Ankara has warned that, should UN approval for action against Syria fail, Turkey will join forces with any international coalition against the Syrian regime. Opposition parties have strongly opposed these plans.
Turkey is considering its options with regard to joining a possible US-led international coalition against the Syrian regime, government officials announced on Tuesday (27.08.2013). However, great security risks, as well as legal and political challenges, limit the Turkish government's room for maneuver.
"If a coalition of countries [against the Syrian regime, ed.] were to emerge, Turkey would take part in such an international coalition," said Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc on Tuesday. "This international coalition is likely to be a coalition of at least 20, 25 countries. Turkey may take part in such a coalition in order to end this massacre in Syria," he added, and suggested that any such involvement would have humanitarian aims.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also described the poison gas attack in Syria as a "crime against humanity" and stressed that such a crime "cannot go unpunished." He reiterated that Ankara's priority was still for the UN Security Council to reach a united position on Syria. Ankara, however, has become increasingly frustrated with the Security Council's inaction.
Difficult decisions ahead
For more than two years, Turkey has been calling for multilateral UN intervention in Syria and the establishment of a no-fly zone, but so far it has failed to convince its Western allies and regional partners. Now, amid mounting expectations of US-led military intervention in Syria, Turkey too has started to review its contingency plans for possible action against the Syrian regime.
"Turkey wants to play a significant role in future developments," Serkan Demirtas, an Ankara-based foreign policy journalist, told DW. "But many things are still unclear. The political and military talks between the allies and partners are still ongoing."
Turkey shares a 910-kilometre border with neighboring Syria. The conflict in Syria over the past two and a half years has negatively affected the security situation in Turkey's border region and created new threats for the country, which is a member of NATO.
Syrian refugees have been flooding into Turkey, fleeing the fighting between rebels and the Assad regime
Some Turkish observers point out that if Turkey participates directly in military operations by an international coalition, this could create greater security challenges for the country. A possible retaliation by the Syrian regime using chemical weapons continues to be a major concern for Turkish political and military leaders.
In the event of any international military action, Ankara's contribution is expected to be mostly in the form of intelligence, as well as humanitarian and logistical support. The Turkish government is also likely to open its military bases to the coalition forces, if this action is requested by its allies and the parties can agree on the details.
Turkey is home to Incirlik and Izmir, two of the nearest NATO air bases to Syria.
The strategically-important Incirlik air base has been used for US-led strikes in the past, such as those on Iraq in 1990.
The base was also one of the most important hubs for providing logistical support to US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, including humanitarian airlift operations and special operations missions. Recently a US Patriot missile system was deployed at the base to defend against a possible Syrian attack.
Legal and political challenges
While opening Incirlik and other bases to coalition forces would be one way for the Turkish government to support an international coalition, legal and political challenges limit Turkey's room for maneuver in this respect.
"According to a 1980 agreement between the US and Turkey, and its additional protocol that defines the rules for the usage of Incirlik by Americans for military operations, there should be either a UN Security Council decision or a NATO decision that would constitute the legal base for such an operation," Cagri Erhan, a professor at Ankara University, told DW.
If neither NATO nor the Security Council have approved it, deployment of US or coalition forces to Turkish bases must be approved in advance by the Turkish parliament. In March 2003, the Turkish parliament rejected a resolution authorizing the deployment of US forces to Turkey with the aim of opening up a northern front in the war against Saddam Hussein's regime. Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to get the resolution passed despite having a parliamentary majority at the time.
On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Arinc said that the government intended to prepare a new resolution to join any international coalition and take action against Syria. But opposition parties insist that such a move would be a clear breach of the constitution, as the Turkish constitution seeks "international legitimacy" for such military operations.
"Any intervention without the authorization of a UN resolution may spark a regional fire," warned Faruk Logoglu, a former Turkish ambassador and deputy chairman of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). "It doesn't matter how many countries support such an intervention: this will not have international legitimacy," he stressed. "Turkey should first wait for the report by UN experts on the poison gas attack in Syria, and the decision of UN Security Council."