Turkey’s involvement in the conflict has eroded the country’s diplomatic position for a number of reasons.
Russia will be the true victor of this all-encompassing proxy war, gaining a new air base in Syria and an expansion of its naval facility on the Mediterranean. However, if Assad is removed from power, the next leader of Syria may not agree to keep natural gas in the Persian Gulf from passing through the country. If such an agreement is scrapped, then it will threaten Russia’s control over European gas markets, eroding a huge source of revenue for the Kremlin. Iran will also declare victory because it will be able to maintain its influence over Syria for the time being. However, Iran used up a lot of resources and manpower during the war, while it would have had far less success without the Russian intervention.
Members of the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council all wanted Assad gone, but did not always agree on which rebel groups to fund. After spending too much on the wrong ones, Qatar was blockaded by the GCC and a few other countries that Saudi Arabia managed to assemble. Though they gained almost nothing from the Syrian Civil War, the Gulf States suffered little direct damage. The U.S. tacitly supported the Gulf States because Washington also wanted Assad gone, while offering protection to US-backed rebel groups and its own covert forces.
The countries on the winning and losing sides of this conflict either win a lot or lose a little. So how is it that Turkey has managed to be the only major power to have its position so undermined as a result of the war?
The two sides mentioned above mark the major opposing forces in the Syrian Civil War. However, Turkey has attempted to forge its own path throughout the conflict. Though a member of NATO, it is currently at odds with the U.S. policy in Syria. Turkey shot down a Russian plane two years ago, but is now seeing if it can get on the Kremlin's good side. Turkish and Iranian leaders met in August to discuss strategy, and together they began sending supplies to Qatar to counter the Saudi blockade. However, Turkey wants Assad gone, making it difficult to get along with Iran and Russia. This puts it in the same category as the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the rest of NATO, which have given Turkey the cold shoulder. The Syrian Civil War was disastrous for Turkey, and it remains unclear as to how the country’s leadership will steer the country away from its many problems.
Turkey’s comparative military strength looks weaker, not stronger than it was before the war.
Two months after the beginning of the Russian intervention in Syria, Turkish jets shot down a Russian bomber after it strayed into Turkish airspace. The ensuing diplomatic crisis resulted in Russia slapping sanctions on Turkey, the Turkish foreign minister claiming that they did not know the bomber was Russian, the two pilots who downed the Russian plane being detained, and Turkey apologizing for the incident a few months later.
Turkey folded under pressure, making the country appear frail at a time of regional warfare and instability. Russia increased its military efforts and helped Assad regain control over Syria, while Turkey did its best to control violence on the border and inside its own territory.
The S.C.W. helped increase Turkey’s isolation from international institutions, as well as former allies.
Turkey is a member of NATO, but not the EU. After the Russian incident, Turkey looked to NATO for reinforcement. The EU had just sanctioned Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis, and because [many EU members are also in NATO](https://conceptdraw.com/a1130c3/preview--European membership of the EU and NATO map), Turkey assumed that both institutions would be quick to come to their aid. However, as a US-dominated institution, NATO’s support is based on how the U.S. perceives that country’s dedication to American foreign policy. Because Turkish and American foreign policies have clashed in the S.C.W., Turkey did not receive much more than symbolic reassurance.
Turkey received billions of dollars from the EU in 2015, in order to help stem the flow of refugees into Europe. The deal has not gone as smoothly as planned, while pro-Turkish government rallies in EU member states have further strained ties. Turkey has accepted it will never join the EU and no longer tries as hard to please the institution. Nonetheless, it comes at a time when NATO is distancing itself from Turkey as well, forcing the country to deal with Russia alone.
Blowback from the war helped result in an attempted military coup, leaving the government on shaky foundations.
In June last year, an attempted military coup almost removed Turkish President Recep Erdogan from power. Though the coup failed, it revealed that elements within Turkey’s powerful military apparatus were deeply concerned with the president’s handling of recent events, as well as Turkey’s growing alienation from previously-reliable allies.
In the aftermath of the coup, almost 50,000 people were arrested, and Turkish media and government officials accused the U.S. of helping to organize the coup. Many of the military’s top brass were removed from their positions, meaning the country’s military is unorganized and less effective. Without the backing of a strong military during a period of regional instability, Erdogan’s hold on power will remain volatile.
The war has exacerbated Turkey’s long-standing tension with its Kurdish minority.
Turkey has been locked in a civil conflict against a Kurdish militant group since the late 1970s. The Iraq War resulted in Iraqi Kurds being granted greater autonomy, while the breakdown in national order in Syria has resulted in a similar situation developing for the Kurdish population there. Turkey is terrified of this mentality spreading to its own Kurdish minority, estimated to make up roughly 20 percent of the total population.
After a comparative lull in violence, the Syrian Civil War helped usher in a return to hostilities from 2014-onward. Syrian and Iraqi Kurds have in turn gained valuable battlefield experience after years of war, and this does not bode well for the Turkish military’s ability to contain an increasingly-irate Kurdish population within Turkey itself. The Syrian Civil War simply blew the lid off of a conflict that Turkey has been trying to bury for decades. By attempting to prevent different Kurdish groups from coordinating their military and humanitarian efforts, Turkey has managed to anger not only their own Kurdish population, but those in Syria and Iraq as well.
Russian President Putin meets with Turkish President Erdogan. (Credit: kremlin.ru)
Not all of these factors affecting Turkey are entirely its fault. The U.S.’ support for the Kurds in Syria has naturally drawn them apart. The Russian intervention and defense of Assad after Syrian defense systems shot down a Turkish jet forced Turkey to respond eventually. Nonetheless, Turkish leaders have done little to effectively counter the country’s desperate situation. Its military power has been brought into question, while it no longer has any powerful allies it can count on. Meanwhile, the Turkish government barely survived a coup, and is facing an armed Kurdish population within and outside its borders.
The only real solution is for Turkey to align itself with a nuclear power again (which means the U.S. or Russia). Iran and Russia have a symbiotic relationship, though not as close as the one between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.. Turkey can either throw its weight behind Washington or Moscow, or be squeezed between these two camps. As we saw during the Syrian Civil War, jumping between the two does not work. If Turkey’s isolation continues, then its foreign policy and domestic stability will suffer irreparably.🔷