Turkey-US model partnership over Syrian crisis? by Ramazan Gözen*

Turkey-US model partnership over Syrian crisis? by Ramazan Gözen*

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gestures alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during a joint news conference on Feb. 13th at the Department of State in Washington. (PHOTO AP,Haraz N. Ghanbari)

February 26, 2012, Sunday/ 10:55:00

The Syrian crisis has become inextricable from the Russian and Chinese veto of a UN Security Council draft resolution on Syria.

A climate reminiscent of the Cold-War era seems to instantly have emerge and the crisis plunged into further depths. This has naturally shocked many countries -- Turkey, in particular, among them. That it was indeed a shocking development has been expressed by Turkish officials in no unclear terms. President Abdullah Gül has criticized the countries that wielded their veto power for not having served peace.

The real determination Turkey has displayed with regard to a peaceful solution to the Syria crisis has shown itself in the intense diplomacy and political initiatives launched by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. He said very openly Turkey had been trying to spur the international community into action to bypass the vetoes. After conducting dynamic telephone diplomacy to that end with the leaders of a raft of countries and organizations, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, Davutoğlu went to the US for another set of initiatives, meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, President Barack Obama’s security advisor, Thomas Donilon, as well as congressmen, representatives of the media and various leading figures.

The intense traffic of talks and meetings in the US has shown that the model partnership understanding between Turkey and the US has been implemented in the Syrian case. This understanding, which started with Obama being elected president and Davutoğlu being appointed foreign minister, was the architect in 2010 of some critical, though unsuccessful, initiatives but gained a new momentum with the Arab Spring in 2011. We have seen in that process the close cooperation between Turkey and the US in the examples of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The Turkey-US cooperation has proven successful to a great extent and is an ongoing process. We see the same cooperation working in the case of Syria as well. Davutoğlu’s contacts in the US were made within this context and showed that the two countries were in consensus in principle about a solution to the Syrian crisis. Accordingly, the primary aim of the Turkey-US cooperation over the Syrian crisis is as follows: Firstly to have the “measures of pressure” on Syria, stalled last week at the UN Security Council on account of the Russian and Chinese vetoes, implemented; secondly to prevent the killing of civilians and bring violence to an end by ratcheting up diplomatic, political and economic sanctions and pressure; thirdly to coerce the Assad administration to step down; and finally to start in Syria the process of setting up a democratic regime in peace and stability.

Increased pressure on Arab League

Several steps have been taken to that end and more are being taken. Among those steps is the move by Arab League members to increase pressure on Syria. The Arab League, at its Cairo meeting on Feb. 13, decided to sever diplomatic relations with Syria, intensify economic sanctions, punish those using violence against civilians and support in all ways possible the opposition forces. In addition, a formation called the “Friends of Syria Group” is planned to be brought into existence at a meeting in Tunis on Feb. 24 as part of the initiative to lend support to those opposing the Assad regime. Turkey and the US have said they are also going to attend the meeting to be held under the roof of the Arab League, and participation from the EU countries and others is also expected. Deployment of an Arab force or a UN peacekeeping force was also broached at the meeting but received no approval at the Arab League meeting in Cairo.

The most important development in this process is the dispatching of an envoy to Cairo by the Chinese Foreign Ministry and his making it clear that China does not support the use of violence against civilians. The UN General Assembly convened with the participation of its 193 members to discuss the humanitarian issues in Syria. A General Assembly decision condemning Syria’s human rights violations was accepted by 137 votes. As that decision is not binding, unlike UN Security Council resolutions, and has no chance of making the implementation of strict sanctions on the Damascus administration anything other than a hollow sound, expecting an effective result from that is not right.

What if these initiatives do not pay off and the Syrian crisis remains unresolved despite international pressure? Is a military intervention a likely option? Both the Turkish foreign minister and Clinton have said they do not want a civil war in Syria. President Obama earlier said there would be no military operation against Syria. However, what Davutoğlu said at the press conference he jointly held with the US secretary of state in the US capital overshadowed his earlier statement about Syria. He said diplomatic and humanitarian steps were being concentrated on for the time being but, as politicians, they needed to think of all the options and scenarios on the table. He did not elaborate on what those options and scenarios could be, but as far as the language of diplomacy is concerned, they involved the use of armed forces if conditions so necessitated.

We hope Davutoğlu and Clinton have considered the military option as a moot point and not as something they seriously want to take into account in the future. We hope they will not have to think of that either and that the Syrian crisis will be resolved by using diplomatic, political, economic and other tools of pressure because, whatever its scale, all military operations and wars are a disaster that has to be avoided unless urgently necessary.


*Professor Ramazan Gözen is an instructor at Yıldırım Beyazıt University.