Writing Armageddon

Writing Armageddon
Furious writing or writing furiously?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Syria-Turkey: A Dangerous Dyad

Syria-Turkey: A Dangerous Dyad
Konstantinos Travlos, PhD

Turkish artillery on the Syria border. Source: http://www.aljazeera.com/mritems/Images/2016/2/14/cc6d643a6b0649d2b166f9848cb26d9c_18.jpg

The recent militarized interstate dispute between Syria andTurkey , as well as the ongoing opposition between President Rejep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, has raised questions of how likely are we to see an escalation. Turkish troops are present in Syria, and Turkey together with Saudi Arabia are among the most important supporters of the Syrian anti-regime forces.  To get a handle on that question I will once more use the Steps to War framework developed by Paul Senese and John A. Vasquez to evaluate the presence of conflict fostering factors in the Syria-Turkey dyad. This is similar to previous analyses on the Azerbaijan-Armenia dyad, and the Russia-Turkey dyad conducted by the contributor.


Once more let us begin with the baseline findings from the Steps to War analysis. The table below shows how a set of real-politik policies affect the likelihood of a militarized interstate dispute escalating to war in the 1816-2000 period.

Effect of Factors on Likelihood of MID escalation to War

Factor
1816-1945
1945-1989
1990-2000
Territorial Dispute
Increase
Increase
Increase
Contiguity
Not Increase
Not Increase
Not Increase
Enduring Rivalry
Increase
Increase
Unclear
Mutual Military Buildups(Arms Races)
Increase
Increase (especially for Territorial Disputes)
Unclear
Common Alliance
No effect
No effect
Slight Increase
Different Alliance
Increase
Decrease
Increase
Prior MIDs
Increase
Increase
Increase


The next table focuses on the presence of these factors in the Syria-Turkish dyad.

Factor
Presence in Syria-Turkey Case
Source
Prior MIDs
The last Syria-Turkish MID in the data took place on 2004
Rivalry (Enduring Rivalry in old formulation)
14 prior Syria-Turkish disputes have taken place in the 1955-1998 period that are enough for an enduring rivalry.

 The 2004 and 2016 disputes have taken place within 20 years of the last 1955-1998 Rivalry dispute, thus the rivalry is still active.
Strategic Rivalry
Yes
Outside Alliances
Yes
Territorial Dispute-Issue
No ongoing Territorial issues, but two persistent Riverine issues

To the above we can some other conflict fostering factors. First, the Turkish government is having increasingly greater problems with theAlevi population of Turkey. The main supporters of the Assad regime in Syria are Alevis, and the main opponents are Sunni. Should either side decide to fully politicize these religion differences, an ethnic issue will be added to the riverine issues already present in the dyad. However, this might already be the case as a result of the support the Turkish state is giving to Turkmen armed groups within Syria.

Second, the Turkish government has increasingly cast doubton the Treaty of Lausanne, that brought to an end the Turkish War of Independence (in Greece known as Asia Minor Campaign or Turkish-Greek War).  While there is a debate on whether this activity is for internal consumption, in the context of rivalry, the questioning of existing territorial treaties is a very dangerous. The angry reaction of the Greek state is the one expected by those who study rivalry. The findings of scholars working on the territorial peace argument, is that treaties that settle borders are an important factor for robust peace, and may very well be antecedent to the democratic peace. The Treaty of Lausanne did not cover just the western borders of the new Turkish state, but also its eastern boarders, and especially those with the French mandate in Syria, that would become the Syrian state.  While some commentators see the comments on Lausanne targeted at Iraqi control of Mosul, in the context of rivalry, the Syrian government might very well see it as also targeting the Turkish-Syrian border. It is not the facts that count in rivalry, but the perceptions.

If we take into consideration all of the above we can see that by the standards of the Risk Barometer Schema developed by Senese and Vasquez, the Syria-Turkey dyad is a high risk of war dyad. Four war-inducing factors are present, with a potential two more forming. Thus of all the dyad explored to date in this blog (Russia-Turkey and Azerbaijan-Armenia) this is the one with the highest likelihood to experience escalation to war.

However, interstate war is a rare event, and there are two countervailing factors that might dampen the escalation dynamics.

1)Regulatory Linkage: Both Syria and Turkey are linked with close relations with Russia. Ever since the failed Coup de’etat attempt of 15th July 2016 (see here  and here for coverage of this event on this blog) , the President of Turkey has decided to extinguish any liberal elements in the political system of Turkey, transforming it to a illiberal presidential democracy. As a result of the negative reaction of the EU to this, the Turkish state has become closer to the Russian state. The two sides have resolved the issues stemming from their November 2015 MID. President Vladimir Putin of Russia is one of the main allies of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Due to the increasing isolation of Turkey from the EU, Russia is becoming an increasingly important economic and strategic partner. It is unlikely that President Putin would stand by and permit a war, however brief, between Turkey and Syria. The question is whether the costs he can impose on Turkey would outpace the costs the Turkish state would see in not going to war.

2) The Kurdish issue : Both Syria and Turkey have large Kurdish communities. These are politically active, armed, and connected (unlike the Kurds of Iraq). A potential Turkey-Syria war, however brief, would be a huge window of opportunity for a drive to Kurdish autonomy or even independence. It would also open the space for an enhancement of Kurdish military capabilities. Thus neither state has an incentive to bring their struggle to the point of war, as long as the Kurds could be the potential winners. However, if one of the two states could somehow co-opt their Kurdish populations, and present themselves as defenders of Kurdish identity, than the presence of Kurds across the borders could become an ethnic issue, and another war inducing factor.


In conclusion, the Turkey-Syria dyad is an extremely dangerous one. However, there are two important conflict inhibiting factors present that will dampen escalation dynamics. If one of the two weakens of becomes nullified, than the likelihood of war between these two states would be very high, though not over-determined.  Until then expect continued MIDs.

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