Foreign Policy

Where The Fuck Is Turkey Going?

With a seemingly endless war going on in Syria, Arab states slowly coming apart, terrorist cells continuously operating and economic as well as military interests from countries like Russia and America, the Middle East has become a complicated and turbulent region.

While the role of the world’s greatest hegemonies inside the Middle East seems clear, there are regional powers whose presence is often underestimated or forgotten.

So, with a strained relationship with the Unites States and failed negotiations to form part of the European Union, what is Turkey’s international and regional role?

“Every decision Turkey makes, even the ones that affect the international sphere, are related to their domestic policies.” Agustín Berea a Middle East specialist said in an interview with RISE NEWS. “Everything Tayyip Erdoğan does is for his public and his public is the Turkish people.”

In a developing country where the society is divided between those in favor of business and liberalism and those who are much more conservative and traditionalist, Tayyip Erdoğan came in as a reformist, progressist and with strong ties with the conservative sectors of the Turkish society.

In the beginning of Erdoğan’s mandate, talks about joining the European Union were strong.

 

READ MORE: Why Turkey Should Be Removed From NATO

However, such discourses have gradually faded over time.

Historical issues, such as the occupation of Cyprus, and the recent violation of human rights, as well as the authoritarian government, have been enough to declare that Turkey does not reach the standards to form part of the union.

Although the Republic of Turkey was founded with the objective of having a legitimacy based on secularity and laicism, the Turkish society remains strongly attached to its religious basis.

“Demographically, there’s a lot more people who identify themselves with the East than with the West. Geographically, the part of Turkey located in Europe and the Mediterranean, although highly populated, represents a minority,” Berea said.

Not only that, but the agenda of Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan does not tie with the agenda of other international actors such as Russia and the United States.

A market in Istanbul. Photo Credit: Pedro Szekely/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

“His main goal is to solve internal conflicts,” Berea said.

The inability to tie Turkish interests with those of other countries has resulted in strained relationships with the American president Donald Trump and the Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Moreover, it has also resulted in the breaking of diplomatic relations with the Iranian president Hasán Rouhani.

While Erdoğan’s ability to project his influence at an international level is questionable, with one of the world’s largest and most powerful armies, Turkey’s regional power is undeniable.

“Turkey cannot reach just any part of the world. However, its mobility and ability to effectively achieve its goals within the Middle East are higher than the one of countries like Russia or even the United States,” Berea said.

These goals include neutralizing the threat of ISIS within Turkish borders, the liberation of the city of Raqqa, and toppling the Assad regime. However, this would require more time, planning, and manpower than the one Turkey currently has in Syria.

This year, as early as February, former prohibitions considered to be secularization measures, such as the banning of the of Islamic veil and religious demonstrations, have been lifted. This has led many to believe that Turkey is no longer the champion of secularism.

“Muslim sectors are much closer to the government and it would seem like Turkey’s regional allies are projects that align with the agenda of political Islam,” Berea said.

Turkey is not the only nation of the Middle East that seems to be going back to projects and governments based on the Muslim religion.

READ MORE: Kicking Turkey Out Of NATO Would Be A Massive Mistake

“Countries in the Middle East have experienced with secular governance models and it is the opinion of many that such projects have not worked so far,” Berea explained.

Iran, Syria and Egypt are some of the countries that have experienced with these secular governance models.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The idea of going back to a caliphate comes from these failed projects of democratic nations and the people in the Middle East want to go back to a moment in which society and political structures worked better.

Could we expect Tayyip Erdoğan’s government to fail or to be toppled by a revolution in Turkey?

“The only way that there could be a successful coup against Erdoğan is if he openly spoke about religious structures within the state. This is unthinkable for the Turkish army,” Berea said.

Although political leaders have known how to handle their differences and act with moderation, the future of the Middle East is now more uncertain than ever.

With so many international actors involved in a small region, the situation seems to be bound to escalate to major proportions.

“My fear about Trump is that he may not know how to handle himself in moments of tension,” Berea said.

While conflict is possible, it doesn’t seem likely yet.

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Cover Photo Credit: Charles Dunst/ RISE NEWS

 

Millennial Intelligencer: Why Syria Won’t Be Putin’s Vietnam

It is clear that the Russian military is willing to engage in a more aggressive way in Syria- a region that has long been considered important for the former superpower.

The Russians have fielded about 30 fixed wing aircraft, primarily SU-25 Frogfoots, and SU-24 Fencers, as well as 20 Mi-24s. This is further complimented by cruise missile strikes, and a detachment of Marines to defend Russian facilities. In short, that’s a lot of fire power that the Russians seem more than willing to commit to a protracted conflict in the Middle East.

The Russian Army, like it’s forbearer the Red Army, is often both grossly overestimated and underestimated. One either conceives dastardly “little green men”, or a lumbering brute itching to lob it’s surplus T-62s at Estonia. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Taking into account the likelihood of Russians being killed in Syria, be it an Mi-24 knocked out by MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense System), or the recent tragic deaths of three Russians in an artillery attack, some have suggested that the Kremlin has fumbled into a scenario akin to the American experience in the Vietnam War.

While it is not out of the realm of possibility that Moscow may be forced to further invest into Syria to prop up the floundering Assad Regime in response to the continued civil war and threat from ISIS, Moscow must also be aware of its own very real limitations.

The Russian Army, like it’s forbearer the Red Army, is often both grossly overestimated and underestimated. One either conceives dastardly “little green men”, or a lumbering brute itching to lob it’s surplus T-62s at Estonia. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Whilst Soviet/Russian equipment has held a number of qualitative advantages over NATO equipment (including purportedly “invincible” American assets) during the Cold War and to this day, the Russians have consistently been inferior in both training and Command & Control (C&C). The former is due to the Russians utilizing a conscript system. This means that the Russian government drafts young men for a year at a time to serve, and then they are sent on their way.

This includes the three months of training for soldiers, and contributes to questionable quality. Recognizing this for some time, the Kremlin has been attempting to phase out the conscript model, in favor of the “contract” or professional model, in which soldiering is a job.

While contract soldiers are better both logistically and in terms of quality than conscripts, only 200,000 solders out of 774,500 (and 1,000,000 requested, unmet due to draft dodgers) are contract soldiers. This also includes 220,000 officers, leaving 354,500 conscripts. When cutting those professional forces between Ukraine and Syria, Moscow does not have a large margin of error.

Syria acts as Russia’s only port in the Mediterranean Sea, and is thus a vital asset to power projection. However, the Russians must further enhance their contract soldier system to stay competitive for long term operations. Thus, it seems unlikely that Moscow intends to prop up the Assad government as fervently as the United States did South Vietnam.

Russia’s intervention into Syria comes not from a position of strength, but one of weakness, due to diplomatic isolation and a overly long campaign in Ukraine. It seems more likely that Mr. Putin is trying to gain support for rapprochement, in exchange for a show of force against ISIS. If that is the objective, it’s working.

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Cover Photo Credit: Mikhail Kamarov/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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