On Turkey, buffer zones and a bipolar world view

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By: Ceylan Ozbudak

 

The debate on establishing a buffer zone over Turkey’s southern border has been on the spotlight after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent statements concerning the prospect of imposing one along its borders with Iraq and Syria. However, a no-fly zone, required for establishing the buffer zone in northern Syria, needs the support of a U.N. Security Council.

In his address on Monday at the U.S. based think tank Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Erdogan stated that military action to stop the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is not a complete solution and called for broader counterterrorism strategies.

“Bombarding terrorist organizations with airstrikes does not yield effective results,” said the Turkish president, hinting at America’s unsuccessful military war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following this event, President Erdogan and President Barack Obama interacted on Tuesday at the annual reception for visiting Heads of State at the U.N. General Assembly and President Erdogan made a call for help to establish a buffer zone at the Turkish border.

The offer to establish a zone in some parts of Iraq and Syria to protect the civilians fleeing from their will continue being debated in the coming days. The proposed buffer zone airspace would be declared a no-fly zone and the land would accommodate room for settling the pending tidal wave of Syrian refugees fleeing from violence, whose number reportedly could be between 2-4 million. Syrian planes will not fly over the buffer zone. While the U.N. Security Council is expected to approve Turkey’s demand, a Russian veto is also possible. While the demand has been on the table since 2012, the Security Council could not recognize this proposal, which is in line with the U.N. resolution No. 2170, because of the incessant Russian veto.

Ignoring legitimate Russian concerns 

At this point if we assume Russia is acting completely illogical, we would be at fault and fail to comprehend the situation for all concerned parties. Russia is seemingly hesitant to allow a buffer zone inside Syrian borders. Even though it is assumed that the Cold War is over, it has never really has been. Rivalry between Russia and America has dominated global politics for decades and the Cold War worked on the basis of each side knowing which countries were in each camp.

The majority of the countries in these camps stayed in the same ideological block for decades after the collapse of Warsaw Pact. When dictators in the Middle East were being overthrown one by one, Russian influence in the countries led by Baath regimes dipped. When it was Syria’s turn, Putin had a hard time giving up Russia’s influence on the country, through which the Russian navy reaches Mediterranean waters. Ignoring legitimate Russian concerns over Syria would not help us solve the situation just like ignoring legitimate Russian concerns over Crimea in the Ukraine crisis didn’t. If we want Russian support on the Syrian buffer zone, we need to give up the bipolar world-view, and be able to give Russia the promise that they will not need to completely break away from the region if or when Assad falls.

Had Turkey and other nations guaranteed Russia to stay in the region militarily and through diplomatic influence, the Gordian knot of the Syrian crisis would have been solved by now. But there is still a clear message out in the public opinion and among the diplomatic engagements that a state is either with the Western block or not.

Turkish author Adnan Oktar, in his live TV program recently explained how Turkey can help relieve Russia of its concerns. He stated that Russia fears being left alone in the region and in the world. Since innocent people are in need of assistance, geopolitical interests must be set aside. I believe President Putin is actually a reasonable guy. He aspires for a more modern and democratic Russia too. But at this point, Turkey has to help bridge the gap between Russia and the European Union. If needed, Turkey can sign an agreement of companionship with Russia.

Turkey is the perfect example of successful Eastern-Western integration. The country accepted the Copenhagen Criteria for accession to the EU and subsequently passed a draft of transition laws; however, this has not prevented Turkey from developing friendly ties and economic, cultural and social relations with other countries. Turkey’s close ties with Europe are no reason to shy away from Russia. On the contrary, Turkey has an increasingly better relationship with Russia despite tensions over Ukraine. The existing traces of a bipolar worldview are an outdated relic of the 20th century, based on spurious notions of the East and the West.

Just as Turkey has been able to maintain both internal and external balances despite standing in what may well be the biggest intersection in the world, Turkey should also lead the way in reconciling the West with Russia. We need mature and wise state leaders who can join the hands of other parties in conflict to meet in the middle and make peace. We need Turkey to rise to the occasion as a negotiator and help convince Russia that a buffer zone at the Syrian-Turkish border is needed, along with NATO forces.


Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. This article was first published in Alarabiya.

Opinions do not necessarily reflect ARA News’ policy.

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