19 January 2013
JTW Interview with Assoc. Prof. Selçuk Çolakoðlu, Turkish Foreign Policy Expert from USAK
What began as civil unrest in Syria two years back has become more violent with time. At the moment there seems to be no end to atrocities faced by the average Syrian, who is caught in the crossfire between the regime’s forces and rebel fighters. With over 60,000 Syrians being killed and over 2.5 million being displaced, the civil unrest has snowballed into an international humanitarian crisis…
The Syrian case is a sad one for the international community as a whole. There is a full-scale civil war in the country; over 100 persons, including women and children, are being killed every day. Many instances of brutal killings and rape of women are coming to light. As you rightly said, Syria and the region as a whole, is facing a serious humanitarian crisis. Neighbouring countries Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq today harbour nearly half a million Syrian citizens. On the Turkish side, there are about a 150,000 refugees and they have been accorded the status of ‘guests’. While the living conditions in Turkish refugee camps are satisfactory, the same cannot be said about camps in Lebanon and Jordan. Within Syria itself there is a huge population of displaced individuals and families. Many of them live in dilapidated houses or on the streets. The civic infrastructure has been destroyed and so there is shortage of power and water. Moreover, they face a constant threat of bombings and destruction. So, I implore the international community to take a more serious view of the humanitarian crisis and gear up to tackle it on a priority basis. Though the Assad regime has been weakened by the civil war, it can sustain itself for about one year. In other words, inaction by the international community could commit Syria into civil strife for few more years.
How is the civil war affecting Syria’s neighbours and West Asia as a whole?
The Syrian case is disturbing equilibrium in the neighbourhood and has the potential to destabilise the region. As the number of refugees increase, neighbouring countries will find it increasingly difficult to accommodate them all. If the civil war continues, Syria will become a breeding ground for terrorists and illicit networks (human trafficking, drug trafficking etc), given the strategic geographical position of the country. If that happens, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq will be negatively impacted. Iraq and Lebanon are particularly vulnerable. Iraq is now on the brink of a civil war as there are unresolved conflicts between the Central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Authority. Moreover, the struggle between the Shia Arab majority and the Sunni Arab minority is well documented. Within Syria itself, sectarian violence is raising its ugly head. An unstable Syria is also bad news for Israel challenging its long-term security in the region. On the other hand, the civil war has made radical movements very strong in Syria. The regime forces and opposition fighters need money, ammunition and shelter and some of it is coming from the radicalised factions. If radical elements take centre stage, no country in the region will feel secure. The ‘Afghanization’ of Syria could become a reality if the international community does not move fast. Let us not forget that Syria is a Mediterranean country. Strife in Iraq and Syria could be detrimental to the stability of West Asia. A conflict-ridden West Asia is bad news for Europe, Central Asia and South Asia.
What steps should the international community take to rein in the violence in Syria?
All international actors have a moral responsibility to end the humanitarian crisis facing the country. A participatory and pluralistic approach must be adopted in order to broker a compromise between the Assad Forces and the Free Syrian Army. However, this is easier said that done, given the mistrust that exists on both sides and the inflexibility of the Assad regime when it comes to power sharing. The UN Security Council needs to ensure that the war ends. However, Russia and China are on a different footing and so a consensus cannot be reached. The next best option is for a humanitarian intervention by NATO in Syria. The other UNSC countries- the US, UK and France-are NATO members. As Western liberal democracies, NATO countries champion ideals such as human dignity, freedom of speech and protection of fundamental human rights. An intervention on humanitarian grounds-without talking sides-is something that one expects from Western liberal democracies.
Since the regime and the opposition groups will not be able to reach a solution on their own, I think the international community should agree on deploying a peacekeeping force, akin to what was done in Bosnia (1995) and Kosovo (1999). This force should be deployed in all major cities as a guarantor for human security. A ceasefire deal should be brokered. Further, a transitional government should be established with a mandate for at least the next 10 years. The solution may look an expensive one in the short term, but in the long run, it will go a long way in stabilizing Syria. However, for all this to happen, all major states should come together and reach a consensus.
NATO has approved deployment of the Patriot Missile Systems in order to help Turkey protect itself against any spill over of the conflict in Syria. Recently, Iran criticised the move by saying that it could lead to an arms race in the region. Would you agree with Tehran’s view on this?
I would disagree. Turkey and Syria share a 900 km long border, making Turkey vulnerable to any spill over effects of the Syrian civil war. So the deployment of the NATO missile system is a defensive move aimed at nipping attacks from the Syrian side. Turkey already lost 5 Turkish citizens to mortar attacks on a border town. So Turkey has all the right reasons for deploying the Patriot Missile System. The Turkish armed forces are stronger than their Syrian counterparts. But Turkey does not want to be unilaterally engaged on the Syrian issue. NATO’s move of approving usage of the missile system is strong sign of the organizations ‘political solidarity’ with Turkey. Iran’s observations on this issue are strange, especially since it continues to develop long-range nuclear missiles, despite objections from the international community.
By Adith Charlie