Towards a Turkish-Syrian bilateral conflict?

Towards a Turkish-Syrian bilateral conflict?

I think it’s very timely to recall one of the Atatürk’s maxims on peace and war: “I hold no brief for war for this or that reason. War should be obligatory and unavoidable. Here is my real opinion: I should not suffer torment in my conscience when I lead my nation to war. We can go to war only in order not to be killed by those who want to kill. But if the nation’s life is not in danger, then the war is murder.” 

It’s important to underline that these lines belong to one of the greatest commanders in the world who spent nearly half of his life on battle grounds. Following the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Atatürk determined the country’s main foreign policy pillar with his famous saying: “Peace at home, peace in the world.” 

The reason for revisiting these fundamental principles of traditional Turkish foreign policy is obviously the government’s stance vis a vis the Syria turmoil. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement that the country could follow a different track on Syria if border violations continue is enough to raise question marks in minds about Turkey’s next steps. 

The fact that Erdoğan is planning to travel to Saudi Arabia in the coming days to orchestrate further measures to be taken against Damascus in the event of Bashar al-Assad’s failure to comply with the Annan plan clearly shows that the prime minister is rolling up his sleeves against Syria. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu contacted all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to ask them to denounce Syrian forces’ border violations. If possible, he is also expected to attend to the G-8 summit in Washington where the main course will obviously be Syria.

The Sanctions’ Working Group of the Friends of Syria is likely to meet in the coming days in Paris, which will be followed by third summit of the group late April, again in France. In the meantime, more pressure is expected to be imposed on Russia and China to get out of the way. 

This is the multilateral part of the issue. The escalated tension on the Turkish-Syrian border, which caused the killing of two Syrian migrants crossing the Turkish border is adding further concerns. 

Syria is trying to show that if Turkey establishes a buffer zone in Syrian territory the first thing they will encounter will be Syrian forces. As buffer zone plans require a military presence, it would not be unreasonable to expect a military clash between Turkish and Syrian forces. 

That’s why Washington is urging the Turkish government not to act unilaterally and realize that such plans could make the situation much more complicated. Turkey should be careful not to turn the turmoil in Syria into a Turkish-Syrian bilateral conflict. Syria is an international problem and means to deal with it should be found in a legitimate and multilateral way.

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