Turkey and Syria: A Key Consideration for Shaping the Next US Steps


2013-09-02 Any limited strike by the United States and a “coalition of the willing” will play out in reshaping policy in the region.

It cannot by itself be limited; nor are the effects designed to be so.

A key player in the evolution of policy is clearly Turkey. 

Earlier this year under Article IV, NATO provided air defense systems as part of reinforcing Turkish defenses against Syria.

And Turkish territory is covered by Article V agreements as well for NATO.  This means that even if Parliaments vote not to participate in a limited action against Syria, consequences, which entail spill over into NATO territory, are already binding in effect.

Without complete Turkish support for actions, including the use of its territory, there is no viable long-term solution in Syria.

Even more importantly, any Syria reaction will quickly involve NATO security and the Article IV and V defense of NATO territory by all members. 

As a Turkish columnist put it in 2012:

More than anything else that keeps security analysts working on the Syrian desks in the Turkish capital around the clock with little sleep and many cups of black Turkish coffee is the “unknown” prospect of a chemical weapons stockpile by the Syrian army and whether or not these weapons can be used by Assad’s forces or its militia proxies against Turkish interests when the regime is pushed to the limit. 

Syria is the only one of Turkey’s neighbors that has not signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, a treaty banning chemical weapons production, possession, distribution and use. Hence, we do not know how comprehensive a chemical arms program Damascus has been running so far, nor do we know the specific nature or capacity of its stockpile and the exact whereabouts of these weapons. 

There are only estimates from the Turkish, Arab and Western intelligence agencies that have been tracking Syrian efforts since the early 1980s. 

It is their assessment that Syria has a stockpile of approximately 1,000 tons of chemical weapons including mustard gas and nerve agents such as sarin and VX.

Assad has stored these weapons in some 50 different cites, mostly located in the northern part of the country that is closer to the Turkish border. 

For example, there are weapons depots in Hama, Homs, Latakia, al-Safirah, Dumayr and Khan Abu Shamatwere, which are all believed to contain chemical weapons.


So what is Turkey’s position currently, and what are they prepared to do?

The Syrian crisis is both a domestic and foreign policy challenge for Turkey. Credit Image: Bigstock

Recently, SLD had a conversation with our strategic partner based in Turkey, Ozgur Eksi to gain insights into the Turkish situation and position. He is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the e-magazine for C4Defence. This publication is the first and only e -magazine in Turkey on defense and strategic issues and is published in Turkish and English.


Eksi underscored that Turkey is indeed a key player in the Syrian crisis, but that the current Turkish Administration was simply not thinking about Syria in a strategic sense.

If strikes lead to regime change, Turkey is not really prepared to deal with this prospect and shape its support for the process.

Nonetheless, it is clear that Syria is both an internal and external policy challenge for Turkey.  It is clear that any strike will certainly have consequences for increasing the outmigration of Syrians to Turkey and Jordan as well.  A key task will be to deal with increased out pouring from Syria.  This is clearly a security problem for Turkey as “most will be civilians, but not everyone.  And this has to be sorted out to secure the situation in Turkey.”

The refugee situation in Turkey and Jordan is a critical variable certainly.

A recent report indicates that there are at least two million refugees from Syria currently, with Turkey and Jordan as the key outreach states.

“Today, the number of Syrian refugees passed the threshold of two million, and with no sign of this tragic outflow ending,” the United Nation’s refugee agency said Tuesday (3 September). It noted that more than a million are children under 17 years.

The number marks a jump of almost 1.8 million people in just one year. More than 97 percent of Syria’s refugees are hosted by countries in the immediate neighbourhood – Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey.

According to EU humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, only 46,000 Syrian refugees have made it all the way to Europe.

Under EU law, temporary protection in case of a mass influx can be given to refugees from a warzone – a decision that has to be taken by EU ministers. If adopted, it would be the first time the EU applies this mechanism, giving Syrians a residence permit, work authorisation, access to accommodation and medical treatment.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Monday warned that the worsening Syrian situation will lead to more refugees.

“As always, Italy will do its share but there is a structural problem,” Letta said, adding that Italy will try to establish a common EU approach to the problem after assuming the EU’s rotating presidency in the second half of 2014.

With almost 5,000 Syrians fleeing every day into neighbouring countries, ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are to meet with UN representatives on Wednesday (September 4th)  in Geneva in a bid to convince the international community to take up more refugees. 


Eksi added that tensions within Turkey itself also revolve around the current Prime Minister and the limits to what Turkey is prepared to do.

Currently we can see a divided opinion about Prime Minister Erdoğan. 

One side adores him and I call it “Erdoğan fetishism. They are stuck with him because they have fear that he may leave his post and all their gains during his leadership might disappear suddenly. Erdoğan’s weapons are state tools, justice and media. 

The other side disagrees with Erdoğan what ever he says. 

There is no ground for conciliation in Turkey.   

The Syrian case fits into this divide. 

Erdoğan favors an attack; while the opposition deeply opposes it. 

This means that the support he would receive within country is divided too. 

For his believers (yes this is at this level.. one can not speak about voter.. there are his believers) they will go for anything he says. 

Therefore Erdoğan (unlike British, American democracies) do not plan to go to Parliament for approval. 

He says so far there is no need for it. 

Constitutionally, the use of military out of borders however requires parliamant decree. 

This means that active participation of Turkey would add turmoil to Turkey too and the image of solid support to USA would be under pressure from any Syrian action. 

For an earlier piece on Turkey and Syria see the following:


And for looks at NATO actions earlier this year with regard to Syria and Turkey see the following: