On Bombing Syria

On Bombing Syria

By Zenonas Tziarras

The United Kingdom and Germany have been the latest powers to join the war in Syria though Germany’s contribution will be in ground forces and aerial reconnaissance operations. The UK’s decision has stirred up a heated debate about whether this is the right line of action that should be followed from London, or any other country for that matter.

International bombing operations in Syria have been taking place at least since September 2014 in the context of the Western anti-ISIS “Coalition of the Willing” led by the United States. States like the U.S., France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Qatar, Germany and the UK are participating in one way or another in this coalition. On the other end, Russia and the Syrian regime are also conducting large scale military operations. (See map below)

zones in syria

Source: geopolitical-info.com

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Shifting the Balance against ISIS, or Why Turkey Changed its Mind

Shifting the Balance against ISIS, or Why Turkey Changed its Mind

By Zenonas Tziarras

Source: Reuters

When the international anti-ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) coalition was formed back in September 2014, Turkey was thought to be a pivotal participant. However, the international initiative divided Turkey’s political scene which appeared reluctant to follow in the footsteps of its traditional ally, the United States (US). Even after October 2, 2014, when the Turkish parliament voted on a motion that would authorize the government to conduct operations in Syria and Iraq as well as provide Turkish soil and military bases for allied operations, Ankara kept resisting any kind of meaningful military engagement of ISIS. Not only that, but it seemed to be turning a blind eye on foreign fighters crossing into Syria through its borders.

Turkey’s controversial stance became more evident when on October 13, 2014, it denied reports that it had granted the US access to the Incirlik air base for military attacks against ISIS. In the midst of this indecisiveness and reports of Turkish support to ISIS and other extremist groups in Syria, Turkey has over the past months became a cause of concern for the international community and brought back memories from 2003, when Ankara denied the US access to Iraq through its soil. Today, after dramatic developments in the country and the region, Ankara took the long-awaited decision to allow the US to launch military strikes against ISIS from its soil and notably from the Incirlik air base which Americans have thus far been using only for humanitarian and logistical purposes. The question that remains is, why has Turkey resisted engaging ISIS earlier and what prompted it to change its mind?

Resisting Engagement

Perhaps the most important reason why Turkey avoided a direct confrontation with ISIS was the maintenance of its domestic security and stability. Its close proximity to Syria and Iraq as well as its geographically bridging position between continents made it a natural crossing and entry point into Syria and Iraq for ISIS recruits. At the same time, its predominantly Muslim population became an important recruitment tank and propaganda target group for ISIS. Within a short period of time from its appearance in the summer of 2014, ISIS managed to establish an organized and complex recruiting network in Istanbul and other cities.

Apart from recruits that were sent to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS, the result was the emergence of extremist clusters within Turkey itself that could conduct terrorist attacks at any time or retaliate had Turkey acquired a more active role in the anti-ISIS coalition. The same threat becomes increasingly salient because of the growing number of refugees – currently around two million people. Refugee camps can easily become safe havens for extremists that cross into Turkey as well as effective recruitment places.

Of course security concerns have not been the only causes behind Turkey’s delay. Virtually every domestic pressure group was against a military incursion into Syria, regardless of the political or military goal. Opposition political parties, business groups, and the public opinion, were all against a military escalation of the Syria and ISIS crisis; they did not want to see their country being engaged in a war. This was also one of the reasons why the Turkish incursion into Syria for the relocation of the Suleyman Shah tomb (a piece of Turkish sovereign land in Syria with historical importance) was so surgical and fast. Against this background, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) could not put their political power at risk by getting more involved in the anti-ISIS coalition, especially with the 2015 national elections around the corner.

An equally important reason that could explain Turkey’s stance was of strategic nature. Ankara’s staunch refusal to engage ISIS coincided with the fierce fighting between ISIS and the Kurds, particularly over Syria’s Kurdish-majority town of Kobani, at the Turkish-Syrian border. Because the US was not willing to grant Ankara’s conditions for participating in the coalition (i.e. a no-fly zone over Syria, a buffer zone inside Syria and the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad), it seems that Turkey supported, via its non-involvement, an all-against-all war of attrition thereby working toward weakening the Assad regime, ISIS and the Kurds.

Change of Course

Since then, Turkey has been taking certain half-measures, such as training (moderate Islamic) opposition groups, in an effort to appease both its Western partners and domestic opposition parties that have been blaming the government for supporting ISIS. It was not until mid to late July 2015 that Turkey made a decisive move against ISIS. Not only did it allow the US to use the Incirlik air base (see map below), but it also conducted anti-ISIS airstrikes in Syria even as it raided locations of suspected ISIS, Kurdish and leftist militants. This change in policy had a number of drivers.

Incirlink Directions

The Incirlik air base will prove to be a major asset in the US air operations against ISIS as it is much closer to the targets than other bases used thus far. This allows fighter jets to spend more time on the actual operation instead on travelling to or from the target as well as quicker operational reaction based on new intelligence.

To begin with the Kurdish issue, Turkey’s unwillingness to help the Kurds of Kobani against ISIS had a backlash against the government domestically as Kurdish protests erupted throughout the country. As such, the Kurdish peace process, and by extension Kurdish electoral support to the AKP, was put in danger as it was clearly reflected in the June 7, 2015 national elections where the pro-Kurdish party HDP got 13% of the votes for the first time in Turkish history. Soon after that, Turkey’s policy took another hit when Kurds won the battle for Kobani thus strengthening their presence along the Turkish-Syrian border – what is called Syrian or Western Kurdistan. The Kurdish victory meant that from now on Turkey should take (Syrian) Kurds seriously into account, for they constitute a significant regional factor that could well threaten Turkey’s territorial integrity as well.

From this perspective, and since ISIS failed to stop the Kurds, a change in strategy was imperative if Turkey wanted to prevent the consolidation of the Syrian Kurdistan. Its greater involvement in Syria may well be followed by the establishment of a buffer zone on the Turkish-Syria border (as was its initial condition for taking action) which would work as a buffer for both ISIS and the Kurds. Though we cannot know for sure, something like that could be a part of a give-and-take between Turkey and the US. On another note, it should be mentioned that the Turkish government is more justified and legitimized to take action at this juncture since its actions were taken right after an ISIS suicide attack in Turkey that killed 32 and wounded 104 people and the first cross-border exchange of fire between the Turkish military and ISIS. In this regard, it is no longer only in theory that ISIS constitutes a domestic national security threat.

Within this framework, the Turkish government’s decision to take action after these events also creates a “rally ‘round the flag” effect by which the government and specifically the President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, gains popular support. To be sure, these developments are directly related with the domestic social, political and economic instability that emerged since early June due to the inability of the political parties to form a coalition government after the national elections. The country seems to be headed to snap elections where the AKP will need all the votes it can get to regain its parliamentary majority,

The next reason is related with the broader Middle East geopolitical environment, its balances of power and Turkey’s role within it. The recent deal between West’s P5+1 and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program is a highly significant development that will have a great impact on the international politics of the Middle East. It essentially seals the return of Iran to international affairs, which also means the strengthening of Iran and the increase of resources that it will be able to dedicate to the pursuit of its geopolitical goals. A side-effect of Iran’s empowerment would be the increase of Assad’s resilience. Moreover, Tehran has already claimed a central, if downplayed, role in the fight against ISIS. At the same time, Iran’s rival but West’s ally, Saudi Arabia, is becoming more assertive while, for the time being, its recent attempt to militarily counter the coup by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen seems to be successful.

In this light, Turkey’s change of course is also a response to the shifting balances of power in the region and to fears that it will lose its role and importance as a western ally and a pivotal state in the Middle East.

Epilogue – A New Paradigm?

Most of the drivers behind Turkey’s policy point to a rather defensive stance. Yet, it should be remembered that Turkey has been looking for a way to overthrow Assad since late 2011. The current conjuncture feels like the perfect storm of events that could push Turkey toward that revisionist and thus offensive goal. At the same time, it creates the necessary conditions on the domestic and international level for this policy change to be tolerated, if not accepted. Perhaps most importantly, it allows Turkey to mend fences with the US even as it takes advantage of its role and operations to accomplish its own goals. Because of the nature of this complex dynamic a new Turkey-US and Turkey-Iran friction in the near future is very likely, especially if Turkey’s efforts to overthrow Assad bear fruits.

This article was published in collaboration with The Europe Levant Observatory, Diplomatic Academy – University of Nicosia.

You can follow Zenonas on Twitter @ZenonasTziarras

The Rise of Iran

The Rise of Iran

by Zenonas Tziarras

Source: Reuters

One could be led to believe that it all started in 2013 with the election of Hassan Rouhani to the presidency of Iran. Rouhani, along with his moderate and reformist agenda, bore much optimism among Western countries that Iran might shift direction towards a more pragmatic and less anti-Western foreign policy. But this was not what put Iran to the epicenter of the Middle East and international politics.

Iran’s increasing influence and rising role in the broader region has been prompted by three main developments: a) the Iraq war of 2003; b) the withdrawal of the American troops from Iraq by 2011; c) and the failure of Western policies in the case of Syria’s civil war in conjunction with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (henceforth, ISIS). Rouhani and the new round of negations about Iran’s nuclear program are only “the cherry on the pie.”

After the international isolation that Tehran faced following the 1979 theocratic revolution, the gradual dis-empowerment of Iraq (see, the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war and the 1991 Iraq war), especially after the 2003 United States-led invasion, allowed it to exploit the significant power vacuum that emerged. The Shiite governments of Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Nouri al-Maliki that followed enhanced Iran’s influence over Iraq and triggered an intrastate sectarian conflict. This was perhaps the most important implication of the Iraq war as Iran is often called the big winner. Continue reading

Power Struggle over Ukraine: Systemic Observations

Power Struggle over Ukraine: Systemic Observations

By Zenonas Tziarras

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The Syrian civil war and now Ukraine. These are only two examples of crises over which the United States and Russia have bumped heads recently. Some might be tempted to call this a “new Cold War,” but it’s really not. Yes, the geopolitical competition and power struggle might be obvious and similar. And even the race for maximizing the spheres of influence. But the ideological context is different and therefore there is no clash of politico-economic systems, not to mention that calling the current international system “bipolar” is simplistic, to say the least. What we have now is a primarily intra-systemic, capitalist, geo-economic competition fueled and exacerbated by identity politics, history and national security considerations. Continue reading

The “Cypriot Version” of the AKP Model. Neoliberalism and the Turkish Cypriot Community

The “Cypriot Version” of the AKP Model. Neoliberalism and the Turkish Cypriot Community

by Nikos Moudouros

Ali Bulaç, a Turkish Islamist intellectual, cited in a characteristic way the traditional perception of the way political Islam faces Cyprus, through his own column in ZAMAN newspaper, by mentioning the following: “The reason why the Turkish intervention in Cyprus caused a huge wave of enthusiasm would be explained to me a little later by an elder uncle from Halepi…the most important of all was that for the first time after 300 years the Muslim world would manage to grab a piece of land, even a small one, from the hands of the Christians”[1].

According to the above, conquering a small part of land “taken from the hands of the Christians” constituted a matter of honor to the rivalry of these two completely different worlds, as these were formed in the perception of the Turkish political Islam. However, in order to better understand today’s strategy of the Justice and Development Party concerning Cyprus, this strategy should be placed in a right historical context. The de-coding of the policy followed in the northern part of Cyprus, demands an even at least brief de-coding of the AKP’s worldview as this has been affected and formed by the end of the Cold War, the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 and the neoliberal restructuring.

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Securitizing Migration: Aspects and Critiques

Securitizing Migration: Aspects and Critiques

by Andreas Themistocleous

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Introduction

Migration has been discussed extensively in recent years. A significant number of studies, from different ideological and political origins, have dealt with the nature, causes and consequences, but also the different types of migration. Among others, migration is considered as a contemporary security threat with serious implications for the socio-political and socioeconomic stability both domestically and regionally[1]. According to official statistics of the International Organization for Migration[2]  the number of migration flows per year, is increasing steadily. The main drift of these flows is from developing and the so called “third world” countries to the developed world.

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Q & A with Marios Efthymiopoulos: US Foreign Policy, Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, and North Korea

Q & A with Marios Efthymiopoulos: US Foreign Policy, Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, and North Korea

Marios P. Efthymiopoulos is the CEO and Founder of the Greece-based international think tank Strategy International. Dr. Efthymiopoulos held multiple positions as a visiting scholar, researcher, lecturer, and analyst in the United States, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus. He has written extensively on NATO, Transatlantic relations, Greek foreign policy, the Eastern Mediterranean, cyber-security, and international security; at the same time he has contributed to TV and radio discussions and debates in the US, Greece, and Europe. Among many other scholarly publications, Dr. Efthymiopoulos has published two books in Greek with Sakkoulas Publications: “NATO in the 21st Century: The Need for a New Strategic Doctrine and the Expansion of NATO-Russia relations” (2008); and “Strategic Security and Transatlantic Relations” (2012). He is currently also co-editing a book on Cyber-Security due to be published in 2013 by Springer publications. In this interview with The Globalized World Post he talked with Zenonas Tziarras, editor of the magazine, about international affairs and security with specific regard to the recent bombings in Boston, the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, as well as North Korea. The discussion revolved around policy-related subjects while the issues raised bear great significance for the current and future state of regional and international affairs. Continue reading

Q & A with Annick T.R. Wibben: Feminist Security Studies and Today’s Challenges

Q & A with Annick T.R. Wibben: Feminist Security Studies and Today’s Challenges

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Annick T.R. Wibben is an Associate Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, California and an expert in Feminist Security Studies. She has written extensively on feminism and security and has published a very influential book on the field of Feminist Security Studies, ‘Feminist Security Studies: A Narrative Approach’. On the first Q&A Session of The Globalized World Post she talked with Marianna Karakoulaki, editor of the magazine, about Feminist Security Studies in general as well as specific issues that have been under discussion recently. The discussion began on a more theoretical level but then moved to more specific issues, from the importance of specific UN resolutions to rape as a weapon of war, from the gang rapes in India to third wave feminism, and finally to women in combat in the USA. Continue reading

The State as a Key Driver of Economic Globalization

The State as a Key Driver of Economic Globalization

by Esther Tonnaer

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Introduction

The period of economic globalization after the Second World War has been characterized by an increase in transnational trade, foreign direct investment (FDI)[1] and a growth in transnational corporations’ (TNCs)[2] activity[3]. The globalization process of the economy has been intensified in terms of production and exchange due to technological changes, liberalization and deregulation allowing new forms of economic organization influencing the behavior of TNCs as a driving force of economic globalization[4]. According to the hyper-globalization thesis, markets as a result have become fully integrated restricting national economic policy-making to “market-friendly policies” as the need to provide incentives to “footloose” TNCs to invest has caused a significant reduction in the state’s domestic capabilities[5]. Despite these arguments, there appears no unambiguous evidence that economic globalization as the transnationalisation of production has caused the inevitable demise of the state in terms of capacity and autonomy[6]. Skeptics of the hyper-globalization thesis emphasize that TNCs and their economic activity despite the technological improvements in communication and transportation remain concentrated in their home countries making them subjected to national control implying economic policy instruments stay effective[7]. Furthermore, the volume of international trade during this period is not unprecedented when compared to the level of international economic integration, primarily between industrializing Western states and their colonies, during the late 19th until early 20th century[8].

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Alignment Politics in the Former Soviet Union

Alignment Politics in the Former Soviet Union

by Stephanie Parenti

The alignment behavior in the western republics of the Former Soviet Union has varied from rapid policy coordination with the West to complete contempt of Western alignment. This variation in balancing or bandwagoning behavior within the same region is important for researchers to understand the systemic and domestic causes of alignment, as there are competing theories on the subject. Decision-makers have a better opportunity to apply accurate policy when more is known about alignments. The literature tends to focus little on the Former Soviet Union’s foreign policy and more so on nationalism and regime change[1]. The writings are less comparative and centered on internal dynamics, and understandably so, however one cannot tell the whole story of foreign policy decision making through such a narrow lens. This study intends to fill the gap in the literature on relations with the former Soviet Union. This research suggests that high levels of democracy and a good trade relationship does more for alignment to the West than does net bilateral aid flows or good economic status within an aligning country.

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