Posts tagged ‘turkey’

December 14, 2011

“I dare you to cross this line. I double dare you”: Turkey, Syria, and NATO

Syria is in no way resembling a nation on the mend. As the days go by, Assad’s determination to stay in power remains clear, as does the growing desire of his people to ensure that doesn’t happen. By any means necessary. This morning’s retaliatory strike against a Syrian armed forces convoy for an earlier incident involving the death of several protesters proves that point quite effectively.

Turkey, once Syria’s ally in the region, has turned its back on the Assad regime, protesting its wanton killing of civilians and placing sanctions on the state, alongside those imposed by the United States, European Union, and Arab League. Turkey also has constructed several refugee camps for the thousands of Syrians who have fled across the border. More likely than not, the Turkish government is also providing refuge for members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a collection of defected Syrian security forces, who are the probable launchers of this morning’s attack.

The stream of refugees into Turkey has the potential to be a destabilizing factor in the region, a threat to international peace and security that the Security Council has often invoked since the 1990s as the basis for acting under Chapters VI and/or VII of the Charter, exercising its power to restore the peace. In the Syrian case, however, Syria has the backing of the Russian Federation, despite growing pressure on Moscow to give up on Damascus, with Russia sure to veto any real action.

Syria has yet to take action against Turkey for hosting these refugees. But suppose Turkey keeps hosting these refugees and the FSA. What happens when an FSA member crosses back across the border into Turkey, with Syria in hot pursuit? What happens when, not if, Syria decides to attack a refugee camp in retaliation? Syria has already come close, coming within a quarter-mile of the border in June.

This could be the endgame that we see for Syria. The second, the absolute second, that Syrian security forces violate Turkish sovereignty, whether they actually engage with Turkish soldiers or not, it’s game over for Assad. Any hesitancy of the international community would be overturned, lest a greater crisis come about.

Turkey could invoke Article 51 of the UN Charter. And in turn would be able to invoke Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty.

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

And from there all the pieces interventionists have wanted to be able to aid civilians in Syria before civil war spirals out of control would be in place. No need to invoke the Responsibility to Protect, though the principles would still be at play and understood. No circumvention of the UN Charter would be required, unlike NATO’s actions in Kosovo in 1999. Article VIII clearly provides for collective security and defense arrangements, such as NATO. And Article V of the North Atlantic Charter mirrors the language involved in Chapter VIII of the UN Charter as action must halt once the Security Council has moved forward on the issue.

So far, the only instance of Article V actually being called upon was in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Turkey has threatened in the past to use the Article to demand action, particularly against Iraq should Turkey have come under attack in the instances of the Gulf and Iraq Wars.

Refusal of a formal invoking on Article V, particularly after an incursion has taken place onto a members soil, would be the exact sort of crisis that opponents of Georgia’s ascension into NATO fear. But in this instance, Turkey has been a loyal member of NATO since 1949; despite official statements declaring that NATO has no intention on intervening in Syria, the body would have to act or risk facing a true existential crisis greater than the collapse of the Soviet Union. NATO’s collective power, without the mandate of SC/1970 to keep ground forces out of combat, would be effective in bringing about an end to Assad.

Turkish armed forces are no slouch themselves, either. Should Turkey actually enter conflict against Syria, the results wouldn’t be overly lopsided, but Turkey would most likely be able to overpower Syria. The campaign would take far longer without NATO support and capabilities, however, and the longer a military operation lasts the greater the likelihood of civilian deaths in the form of collateral damage. There’s also the potential of a “rally around the flag” effect coming into play, though the Libyan example makes me think this is less likely.

France has seemed the most eager out of the NATO heavyweights to take action against Syria, but has ruled out the possibility of unilateral action by any members. Give Sarkozy the opening of a multilateral framework and legal course of action, though, and he will surely move to take action; France has a certain soft spot for intervention in former territories and protectorates, and Syria is no exception. The US and UK would hesitate, but eventually move forward. The Obama Administration doesn’t want to be seen as leading from behind again in an election year, and the overturn of the Assad government fits within stated US goals. The UK would most likely lend support as possible, potentially spinning it as proof that it is less isolated from Europe than many have claimed following last week’s EU Summit.

Further, it is in my belief that an actual launch of military operations wouldn’t be necessary to have actual action take place on Syria finally. Should Turkey invoke Article V, Russia would surely raise the issue in the UN Security Council, with all its normal bluster and condemnation of NATO actions. It would be well within the means of the Western members of the P-5 to offer that Turkey stand down its actions, provided Russia go along with Security Council action on the matter, short of actual military force. This would allow Russia to save face on the region, rather than being faced with the humiliation of NATO carrying out action despite its less than subtle warnings over the past weeks and months, and ensure that the Security Council’s primacy on matters of peace and security be asserted over NATO, a goal Russia often quoted in protesting the Kosovo intervention.

I am aware that I come dangerously close to Friedman-ing in this post, here defined as imposing an overly neat and idealistic hypothetical solution to a complex real-world problem. However, this is a scenario that, while not likely, does fall within the realm of possibility. Further, I think it’s worth at least considering, as I’ve seen nobody else mention it, which is odd when you take into account the high likelihood of Syrian cross-border retaliation. The endgame described here probably isn’t the one we’re going to see play out in Syria. But it would certainly cut through a lot of the issues preventing intervention.

September 26, 2011

Syria Business: Syria’s FM Blames Everyone but Al-Assad for Syria’s Problems

As I was writing the last post, I realized I have a free couple of minutes to tune into the livestream of the UN General Debate. And who should be speaking, but the Foreign Minister of Syria, Mr. Walid Al-Moualem. This being too good an opportunity to miss, I decided to listen in.

Rather than dodging the issue, FM Al-Moualem decided to tackle his country’s current issues head-on.

“There is no doubt that the positions of states are governed by geopolitical realities and constraints and demands stemming there from,” he began, speaking of Syria’s role in the balance of politics, being in the very heart of the Middle East. This was all well and good, until he began to speak of Syria’s historic support of resistance movements. I suppose that those movements only count outside of Syria’s borders.

He went on to talk about Syria’s having extended the hand of friendship to all states and how it builds relations on mutual respect and interest. Mr. Al-Moualem then pivoted to speak on the occupation of Iraq, which “dragged us into another battle”, where they faced the choice of “siege and isolation or submitting to dictates”. They clearly chose the former.

Having properly framed the strength and bravery of the Al-Assad government, Mr. Moualem spoke of the internal issues as having two sides. On the one, the country needs the people driven political, economic and social reforms that the citizens of Syria have been calling for, and that President Assad has apparently championed. However, “political circumstances” forced internal demands to take a backseat to other priorities. It would seem that the “overriding priority” was “facing external pressures” that were “at time tantamount to blatant conspiracies”. This was followed up with another declaration that armed groups are currently sabotaging the Syrian protests and sowing seeds of insecurity as a pretext for foreign intervention. In what may have been my favorite part of the speech, Mr. Al-Moualem declared that Syria takes very seriously its responsibility to protect its citizens, and has acted to guarantee their safety and security from international intervention.

Syria’s FM went on to say that after President Al-Assad declared his reform measures in June, he introduced all sorts of Acts, allowing political pluralism, laying the groundwork for free and open media, and the potential for a new Constitution. He went on to claim that opposition figures have come together with the government to examine this reform package. This confuses me, as I’m pretty sure the Syrian opposition was barely able to agree on naming themselves the Syrian National Council, let alone enough of a plan of action to be able to meet with the government and negotiate reforms.

He then started talking more about the “other side of the coin”, calling out countries that spoke out about Syria in the General Debate for promoting defiance and incitement. In a wonderful leap of logic, Syria “deeply regret[s] the surge in the activities of armed groups…, which have not waned and instead continued to spiral”, which were declared to be “in tandem with multiple economic sanctions”. So the Syrian government kills more people the more it’s sanctioned, serving almost as a cryptic warning to the West. As a side note, nobody is saying that there has been absolutely no violence incited by the opposition; it’s just that violence in Syria is being carried out by on a scale several magnitudes by the Syrian government and army against the people compared to the reverse. In any case, by targeting the Syrian economy with sanctions, Mr. Al-Moualem stated, the United States and European Union jeopardize the basic subsistence needs of the Syrian people, which cannot be reconciled with concerns for the rights of the Syrian people. Concerns for the rights of the Syrian people being of the utmost priority, of course.

Towards the end is where it got really interesting, as the claim was put forward that the Al-Assad government has opted for a secular route as located Syria is located in an area of many religions. While I agree that it is in the cradle of the major religions, and that the Syrian people as whole seem to steer away from secular conflict, I have to say that the fact that Syria helps fund Hezbollah really undercuts the statement as a whole. Mr. Al-Moualem followed up by railing against the “financing and arming of religious extremism”. Seriously? There is not a pot/kettle analogy strong enough to be used here. This religious extremism is meant to spread Western hegemony and Israel’s expansionist needs. And the train has gone off the rails. He concluded by saying that the Syrian people will reject any intervention, and “will not let you implement your plans and will foil your schemes”, and thanked those countries that have “stood by [his] people”. Here’s looking at you, Brazil. Well played.

During his speech, Mr. Al-Moualem tried to hide behind the UN Charter, specifically Chapter I, Article 2, Section 7:

 Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter

This is a pretty common line of attack in the protection of national sovereignty against the responsibility to protect. However, everyone seems to forget the second part of Article 2(7):

 but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.

The ball is quite clearly in the Security Council’s court as the arbiters of Chapter VII; it’s then imperative for the survival of the Syrian government that it continues its push to have the Libyan intervention viewed in a negative light by the current members of the Security Council. So long as the BRICS countries refuse to take action on Syria, the likelihood of Syria’s protests taking on a much more violent approach rises. I can only hope that in its example and in diplomatic pushes, that Turkey can convince some of its fellow middle/rising powers to take a much firmer stance on Syria.

September 4, 2011

The Hague on both your houses

I swear, after an hour long discussion with an Israeli friend of mine about my last post, I promised to myself that I would avoid Israel/Palestinian issues vis a vis the UN for a good long time. That promise has now been broken. So, thanks, Turkey.

The gist of it is as follows, thanks to the Irish Times for condensing:

Turkey plans to challenge Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip at the International Court of Justice, dismissing a United Nations report that said it was legal.

Turkey will apply to the court at The Hague next week, foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said yesterday. Mr Davutoglu’s comments came the day after Turkey suspended military agreements with Israel.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has said it will take action against Israel for refusing to apologise for the killing of nine of its citizens on a flotilla to Gaza last year. Israel says its soldiers acted in self-defence.

So this fight is going to the Hague. I haven’t even had the chance to read the complete report on the flotilla incident, but it comes across as extremely balanced, calling the blockade itself legal but the actions in this specific incident over the line. Pretty even handed for an organization that is known in right-wing circles as being amazingly anti-Zionist.

A longer piece from Bloomberg indicates that the Turks intend to seek damages from the ICJ and a lifting of the blockade as illegal. If Turkey is looking for speedy recourse, though, they’ve turned to the wrong forum. The ICJ has a rather lengthy backlog of cases to get through, including the most recent case to be listed, which may keep Thailand and Cambodia from launching an all-out war against each other.

I can see how and why Turkey is planning to take this to the ICJ, but it will be years before any sort of conclusion is reached. In the immediate term, it only amounts to antagonizing Israel even further when, let’s face it, they’re feeling pretty agonized.