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Turkey's balancing act

Baha Güngör / wsOctober 14, 2014

Turkey has drawn criticism for being an idle observer to the fight against the "Islamic State" instead of supporting the Kurds. Its strategy puts the NATO member state in a dangerous position, argues DW's Baha Güngör.

Turkish tanks along the border to Syria
Image: picture-alliance/AA/Ozge Elif Kizil

Turkish tanks are positioned on the border to Syria like pearls on a string, observing the fierce fighting on the neighbor country's territory from a safe distance. Since Kurdish stronghold Kobani came under attack from the "Islamic State" terrorists, Turkey has been facing expectations of crossing the border into Syria and using its ground combat troops to put an end to the IS offensive single-handedly.

Good reasons against a Turkish invasion

Critics of the current Turkish policy do not seem to give serious thought to the possible consequences of any such intervention. Is Turkey supposed to act as an occupying power in Syria? What would be the consequences of a counteroffensive by IS troops? And what if Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad deployed troops against Turkey, sent out on a mission to protect his own territory? Would not, then, Syrian backers Russia and Iran try to support Assad? And who would assume responsibility if one Middle East country after another - including Israel - was drawn into a war on multiple fronts?

It is hard to take issue with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's approach of refusing to authorize single-handed Turkish combat action in Syria and instead demanding jointly coordinated efforts by the anti-IS coalition under leadership of the US. However, hidden behind Erdogan's demands is his aim to oust Syrian dictator Assad along with IS. It is out of the question for Erdogan to abandon this aim against his former friend Assad because the Turkish leader has already stuck his head so far out the window on the issue. However, none of his allies is prepared to go along with him. They all remain focused solely on destroying IS.

Bahaeddin Güngör
DW's Baha GüngörImage: DW

Turkey should allow use of military bases

Making matters even more complex is Ankara's fear of the Kurds. Turkey is anxious that, after a liberation of Kobani, Kurds from both Turkey and Syria could build an anti-Turkish coalition. Consequently, Turkey makes it difficult for the Kurds to cross the border, which in turn considerably weakens the defenders of Kobani.

International pressure relating to the fight against IS on the one hand and fears of a resurgence of the militant Turkish Kurds' struggle against Ankara on the other have been paralyzing the Turkish leaders for days now. They have missed out on a number of occasions to open up to the Kurds - as was planned initially - and work out a peace agreement with them.

Instead, Ankara has bombarded PKK rebel positions for the first time in two years. This is truly bad timing. 30 years after the PKK - considered a terrorist organization in Germany as well - began its struggle for an independent state, which left 40,000 dead and millions of civilians driven from their homes, a new eruption of separatist violence and military counter-violence in Turkey seems to be on the cards.

As long as Turkey is focused on itself and on its Kurdish problem instead of joining the ranks of the anti-terror coalition, the situation is going to get even more chaotic. Therefore, Turkey would be well advised to make at least one small concession and finally allow the anti-terror coalition to use military bases on its territory, which would lead to more efficient airstrikes against IS. For decades, Turkey has been proud to be thought of as a reliable partner in the Western defense alliance. That status is now - 62 years after Turkey joined NATO - at stake.