No Minister

Other things to worry about?

Not NZ specifically since we’re so far away, but it seems the whole Turkey-Syria fight has flared up a little more than before:

Airstrikes and artillery attacks by Syria killed 33 Turkish troops on Thursday as Ankara edged closer to all-out war with the Syrian regime. Turkey hit back, targeting Syrian positions up and down the line, bringing the two sides closer to a major escalation that’s bound to involve Russia.

Worse is that there is some motion afoot in the Turkish parliament to make an actual declaration of war against Syria, which would be novel in our modern world where wars are fought without such traditions, but which would not be a smart move, given that Russia is backing Syria and has troops in-country. Iran is now reportedly also threatening Turkey, saying its troops must leave Syria or face a missile barrage.

And of course Turkey is still part of NATO.

Barely, it’s true, given the increased tensions between Europe and Turkey over the last twenty years as Erdogan has strengthened his control of Turkey. Similarly with the USA being part of NATO: after several years when Bush and Obama tried being friendly with Erdogan the Trump administration finally saw the light and has stopped the sale of the F-35 fighters to Turkey after it purchased advanced S-400 AA missile systems from Russia. Still, that’s has not stopped Erdogan from trying it on:

“We call on NATO to (start) consultations. This is not (an attack) on Turkey only, it is an attack on the international community. A common reaction is needed. The attack was also against NATO,” one of Erdogan’s spokesmen told media outlets.

It’s hard to see the rest of NATO being willing to exercise their commitments to come to the defence of a member when that member has effectively declared war of Russia as well as Syria. Erdogan is not so stupid as to think the request will be honoured, but it has to be made formally, and then some stick added by giving his fellow NATO nations a heads-up as to what may happen if he doesn’t feel their love:

A Turkish official declared that the borders would be opened, allowing tens of thousands of refugees access to central Europe. While not official, Greece and Bulgaria are reinforcing their borders, determined to keep the newcomers out.

Turkey is home to about 3.6 million Syrian refugees already! The thought of even a good portion of them heading for Europe must be keeping the EU leaders awake at night. Germany would probably keep its borders open, but others would likely follow the path of Greece.

And there are likely more on the way into Turkey itself. Between 700-800,000 are on the move in the Syrian province of Idlib on Turkey’s border. It’s this area where most of the fighting is now as Iranian, Russian and Assad’s Syrian forces try to take back control. They’re doing it via the tactic that has proved successful elsewhere: bomb the crap out of the area until all the civilians have left and the rebel and terrorist groups are the only ones remaining or leave with the civilians.

The new Turkish offensive in Syria and the aggressive moves by the pro-Assad coalition which is trying to re-conquer the last major rebel hub in Idlib have created an unprecedented humanitarian disaster even by Syrian standards.

Basically a scorched earth campaign straight out the pages of history books. Erdogan could not give a damn about the Syrian lives lost, but he does not want any more refugees:

Erdogan’s nationalist ally, Devlet Bahceli, on February 11, said Turkey should prepare to march on Damascus to stop the Syrian offensive in Idlib that is threatening to send hundreds of thousands of refugees into Turkey,

While the Turkish concerns over massive refugee inflows is a legtimate, rational concern, the fact is that Erdogan is cut from the same cloth as Assad, Ayatollah Khamenei and Putin. While a Syria-Turkey scrap would once have been considered part of the Cold War those days are long past. Erdogan has imperial dreams and desires that Turkey to be the one with power, influence and control in the region. That contest between Russia, Iran and Turkey is really what’s at the heart of this latest increase in fighting and tensions. Syria is merely a puppet.

“The fight for freedom of the Syrian people is a fight for survival for Turkey’s 82 million people,” Erdogan said. 

Uh Huh. Here’s an example of his idea of “freedom”, as I pointed out last year:

Erdogan is not someone that the West should be eager to assist. While the burdern of responsibilty falls on Syria, Russia and Iran, Turkey has not helped itself here, and they’ve certainly got themselves off-side with their Western allies. It’s questionable whether the US, and Europe in particular even wants to help Erdogan out of this jam: they might prefer him to be weakened by it.

Even before the rise of Erdogan, NATO spent decades dealing with the internal strains of members Turkey and Greece going at eachother, sometimes with shots fired, so it might be interesting to see how Putin deals with balancing Syria, Iran and Turkey.

However, for similar reasons to that of NATO, Putin is probably content to let Syria, Iran and Turkey bleed themsleves for a while longer. He’s threatened some minor sanctions on Turkey but there are those missile sales to think about, possibly to be followed by more Russian military equipment and the prospect of prying Turkey away from NATO as part of his long-term plan to weaken the alliance and Europe further.

The question that Europe and the US must ask itself is whether they care about losing Turkey. Aside from the threat of those three million Syrian refugees I can’t think why they would.

Written by Tom Hunter

March 2, 2020 at 8:08 pm

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