Turkey's parliament recently called for more forceful involvement in Syria, and observers are now looking for clues on how Turkey may change its role in the crisis south of the border. The focus has been on Turkey's function as a main transit route for Islamist radicals. However, any shift in Ankara's foreign policy should not prioritize border control or invasion. Ankara's most effective contribution to changing the course of events in Syria would be a strategic reassessment of how weapons are allowed to flow across Turkish borders to opposition groups in Syria.
During the day, border crossings between Syria and Turkey provide a vital lifeline to the masses still residing in opposition-held northern Syrian areas. Essential goods come in and out, and passport-holding Syrians are free to enter Turkey. The business carried out across Turkey's borders at night, however, is of a different character. After the crossings close for civilians, trucks loaded with weapons rumble through, loaded with cargoes meant to arm Syria's many opposition groups. The improper oversight of these deliveries is a key obstacle to the development of a coherent Syrian opposition.
To be clear, the deliveries are vital to the Syrian opposition. Without these weapons, an even larger segment of northern Syria's population would have to flee regime forces and the Islamic State fighters who are close to encircling Aleppo and capturing the important border crossing near Azaz. Yet Turkey's weapons supply policy is also contributing to the instability. It is arguably at the root of the Syrian nationalist opposition's disarray, and by extension Turkey's handling of the situation hinders any resolution to Syria's crisis. In so doing, there is an opportunity for NATO to become more engaged in Syria and therefore become an actor which can politically direct the opponents to Assad's rule.