Syria Is A Test For Turkey’s Determination, Not Its Patience – OpEd


By Ihsan Bal

The large-scale damage caused when the mortar bombs fell on Akçakale drew everyone’s attention in Turkey to the crisis in Syria. While the great majority of the country are asking themselves if the country is going to war, some newspaper columnists and TV commentators are busy laying out pretexts why Turkey should not go to war.

Naturally the people who are suggesting that Turkey should stay out of the war are right on quite a lot of points. Indeed, I myself am one of those who is doing what I can to stop the country drifting into war.

Syria - Turkey Relations
Syria – Turkey Relations

But Turkey is a slightly odd country. At times when there is a risk of something unwelcome happening and it is necessary to get out of the situation with the minimum of damage if a disaster is not to become inevitable, one very seldom seems to encounter people who will tell you what the right course of action to get out of it should be. Instead one hears expression of hope like “Don’t let there be war, don’t let people die. War is a great disaster.” Unfortunately all this corresponds to nothing in real politics.

There is no doubt that war is truly terrible. It is only when our consciences fall silent that it is possible to suppose that anything is to be gained from the death of human beings. But beyond ethical and legal notions about war, there are certain hard facts which we have inherited from world history. From the time of the first human being until today, there have always been. This is what some people refer to as ‘realpolitik’ in relations between states.

Very well, if war is a hard reality, how can we avoid this unwelcome alternative?

We can see the answer to this question in documentaries about nature. Every living creature instinctively provides its strongest, most magnificent, and most fearsome appearance when it is confronted by danger. It is at moments when they are threatened that the lion roars loudest, the peacock displays its feathers, and the eagle soars most magnificently. Those who know the doctrine of defense also know that anyone who wants to attack you first tests your capacity to deter.

The challenge which Turkey faces over Syria is this too. The initial downing of the Turkish F4 plane and now the bombardment of Akçakale imply a test not of Turkish patience but of the country’s capacity and determination.

Immediately after the Akçakale attack, the Grand National Assembly approved the bill giving military powers to the government and the attack immediate received a proportionate response and a diplomatic offensive got under way, starting with NATO, in international organizations. All of these things proclaim the political, diplomatic, and military synchronization of Turkey’s determination and capacity.

If Turkey had not responded instantly, the UN would not have issued a strong resolution stating that it condemned the attack in the strongest terms. There was no such statement when the Turkish fighter jet was downed.

In the same way, Turkey would not have had a statement from NATO officials that they were on Turkey’s side in every way, despite the NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen who seems to have developed a habit of saying after every meeting that “We did not discuss the Syrian problem and intervention.”

From the outset of the crisis, Russia has backed Syria in every way but this time it chose not to use its right to veto the UN Resolution. Assad who has developed the habit of violating the border issued an order to his units: airplane, helicopter, and artillery maneuvers will not go more than a distance of 10km from the Turkish border. With that decision he created de facto a buffer zone.

So what does this amount to? Instead of saying let us not go to war, we must instantly demonstrate our resolve and our deterrent capacity. The best way to avoid going to war, is to make the enemy feel that we are ready for war without engaging in war cries.

Now a small note addressed to those who persist in misunderstanding what we say and write. We do really desire peace and are against war. But the experience of history demonstrates that it is only possible to remain free from war by effectively projecting into the arena an image of determination and deterrence, of looking large and strong.

Ihsan Bal
Head of USAK Science Committee

*This article was first published in HaberTurk newspaper on 6 October 2012.


JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

One thought on “Syria Is A Test For Turkey’s Determination, Not Its Patience – OpEd

  • October 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    The threat against Turkey does not come from Syria, but from an emerging possibility of a ‘Greater Kurdistan’ that would involve some 20 million oppressed Kurds and some 15 million Alevis in Turkey… An enormous threat against the very existence of the Turkish state. All other confrontations are peripheral to that endemic problem.


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