, Syria and Hezbollah. On the other side, the U.S. leads a group made up of Turkey, the Iraqi Kurds, Britain and Israel. (No need to recall how chilly the ties are between Turkey and Israel since the flotilla crisis.)

This positioning of Turkey contradicts with the foreign policy principles that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu mentions frequently. I don’t believe it was his intention to make things more perilous for Turkey, but overambitious and miscalculated moves in the always-restive Middle East have played into the hands of those who want to create more instability in the region.

One of the classic definitions of diplomacy is “the skill in handling international affairs for the self-interest of the country without arousing hostility.” If Turkish diplomacy is failing to achieve this, then one wonders what purpose it serves.