Monday, November 19, 2012

Is Turkey Facing Credibility Problems?

After a complete 180 on Syria’s support of al-Assad, the constant stream of refugees into Turkey, and little more than vicious rhetoric in response to Syria’s “accidental” civil war spillover onto Turkish soil, it seems that Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan could be facing some serious credibility problems.

On the homefront, domestic unrest over the vast number of refugees entering Turkey, as well as the divided support for al-Assad and the rebels, is putting Turkey’s “Zero-Problems” foreign policy on the back burner. Estimates show that around 800,000 refugees will be in need of assistance in Turkey by the end of the year. The Turkish government is faced with the difficult task of keeping the refugees in camps, or finding other provinces within the country to move them. Meanwhile, Turkish civilians are divided on whether the refugees have a right to be there, particularly in light of the fact that the economy in the border region is in ruins. Rebels from surrounding countries are passing through Turkey daily in order to join the rebel forces, which is alarming to civilians that militants are passing through their country.

Furthermore, ethnic divide in Turkey over support of al-Assad and the rebels is adding to the civil unrest, as the Turkish government seems to be on both sides of the fence. A year and a half ago, the Syrian government had the full support of the Turkish government. When Turkey turned its support to the rebels and called for al-Assad to step down, Turkey’s al-Assad supporters took the streets in protest. Now it seems that Erdogan is taking no side at all – even Turkey’s – by continuing to oppose al-Assad yet taking no retaliatory response to the military activity that spills over from Syria.

In June, the Syrians shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet, which resulted in little more than rhetoric in response from Turkey. The shelling that spilled over multiple times also generated no response. Although the Turkish government has committed to beefing up its security forces along the border, it begs the question of whether Turkey is truly ready to take action.

Given that Turkey has one of the most powerful militaries in the region, plus a strong economy, it has the strength to show the world and its own citizens that Turkey is not to be trifled with. However, Turkey’s foreign policy of “Zero Problems” with its neighbors has been the staple of its rhetoric for a decade. It seems that Turkey is faced with credibility issues on both sides. Following through on military action would erode it’s commitment to zero problems. But a continued lack of military response could not only cause credibility problems with the world, it could cause a problem with its citizens. It seems that Erdogan is in a tough spot.

No comments: