Isn't it a bit late for Europe to call for a safe zone in Syria?
Germany’s Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s proposal for setting up an internationally controlled security zone in northeast Syria was among the attention-grabbing issues discussed at the NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels on Oct. 24 and 25.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has praised the German move as it was an indication that allies are still pondering ways to end the years-long turmoil in Syria, while refraining from making comments on the feasibility of the proposal.
Many European countries have also expressed their support to the idea mainly on two reasons: First, they see it as an attempt for a return to the negotiation table on Syria. This proposal is aiming at imposing pressure on Turkey for the protection of the YPG and the European influence on Syria-related matters.
Second, it’s inevitable for the European Union to launch new talks with Turkey on providing more assistance for the Syrian refugees hosted on Turkish soil. A proposal for a security zone to be protected by the international community would be an item to be discussed as part of future negotiations. An attempt to arrange a four-way meeting with the participation of the leaders from Turkey, France, Germany and Britain in the coming period would serve this idea.
However, there are many questions about the German proposal. First, does this proposal reflect the will of the whole German government or just one part of the coalition? Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar met Germany’s Kramp-Karrenbauer in Brussels and listened to the details of her proposal first-hand. Obviously, she was talking about the military details of her project. Therefore, it will be important to hear from German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass to what extent he endorses this proposal during his meetings in Ankara on Oct. 26.
In addition to all these, there are many in Brussels who believe that the safe zone proposal by the German defense minister also has links with her personal political career as German Chancellor Angela Merkel is preparing for her exit from politics. Kramp-Karrenbauer seems to remain in the forefront with an effort to be seen as a strong politician at a moment when she actually has started to lose popular support.
Critics of Kramp-Karrenbauer’s idea also cite the timing of her move. Turkey’s deals with the United States on Oct. 17 and with Russia on Oct. 22 have drastically changed the conditions in the Syrian theater, and in fact, it left no need for the presence of an international force. A 120-kilometer-long strip of the Turkish-Syrian border is controlled by Turkey and the remaining parts by Russian troops and Syrian guards.
These agreements have led to the de-escalation of the tension and have been cited as positive developments by NATO’s Stoltenberg as well.
Therefore, for many in Brussels, the German minister’s proposal is far from being realistic.
There is another bigger problematic dimension with regard to the German proposal. The Syrian turmoil began in 2011, and calls for such a safe zone have brought to the attention of the international community by Turkey on three main occasions, in 2012, 2015 and 2018.
As former German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, has recently confessed, the Europeans have preferred to turn a deaf ear to these calls.
They thought that they have resolved all Syria-related issues through their March 2016 joint statement to Turkey.
If Europeans do really want to take part in these processes, they should better acknowledge the new realities in the Syrian theater and present solid projects for a lasting political solution in Syria and for the reconstruction of the war-torn country.