AFRICOM: The Next Frontier
By Alex Liao
The United States African Command (AFRICOM), the first overseas military command created by the Pentagon since the Cold War ended, recently broadened its strategic relevancy as a result of the Libyan intervention. Its location, ripe within the confines of piracy, Islamic extremism, and strategic oil resources, has forced it to take several divergent strategies. Nonetheless, its efficacy will rely on bilateral and regional relationships with African countries, the African Union, and the European Union.
Aside from Libya, AFRICOM has pursued a more secluded mandate, working with the Africa Partnership station to train African maritime forces, and with the African Union’s five regional Africa Standby Brigades to develop a future peacekeeping apparatus. It has quietly embarked on counterterrorism operations by assuming command over the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa from Djibouti. While these initiatives are geared towards regional diplomacy rather than military action, they have nonetheless led to substantive developments. In October 2010, a peacekeeping simulation was held in Addis Ababa along with European and African forces, providing a firm framework for future intercontinental cooperation. Furthermore, AFRICOM participated in Exercise Flintlock in 2010, a military exercise geared towards the protection of North and West Africa against extremist and trafficking groups. In the same year, AFRICOM brought together 30 nations in its Africa Endeavour exercise to coordinate regional communications technology. AFRICOM will need to depend on this kind of regional collaboration to safeguard the continent from unexpected crises.
On the other hand, peacekeeping has dominated AFRICOM’s agenda, considering the tumultuous African political landscape. Here, AFRICOM has taken the lead in regional diplomacy. It hosted the first Africa Military Legal Conference in May 2010, assembling legal professionals from nearly 15 countries in Ghana, to buttress the rule of law across the continent. Conversely, the conference was intended to additionally aid military legal advisors in promoting transparency in civil-military relations between AFRICOM and its bilateral counterparts. More pointedly, however, AFRICOM sends mentors and advisors to assist the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance, a program administered by the Department of State that is designed to train African Union peacekeeping forces. This has led to the creation of approximately 20 battalions per year, which AFRICOM will coordinate with alongside its overall security. These programs, which appear more as soft power programs instead of overt military programs, will aid cooperation between AFRICOM and its partners in the region.
Speaking of AFRICOM’s relations with African nations, it would be remiss not to discuss its strategic cooperation with NATO. In 2010, AFRICOM assisted the alliance in Somalia, airlifting 1,700 Ugandan troops into the Somali capital to aid the government there. The NATO Response Force – a 25,000-member contingent called the “world’s first international military strike force” – has also trained in Africa under AFIRCOM’s auspices. Both AFRICOM and NATO combine to assist the African Partnership Stations and African Standby Forces. Hence, AFRICOM’s cooperation with NATO falls within NATO’s New Strategic Concept, specifically by maintaining “mobile and deployable conventional forces” around the globe.
On the whole, AFRICOM’s presence on the continent went largely uncontested in the region since its inception in October of 2008. Operation Odyssey Dawn, which began in March of 2011, has unsurprisingly opened a new set of questions about its future role in relation to African entities. Particularly, the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya has sparked political backlash with countries which allege that AFRICOM has overstepped the UN Security Council’s resolution authorizing military force. Indeed, the operation has deepened divides in its relations in the region. Before the operation, support for the command remained tepid, as only Liberia had publicly offered to host AFRICOM’s command headquarters. Once the airstrikes began, both the Nigerian Foreign Minister and South African President expressed severe concerns over civilian deaths and firmly rejected the “regime-change doctrine” they saw fomenting. The current intervention, then, has increased suspicions that AFRICOM is pursuing solely American foreign policy rather than that of the African people. This will likely hinder future AFRICOM military efforts in the region unless AFRICOM can mend its regional ties.
Given the turmoil surrounding the Libyan situation, there alternatively appears to be an opening for the Obama Administration to widen AFRICOM’s scope of responsibility. For instance, U.S. naval forces assigned to cover Somali piracy are currently assigned to CENTCOM (Central Command) rather than AFRICOM. A widening role on the continent would give the Administration more flexibility in the future, as it faces challenges from Islamic tensions in North Africa and al-Shabab’s growth in Somalia. Nevertheless, American presence is invariably contingent upon trust with African nations. Obama will need to make clear that AFRICOM’s actions in Libya were exceptionally warranted in that particular situation, in order to dampen fears of American hegemony and rebuild the fragile relations. His recent speech on Middle Eastern foreign policy appears to address this issue, when he stated, “in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, we had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help.”
General Carter F. Ham, the current Combatant Commander of AFRICOM since March of 2011, has raised similarly expectations about AFRICOM’s role in the continent since his arrival. He is widely seen as a cooperative man who will spur enthusiasm within the ranks. Indeed, AFRICOM has assumed a new, dynamic role in the Libyan intervention, working with NATO partners to establish the no-fly zone. He has also shown great care for relations on the continent, allowing his ambassador Anthony Holmes to give a speech signaling the command’s desire to limit an overt American military presence in Africa.
As AFRICOM’s role in Libya has been mostly handed over to NATO’s European allies, Holmes noted that AFRICOM will seek “sustained engagement and stability in Africa.” With only $389 million in funding this year, or less than 5% of U.S. total aid to Africa, its presence will likely be limited in the coming years as a result of the looming deficit crisis in Washington. With half of its 2,273 personnel being civilians, AFRICOM will likely depend on partnerships with the African Union, the European Union, and NATO in the near future. As no new US military troops were deployed with AFRICOM at its founding, and as it maintains no new military bases on the continent, it must constructively engage with regional and bilateral partners in the future.
Indeed, AFRICOM’s structure is intrinsically suited for aid and stability rather than an explicit militarization of relations. Its structure creates greater coordination with other American agencies, such as USAID and the State Department. The position of Directorate of Civil-Military Affairs, in particular, will allow AFRICOM to continue to liaison with the African Union and its African Standby Forces in the future if and when tensions rise. Hence, General Ham has positioned AFRICOM to be more dynamic and receptive of regional interests while aligning them with American foreign policy.
With increasing Chinese commercial advances in the energy industry, AFRICOM must also confront a changing African landscape. Fortunately, Chinese companies generally do not interfere with African politics and do not posit regime change. With its bevy of civilian operations, AFRICOM thus presents a greater soft power image that can offset China’s rapidly growing interest in Africa and inversely, African businessmen’s interest in partnering with Chinese companies. China’s rise, inimical to U.S. business and strategic interests, presents a unique challenge. While China aims to prop up the status quo, it remains in the United States’ national interest to strengthen and develop weak states which form the hotbed of insurgencies, humanitarian crises, and criminal organizations. Its relationships with the African Union will help foster increased stability to counter China’s support. In turn, AFRICOM will deny terrorist and criminal organizations the lax governance which allows them to grow roots in an area. With al-Qaeda also expressing interest in attacking the African energy infrastructure, AFRICOM’s protection will clearly aid U.S. business interests in the future.
Looking forward, AFRICOM will additionally continue to ensure the stability of African oil exports, which are expected to account for more than 25% of all US oil imports by 2015. This falls in line with its “capacity-building” agenda, in which it sends military specialists to advise and support various peacekeeping, lawmaking, and security-related enterprises of different African nations. In this way, AFRICOM can protect both regional stability and American foreign policy interests.
Thus, transitioning from the Libyan intervention places AFRICOM in a position of strength. Not only can it rely upon its newfound military clout, but its new leadership under General Ham will also enable it to take on a more assertive role on the continent. Of course, AFRICOM cannot exist based on unilateral actions, and must strengthen bilateral and regional relationships with individual countries, the African Union, the European Union, and NATO. It is in this way that AFRICOM can confront the diverse challenges it faces, from terrorism and extremism to piracy and energy security.
1 Jonathan Stevenson, “AFRICOM’s Libyan Expedition: How War Will Change the Command’s Role on the Continent,” Foreign Affairs, May 9th, 2011, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67844/jonathan-stevenson/africoms-libyan-expedition.
2 Robert Moeller, “The Truth About Africom,” Foreign Policy, July 21, 2010, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/07/21/the_truth_about_africom?page=0,3.
3 Nicole Dalrymple, “AFRICOM Hosts First Africa Military Legal Conference, Nearly 15 African Nations Participating, U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs, May 19, 2010, http://www.ikd-m.africom.mil/getArticleFresh.asp?art=4438&lang=0.
4 U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs, “FACT SHEET: Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA),” U.S. AFRICOM, June 15, 2008, efforts. http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=1886.
5 Rick Rozoff, “Battleground for NATO’s 21st Century Strategic Concept,” The Ghanaian Journal, May 24, 2011, http://www.theghanaianjournal.com/2011/05/24/battleground-for-natos-21st-century-strategic-concept/.
6 John CK Daly, “Libya: AFRICOM’s Combat Christening,” ISN Insights (ETH Zurich), March 28, 2011, http://www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Current-Affairs/ISN-Insights/Detail?lng=en&id=127973&contextid734=127973&contextid735=127972&tabid=127972.
7 Barack Obama, “President Obama’s Middle East speech (full text),” CBS News, May 19, 2011, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20064356-503544.html.
8 Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Africa Command Seen Taking Key Role,” The New York Times, March 21, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/world/africa/22command.html.
9 Kevin Howe, “U.S. shows interest in Africa: Office got off to rocky start, ambassador says,” The Herald, June 15, 2011, http://www.montereyherald.com/local/ci_18276695?nclick_check=1.
10 Gerrie Swart, “The Role of AFRICOM: Observer, Enforcer, or Facilitator of Peace?” Conflict Trends: Peacekeeping in Africa, Issue 4, pp. 10-11, 2007.
11 Emile Schepers, “AFRICOM and the Libya War: Countering Chinese Influence in Africa,” Centre for 12 Research on Globalization, June 20, 2011, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=24018.
13 Carmel Davis, “AFRICOM’s Relationship to Oil, Terrorism, and China,” Orbis, Vol. 53, No. 1, January 2009 pp. 122-136.
16 Kenneth Mpyisi, “US Involvement in African Peacekeeping,” Conflict Trends: Peacekeeping in Africa, Issue 4, pp. 35-36, 2007.
By Sam Klein
President Barack Obama will try his luck with his new deficit reduction proposal to Congress, which is projected to cut roughly $3 trillion dollars over ten years. Half of the expected reduction will be derived from increased taxes.
Obama’s fourth try at a deficit reduction package does not look promising though, as analysts project a strong Republican disapproval. Republicans in general are most opposed to increasing taxes, especially now. “It’s a bad thing to do in the middle of an economic downturn,” Mitch McConnell says, Senate Minority Leader says.
Yet, Obama is trying to compromise; over $300 billion dollars will be cut from Democrat-supported programs over ten years, which will include major cuts to Medicaid and Medicare. Obama did comment, however, saying that he will veto any bill that reduces Medicare and Medicaid, without increasing taxes on the wealthy.
Most of Obama’s proposed tax cuts will be derived from the expiration of the Bush-era-tax cuts ($800 billion) which will increase the taxes on families making more than $250,000 a year. The total saving will roughly come out to be $1.5 trillion dollars, yet Republican House Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan, states that, “If you tax job creators more, you get less job creation.”
Thus, Congress will have a lot on its plate in the next few weeks, as they determine the best possible route to take for our nation’s economy. Obama certainly proposes drastic cuts and savings, which seem to suggest he is ready for bi-partisan compromise, but will these savings be enough? Yet, the bigger question may be: Can any bill be passed in a Congress so divided?
By Michael Shaw
Since the devastating attacks of September 11th, 2001, our nation has undergone extreme shifts in security, both domestically and on an international level. From the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has attempted to safeguard its citizens in any way possible. While these efforts undoubtedly make the United States safer in some regards, they have far-reaching implications for the entire world that are not always positive.
First, other countries are using the United States’ war on terror as an excuse to execute their own counter terror operations. The problem lies in the fact that these ostensible counter terror operations are in reality thinly veiled human rights violations. These countries use the United States’ actions in Afghanistan and Iraq as justification for oppression of their citizens. For example, an article written by the International Council on Human Policy concludes that Uzbekistan’s government “has linked the detention (and torture) of Muslim opponents to the threat posed by the Afghanistan-based Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, described by the United States as being linked to the al-Qaeda network.” Essentially, as part of its War on Terror, the United States classified the Islamic Movement in Uzbekistan as linked to al-Qaeda, and the Uzbek government is using this classification as a pretext to commit torture and other acts of oppression against Muslims who oppose the current government. Indeed, the Uzbek government’s actions have at some points surpassed those described by the article above; on May 13, 2005, in the city of Andijan, Uzbek government troops fired into a crowd of demonstrators protesting unjust arrests and trials of their fellow Uzbek citizens. The end result was 500 dead and 241 sent to prison. Following its established pattern, the Uzbek government insisted the massacre was carried out due to the protestors’ links to Islamic extremism, once again using the US war on terror as a pretext for violence.
Malaysia is another nation using the United States’ counter terror policies to enforce its own oppressive policies. The same article mentioned above notes that the Malaysian government has cited security threats when justifying its reinforcement of “the country’s Internal Security Act. This act, retained from the British colonial period, allows for detention without trial and has been used to imprison pro-democracy activists and opposition supporters.” In fact, the Prime Minister of Malaysia has explicitly revealed that this reinforcement of detention without trial for activists stems from the actions of “liberal democracies” like the United States. Putting up a façade of concern for national security, the Malaysian government extinguishes internal dissent by simply detaining its opponents.
Second, torture of suspected terrorists, as sanctioned by the United States government, sparks terrorist activity. Since the start of the War on Terror the United States has, controversially, carried out torture in places such as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, a prison in Iraq. This harsh interrogation often ends up inciting terrorist activities because victims of the torture, along with those who hear of it, develop a negative sentiment towards the United States. Major Matthew Alexander, the head of an interrogation team in Iraq, explains “The reason why foreign fighters joined al-Qa’ida… was overwhelmingly because of abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and not Islamic ideology.” He says that when the United States government tries to espouse humans rights while simultaneously torturin suspects, it makes them appear hypocritical which “plays into the hands of al-Qaida”. While the United States uses torture to try to quell terrorism through the acquisition of valuable information regarding terrorists’ tactics, this very act can in fact backfire and create more terrorism. An article published by Brown University seconds Major Alexander’s claim. It reads “Iraqi security chiefs allege that the [conditions in these] U.S. prison actually strengthened Al Qaeda…and increased violence in 2010.” Therefore, United States policies surrounding detention and interrogation have in fact lead to higher recruitment rates for al-Qaeda and a higher rate of violence in Iraq, thus proving these policies to be counter productive. It should be noted that the US government has listened to negative public opinion surrounding the use of torture as a counter terror tactic and has accordingly made efforts to eliminate its use. However, the impacts of past policies can undoubtedly still be felt.
Just over ten years after the September 11th attacks, many are asking the question “Is the world a safer place now than it was a decade ago?” There is no simple answer to that question. Airport security has tightened and our southern border has been fortified, along with many other security enhancements. However, around the world some countries like Uzbekistan and Malaysia are using the United States’ War on Terror as a justification for violations of human rights. Elsewhere, al-Qaeda recruitment rates and insurgent violence in Iraq are rising due to torture carried out in the name of security. Though the United States faces countless concerns both domestically and internationally, it, along with other countries, must take into account the issues outlined in this article when devising security policies. Hopefully future policies will beget an increase in international human rights and a decrease in terrorist recruitment and violence, but for now nations around the globe still face problems stemming from September 11th.
Ten Years After 9/11
By Sam Klein
Just ten years ago, our nation was devastated by a group of Islamic extremists who chose to fly planes into the World Trade Center in New York City. This catastrophic event catalyzed severe reforms in our nation, and consequently was the initial event that stimulated the push for the war on terror. Since that time, our nation has relentlessly improved its security significantly.
One of the major security benefits has been in border security. In September 2011 ABC News reported that after 9/11, in order to prevent potential terrorists from entering the country illegally, security along the United States’ southern border increased dramatically. The increased security measures include doubling the number of Border Patrol agents, creating a secondary fence along the border, and adding towers equipped with cameras to the border. The increased border security used to stop terrorists has resulted in decreased illegal immigration. According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Apprehensions of illegal migrants crossing the nation’s borders, a key indicator of illegal immigration, have plummeted, down 47 percent in the past four years. The number of illegal immigrants arrested and deported from the U.S. has reached record highs, with a growing emphasis on capturing those engaged in criminal activities. The U.S. removed more than 392,000 immigrants last year and is on pace to eclipse that number next year.” The impact of fewer illegal immigrants lies in reduced crime and reduced drug trade. In July 2010 CBS News reported that although illegal immigrants make up only 7% of the states’ population, they make up 40% of those in jail for kidnapping and 13% of those in jail for murder. Notably, from 2008 to 2009 FBI statistics indicate that crime has dropped in Arizona- in some places as much as 20%. Lloyd Easterling, a US Customs and Borders Patrol spokesperson, says the main reason the border has become a safer place is due to post 9/11 security enhancements regarding illegal immigration. Additionally, US Customs and Border Protection notes that “Past successes in border enforcement operations have demonstrated that a border under operational control directly correlates to reduced crime.” Therefore, increased border security has safeguarded the United States from violent crimes and narcotics.
Another great improvement can be seen in aviation security. Garrick Blalock of Cornell University notes that the number of bags checked on airplanes after 9/11 increased by 95% compared to pre 9/11. Additionally, the Government Accountability Office adds that in one-year alone 4.8 million firearms, knives and other prohibited items were confiscated. Additionally, Bryan Keogh of the Chicago Tribune states that just two years after 9/11, more than 10,000 airplanes were equipped with hardened cockpit doors, while Gary Stoller of USA Today notes that today, virtually every plane has this hardened door. An empirical study by Mark Stewart of Ohio State University reveals that this resulted in a risk reduction of 16.67% on flights across America. Lastly, Stewart explains that increased public awareness and better investigating methods “by themselves reduce the risk of a replication of 9/11 by at least 50%”. In fact, without these precautions, he predicts that 300 additional lives would be lost every year. Therefore, aviation security measures have greatly decreased the chance of a lethal terrorist attack.
Lastly, the FBI has greatly increased their security measures taken to fight terrorism. NPR points out that after 9/11 the FBI declared counterterrorism to be its “chief focus”. The Heritage Foundation states that over 40 terrorist plots have been thwarted since 9/11, 18 of them by the FBI. In fact, the article notes that “While all categories of terrorist attacks against U.S. targets at home and overseas have been declining steadily since 2005, thwarted plots have more than doubled during the same period.” Therefore, the FBI’s new focus on counterterrorism prevents terrorist attacks. Another way law enforcement has stepped up security measures has been through increased intelligence sharing. The 9/11 Commission Report has identified as the main cause of 9/11 the lack of a National Intelligence Estimate on the terrorist threat, and the Center for National Policy assessed that “9/11 could have been avoided through 12 instances of increased intelligence sharing, such as if FBI analysis regarding flight school enrollment was shared with the CIA”. Thomas Anderson notes, “The Patriot Act brought down [the] wall [between national security officials and criminal investigators. It] expressly permits the full coordination between intelligence and law enforcement.” James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation asserts that as of May 2011 the number of terrorist plots foiled by the US was “overwhelmingly due to the…policies of enhanced information sharing and intelligence gathering.” Therefore, increased information sharing between government agencies catalyzes law enforcement and leads to more terrorist plots foiled.
In the end, our nation was overwhelmed with horror on that fateful day over ten years ago. Yet, since then, our nation has thrived to work together and combat terrorism. Now, our nation has outstanding security accomplishments to show for it. These concepts of constant improvement and learning form our mistakes are just some of the amazing pillars that our nation strives to uphold.
By Bardia Vaseghi
With all of America holding its breath, President Obama is at a crossroads. In one direction lies revitalized Republicans with the promise of modern conservatism driven by progress and reform. In the other lay Democrats ever more restricted by the radical and moderate factions within their party. As President Obama teeters in the balance, a new diffused grass roots movement named the Tea Party has tapped into antigovernment sentiments and challenged the foundations of both parties. A couple years ago, this movement did not exist and political quarrels were mostly between Democrats and Republicans. Now, it is by some regards the most potent and influential force in modern American politics. When the “Tea Party Nation” began its first national convention in last February, no politicians were paying attention to the tirade against Barack Obama and taxation by the movement’s patron saint, Sarah Palin. As Professor Paul Dougherty from the Belfer School of Government explains, “The decentralized grass roots campaign is without any agreed platform or unified organization and skeptical of any sort of leadership, and neither the Republican Party’s extremist or moderate wings can grab the reigns of the movement.” The bigger message to the citizens of America is this: whatever else their platform consists of, tea-partiers feel that they have been taxed enough already.
Supporters of the movement have cited reasons that are as decentralized as the party’s platform and pay homage to that variety of the party’s advocates. The more radical of the factions assert that the government’s regulation of American markets should be reduced to nothing and that little to no taxes should be placed on the American wealthy. Xavier Sali-i-Martin from Columbia University contends that, “the government is essentially increasing taxes against wealthier citizens for being more educated, hardworking and frugal than their more impoverished counterparts. Basking Ridge has been hurt more than ever before.” In some ways, Mr. Sali-i-Martin is correct. With the recent stimulus and health care packages, citizens have seen a yearly 5% increase on their taxes as a whole to bear the burden of the nation’s woes. This means significantly less luxuries, cars, and up-to-date technology for the rich and poor alike, who will most likely see decreases in their purchases in the next few years. This radical faction has found itself taking the streets and protesting in Nashville, Lexington and even Boston, where thousands have participated in countrywide protests against taxing. The more moderate faction, which consists of more liberal thinkers such as Congressmen Ron Paul, cite the “unconstitutionality of the government’s violation of the states’ rights to certain forms of taxation” as his main conflict with the over-branching government. Both sides, as different as they may be, have converged into a political force that is putting noteworthy pressure on the United States government.
Dissidents from the movement have been generally supportive of President Obama’s policies to rebuild the nation. Professor Simons of the University of Arizona describes the movement as “an attempt by the ailing Republicans to undermine and fire up Americans against the dominant and effective Democrats, who are making reforms to improve the lives of the average American citizen.” The same professor also notes that the decentralized nature of the party can only lead to misinformation and miscommunication amongst the party members and the citizens of the United States. Even notable Republicans such as Senator John McCain are calling the party “a radical phase that will hopefully pass and allow American politics to return to normality and efficiency, because the party is doing nothing but stirring up trouble for the American populace.” Others, especially in Congress, note the misinformed nature of the party. Congressman Harry Reid notes that “the lack of basic commodities for the poorest of America’s citizens is remarkable and no party can justify the isolationist attitudes of President Bush and the Republicans in aiding the poor.” Even Republican Senator John McCain advocates this very claim claim by stating that, “the wealth of some citizens does not necessarily mean that they are more educated or even more capable than impoverished Americans. Luck and inheritance plays a great part in this country’s prosperity, and America is only as rich as its poorest citizens.” It is clear that the opposition to this movement is just as fervent and determined as its supporters.
The debate has raged nationally, tearing apart political parties and social norms. In the face of sweeping reform and unprecedented taxation, the American household is torn apart between moral and financial obligations. The Tea Party has called the financial worries of the nation’s most wealthy citizens to attention, while the opposition is still vehemently advocating the rights of our most impoverished citizens. Indeed, only time will tell which side wins out in this political conflict.
By: Alex Liao
With at least 2,000 estimated Syrian deaths resulting from the uprising against President Assad, international pressures have been mounting to try to isolate the regime and force an end to violence in Hama and in neighboring villages. Turkey, one of Syria’s neighbors and a close trade and political partner, has been leveraging its ties to pressure Syria. The two countries have a lengthy history, with brinkmanship almost resulting in a war over Kurdish militants in Syria during the late 1990s. Since then, Prime Minister Erdogan has worked to build strong ties between the nations to buttress his “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy.
While the West has orchestrated strong international calls for Syria to halt its shelling of villages near the Turkish border, alongside U.S. sanctions against the Commercial Bank of Syria and telecommunications company Syriatel, Turkey has separated itself from these calls to strike a “more optimistic” tone. In particular, Turkey has emphasized the fact that Syrian tanks have started exiting Hama to point out that their engagement, founded upon sturdy economic and diplomatic relations, has been effective. Erdogan noted that Turkey hoped to see a reform process take place within fifteen days.
Nonetheless, while striking this broad optimistic tone about its engagement efforts, Turkey has previously strongly warned Syria, with Turkish newspapers reporting that Ankara may soon end its ties with Syria to cause a “Saddam-like” isolation. It is also important to note that Turkey has, for now, viewed Syria’s actions as an internal issue due to the number of refugees fleeing across the border. Its borders and close ties to Syria have given it leverage, though Erdogan stated that “our patience is running thin,” signaling Turkey’s potential acquiescence to international measures such as sanctions. However, current Turkish policy assumes that the international measures will not escalate without Ankara’s cooperation. Hence, Turkey is currently still holding onto fragile ties with Syria, hoping that engagement will result in a democratic transition under Assad.
Thus, the Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s meeting with President Assad marked Turkey’s final call to Syria to determine Turkey’s foreign policy going forward. Although Syria refused to make concessions beforehand, and continued storming towns near the Turkish border, Davutoglu reported that “concrete steps” were discussed to avoid further confrontations between security forces and civilians and that reform is expected in the coming weeks. While Turkey waits to see the final result of its engagement efforts and whether the reform Assad promises will arrive, Syrian state-run news reported that Syria would continue to crack down on what it believes are “terrorist groups.” Therefore, renewed violence across the border is expected, and the consensus is that the Syrian regime rebuffed Davutoglu during the meeting. With more violence, reform efforts will likely not be taken seriously.
It is likely, however, that Turkey will pursue alternative forms of engagement before trying to join international isolation efforts. The violence has principally caused an exodus of Syrians across the Turkish border. Turkey worries that the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, which has launched terrorist attacks inside Turkey, could exploit the border crossing to send fighters into Turkey. Thus, Turkey’s primary goal is to contain the situation within Syria to stop the violence from overflowing inside its borders. It has mentioned the possibility of a buffer zone in Syria, which would involve military forces but avoid a direct military confrontation. The buffer zone would help manage refugees by providing humanitarian aid, and Turkey tried this option before in Iraq when Saddam persecuted Iraqi Kurds. With escalating tensions across the border, the buffer zone may then be the best option to avoid violence spreading into Turkey and to uphold the AKP’s “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy.
On a regional level, the tensions have cracked Turkey’s foreign policy. Iran and Syria have long supported each other with alliances against Israel and support for Hizballah and Hamas. In turn, Turkey and Iran have formed closer trade ties, and Turkey has even considered military cooperation against the PKK. Abandoning the Assad regime, then, would cause Turkey to be seen as an “ally of the West” by Iran since both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have openly denounced Syria. Turkey, in an effort to avoid this, has not openly abandoned Assad and will perhaps continue to wait for reforms instead of risking another close trade partner. Indeed, Turkish officials have noted that Iran has stopped criticizing Turkey’s anti-Syrian positions since the Davutoglu meeting. Most indications are that Turkish-Iranian relations will survive, as even Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will choose to privately abandon Syria if it feels that Assad’s regime has lost all leverage. Their shared interests, particularly their trade ties and cooperation against Kurdish separatists, will form the basis for their future cooperation and relations.
On the other end, the United States is likewise concerned about Turkey’s relations with Iran. It has warned Turkish officials and businesses about the loss of access to American markets if economic relations with Iran continue to build up. Both the United States and the EU have been pressuring Turkey to take tougher stances on Iran, and will likely do so even more as Iran has been providing economic support to Syria. However, Turkey is expected to ignore these pressures and pave its own foreign policy for two reasons. First, on an ideological level, the ruling AKP party in Ankara has a strong religiously conservative bloc which will continue to push for ties with Iran and Muslim countries in general. Second, on a pragmatic level, Turkey depends on Iran for a third of its natural gas imports, and bilateral trade has helped support the economy during the recession. Turkish businesses that operate in Iran also are among the top supporters of the AKP. Thus, Erdogan is likely to yield to these pressures and continue to ignore Western pressures unless violence in Syria seriously threatens to overflow and threaten Turkey’s regional interests. In this scenario, Western governments would be expected to directly block Iranian ties with Turkey, especially in the financial sector as it has done with Iran’s relations with the UAE and India, forcing Turkey to join or lead international, Western-backed efforts.
Most recently, reports from Syria indicate an expanding level of repression, with tanks and gunmen moving on Latakia and Qusair. This is seen as a response to the crowds that have formed in anger against the regime in several cities. With conflict escalating and hopes of engagement thinning out, Turkey may even consider leading an international intervention effort. Of course, this would most likely take place after sanctions efforts and a period of intense international pressure led or joined by Turkey. Nevertheless, Turkish government officials have been sure to emphasize that they have not ruled out an international intervention. Specifically, the Turkish army has additionally summoned hundreds of officers for reserve duty near the Syrian border to prepare for refugees and possible NATO strikes in the future. Therefore, this option is a distinct reality, though an unlikely one at this point in time.
In this way, Turkey remains committed to its foreign policy – one that is neither staunchly Western or anti-Western. It will continue pursuing engagement to maintain its trade ties in the region, and only when all engagement efforts and alternatives are exhausted will it choose to lead international isolation initiatives. If these efforts lead to intensified violence which Ankara believes may spillover, it may then plan an international intervention with NATO. Turkey realizes that isolating the Assad regime may well escalate tensions with Syria and Iran, without producing substantive reforms or reduction in violence. Although Turkey is holding back from leading international efforts against Syria, it is doing so to uphold peace in the region. If its engagement proves to be successful, then the West will have less to worry and Turkey will retain its economic and political prowess. If not, then regional turmoil is likely as Turkey works to balance between its economic and security interests at home and broader political interests in the West.
1 Zirulnick, Ariel, “Turkey risks Syria’s friendship in last-ditch effort to end violence,” The Christian Science Monitor, August 9, 2011, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/terrorism-security/2011/0809/Turkey-risks-Syria-s-friendship-in-last-ditch-effort-to-end-violence.
2 Malas, Nour and Marc Champion, “Turkey Sees Progress in Syria, as U.S. Adds Sanctions,” The Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904823804576500213625757614.html.
3 EurActiv.com, “Turkey delivers ‘final warning’ to Syria,” EurActiv.com, August 9, 2011, http://www.euractiv.com/en/global-europe/turkey-delivers-final-warning-syria-news-506931.
4 Kennedy, Elizabeth A., “International pressure on Syria grows,” The Associated Press, August 09, 2011, http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5httabeCciPzthQniT8O55xMX-UfQ?docId=63059c1348e3466a8da0f5877d18217f.
5 al-Hatem, Fadwa, “Turkey’s complex relationship with its neighbour Syria,” The Guardian, August 10, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/10/turkey-syria-complex-relationship.
6 Cagaptay, Soner, “A Turkish Buffer Zone Inside Syria?” Hurriyet Daily News, July 3, 2011, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=a-turkish-buffer-zone-inside-syria-2011-07-03.
7 Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, “Syria Clouds Turkey’s Sunny Parade With Iran,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, August 10, 2011, http://www.rferl.org/content/syria_clouds_turkeys_sunny_parade_with_/24293032.html.
8 World Tribune, “Turkey weighs boosting Iran’s assault on Kurds in Iraq,” World Tribune, August 10, 2011, http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2011/me_turkey1004_08_10.asp.
9 Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, “Syria Clouds Turkey’s Sunny Parade With Iran,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, August 10, 2011, http://www.rferl.org/content/syria_clouds_turkeys_sunny_parade_with_/24293032.html.
10 Habibi, Nader, “Iran-Turkey economic ties and US sanctions,” Sunday’s Zaman, August 14, 2011, http://www.todayszaman.com/news-253652-iran-turkey-economic-ties-and-us-sanctions.html.
11 Neild, Barry, “Assad orders tanks into rebel towns as Syria’s brutal crackdown intensifies,” The Guardian, August 13, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/13/assad-tanks-rebel-towns-syrian.
12 United Press International, “Turkey may intervene in Syria,” United Press International, August 13, 2011, http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2011/08/13/Turkey-may-intervene-in-Syria/UPI-31261313274605/?spt=hs&or=tn.
13 Bar’el, Zvi, “Syria uprising may lead to regional war,” Haaretz.com, August 12, 2011, http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/zvi-bar-el-syria-uprising-may-lead-to-regional-war-1.378391.