8 Reasons Turkey Will Not Cross the Syrian Border
This article first appeared in Radikal
ANKARA - Turkey is still struggling to form a coalition government weeks after the Parliamentary elections that denied an outright majority to the ruling AKP party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But in the meantime, another pressing question has been raised in the halls of Ankara: Will Turkey enter Syria to create a so-called "buffer zone?" The shortest answer to that question is Turkey should absolutely not take such action, but the reasons have both domestic and foreign implications.
Domestic politics: There is no government yet formed to come to such an important decision and take responsibility for it. The Justice and Development Party's (AKP) potential coalition partners, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), have clear motivations against intervening in Syria; such a move would effectively end the coalition negotiations before they begin. Because of this, some worry that Erdogan's AKP may prefer gathering support for a war before a potential early election.
International law: Military intervention in a sovereign country without a United Nations Security Council decision or an invitation from that country would be an act of invasion and violation of international law. This is not a small matter. If instead the goal is to work within a framework of international law, Turkey may try to argue such a buffer zone would qualify under the UN's "Responsibility to Protect" criteria. But in this case, evidence that will convince the world should be presented. President Erdogan's claims on the Kurds practicing ethnic cleansing against Arabs and Turkmens lack evidence.
The target is PYD, not ISIS: Turkey intervening to Syria now, after turning a blind eye to countless tragedies in Syrian territory, ISIS massacres and the presence of organizations like the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front along the border, would be perceived as Turkey targeting the Syrian Kurds for ulterior motives. Pro-AKP media have published some stories such as "The PYD is more dangerous than ISIS." The government's indifferent during the ISIS attacks on Kobane is still fresh in memories, both at home and abroad.
Global diplomacy: Except for Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Free Syrian Army, there is almost nobody who would support Turkey crossing into Syria. Regional powers Iran and Iraq foremost are opposed, but other groups clashing in Syria, as well as UN Security Council members such as China and Russia, would most likely object. The anti-ISIS coalition of Western countries led by the US would see such a move above all as complicating factor in an already complicated part of the world.
US-Kurdish relations: Everybody knows how differently Turkey and the United States perceive the situation in Syria. Turkey says the ISIS problem cannot be solved while Bashar al-Assad remains in power, and the U.S. says the regime cannot be brought down while the ISIS threat is present. Turkey has even blamed the U.S. indirectly for supporting the Kurd-led PYD toward the goal of forming a Kurdish state in Syria. One high-ranking foreign diplomat in Ankara told me: "The Kurds are the only power Obama trusts for fighting ISIS. Obama's need for Kurds is even greater than the Kurds' need for Obama."
Weight of history: It is historically known that Turkey is weak in terms of guiding developments in its own region. During the 1990's Turkey's goal was destroying the PKK and preventing the Kurds from founding a state in Iraq. Today, bad Turkish policy decisions in Syria mean that Ankara has even less weight in pushing through its agenda.
Military rationale: The command of the Turkish Armed Forces is about to change, and in such a context military leaders have said off-the-record that they are not willing to begin such an intervention.
Armed groups in Syria: There are about 15 different armed groups in the region where Turkey is planning to form a buffer zone, and most of them would not welcome the Turkish soldiers there.
In light of all these factors, any military intervention of Turkey across the border into Syria would be nothing but a pure adventure with seriously painful results. This in turn gives greater urgency to the rapid formation of a coalition government to dismiss this 'adventurous' thinking once and for all.