Instantly after a long-simmering battle within the South Caucasus burst into open warfare late final month, Turkey got here to the help of its Turkic allies in Azerbaijan. It has provided arms and, allegedly, fighters transferred from Syria, though that has been denied in Ankara.
In contrast to most exterior powers that referred to as for a direct ceasefire, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan instructed Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev to combat on.
The Caucasus is barely the most recent enterprise for a extra muscular Turkey, whose navy engagements have stretched from Syria throughout the Mediterranean.
The place has Turkey grow to be concerned?
In the previous few years, Turkey has:
- launched three navy incursions into Syria
- despatched navy provides and fighters to Libya
- deployed its navy to the Jap Mediterranean to claim its claims within the area
- expanded its navy operations in opposition to Kurdish PKK rebels in northern Iraq
- despatched navy reinforcements to Syria’s final rebel-held province of Idlib
- just lately threatened a brand new navy operation in northern Syria to confront “terrorist armed teams”.
Turkey additionally has a navy presence in Qatar, Somalia and Afghanistan and maintains peacekeeping troops within the Balkans. Its world navy footprint is essentially the most expansive because the days of the Ottoman Empire.
Why Caucasus flare-up dangers wider warfare
- Karabakh warfare leaves civilians shell-shocked and bitter
What’s behind Turkey’s new international coverage?
Turkey’s reliance on laborious energy to safe its pursuits is the cornerstone of its new international coverage doctrine, within the making since 2015.
The brand new doctrine is deeply suspicious of multilateralism and urges Turkey to behave unilaterally when mandatory.
It’s anti-Western. It believes that the West is in decline and Turkey ought to domesticate nearer ties to nations comparable to Russia and China.
It’s anti-imperialist. It challenges the Western-dominated World Struggle Two order and requires an overhaul of worldwide establishments such because the United Nations, to offer voice to nations apart from the Western nations.
The brand new international coverage doctrine views Turkey as a rustic surrounded by hostile actors and deserted by its Western allies.
Subsequently, it urges Turkey to pursue a proactive international coverage that rests on the usage of pre-emptive navy energy exterior its borders.
This can be a far cry from Turkey’s earlier give attention to diplomacy, commerce and cultural engagement in its relations with different nations. The change is a operate of a number of home and worldwide developments.
Turkey’s new doctrine started to take form in 2015, when the ruling AKP misplaced its parliamentary majority for the primary time in over a decade because of the rise of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Get together (HDP).
To regain the ruling get together’s majority, Mr Erdogan shaped an alliance with nationalists each on the precise and left.
They backed him when he resumed the combat in opposition to the Kurdish rebels.
How focus turned to Kurds
Turkey’s battle with the PKK – Kurdistan Staff’ Get together – needed to a big extent stopped after the group’s imprisoned chief, Abdullah Ocalan, referred to as for a ceasefire with the Turkish state in 2013.
Regardless of their ideological variations, each the far-right nationalist MHP and neo-nationalists on the left help a heavy-handed strategy to the Kurdish downside. Additionally they prioritise nationwide safety at dwelling and overseas and espouse sturdy anti-Western views.
With their help, Mr Erdogan additionally switched the nation’s parliamentary system to a presidential one granting him sweeping powers.
This alliance with the nationalists and consolidation of his energy grew to become the important thing driving issue behind Turkey’s unilateralist, militaristic and assertive international coverage.
The failed 2016 coup performed a key position on this course of.
How coup modified the narrative
In response to President Erdogan, the botched coup was orchestrated by former ally Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric in self-exile in Pennsylvania, and it did a number of issues to pave the best way for Turkey’s militaristic international coverage.
It strengthened Mr Erdogan’s alliance with the nationalists.
His sweeping purge of civil servants suspected of getting hyperlinks to the Gulen motion led to some 60,000 individuals being fired, jailed or suspended from the armed forces and judiciary, and another state establishments.
The void left by the purges was crammed with Erdogan loyalists and nationalist supporters.
The failed coup additionally strengthened the nationalist coalition’s narrative that Turkey was besieged by home and international enemies and that the West was a part of the issue. That justified unilateral motion, supported by pre-emptive deployment of laborious energy past Turkey’s borders.
How strategy modified in Syria
The Assad regime’s determination to offer a free hand to Syria’s Kurds within the north led to an autonomous Kurdish zone alongside Turkey’s border and in 2014 the US determined to airdrop weapons to the Kurdish militants, thought-about to be a terrorist organisation by Turkey. This all fed the narrative that Turkey needed to act alone and deploy navy forces to guard its borders.
The failed coup additionally paved the best way for consolidation of energy in Mr Erdogan’s palms.
By purges he hollowed out establishments, sidelined key actors in international policymaking such because the international ministry, and emasculated the navy, which had put a brake on his earlier calls to launch navy operations in neighbouring nations.
Earlier than the coup try, he had signalled his intention to launch a navy operation into Syria to stem the “terrorist menace” emanating from the Kurdish militias there. However Turkey’s navy, which had historically been very cautious about troop deployment exterior Turkey’s borders, was opposed.
A number of months after the coup try, President Erdogan acquired his want. Turkey launched its first navy operation into Syria to curb the affect of the Kurds within the north in 2016 and two extra incursions after that.
The transfer was applauded by the president’s nationalist allies, who worry an unbiased Kurdish state constructed with US assist alongside its border. To curb Kurdish affect and counterbalance the US presence in Syria he labored with Russia.
How Turkey switched focus to Libya and E Mediterranean
Libya grew to become one other theatre for hard-power ways.
In January, Turkey stepped up navy help to Libya’s UN-backed authorities of Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, to cease an offensive by forces allied with Gen Khalifa Haftar.
Turkey’s major purpose in Libya was to safe the Serraj authorities’s help in a matter vital to Mr Erdogan’s nationalist allies: the Jap Mediterranean.
Turkey has been at loggerheads with Greece and Cyprus over power drilling rights off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus and maritime boundaries within the space.
Ankara signed an settlement on maritime boundaries with Mr Serraj in November in return for navy help to the Tripoli authorities.
Mr Erdogan’s purpose was to redraw maritime borders within the Jap Mediterranean which, in his opinion, supplied disproportionate benefits to Turkey’s arch-enemies – Greece and the Republic of Cyprus.
In the meantime, Turkey despatched warships to escort its drilling ships within the Jap Mediterranean, risking a navy confrontation with its Nato associate Greece.
Has it been successful?
Turkey’s assertive coverage in Syria, Libya and the Jap Mediterranean has not yielded the outcomes that President Erdogan’s ruling coalition hoped for.
Turkey couldn’t completely clear Kurdish militia forces from its border with Syria. Neither Ankara’s maritime settlement with Libya nor its actions within the Jap Mediterranean have modified the anti-Turkey established order within the area.
Quite the opposite, Turkey’s navy involvement in these conflicts hardened anti-Erdogan sentiment within the West and unified a various group of actors of their resolve to oppose Turkish unilateralism, ultimately forcing Turkey’s chief to again down.
An identical destiny awaits Turkey’s involvement within the Nagorno-Karabakh battle, which is already seeing the emergence of a extra forceful Russian response and a Russian-Western entrance in opposition to Turkey’s help for Azerbaijan.
However Mr Erdogan’s nationalist allies need him to combat on. A outstanding neo-nationalist, Retired Rear-Admiral Cihat Yayci, argued that Greece wished to invade western Turkey and urged Mr Erdogan to by no means sit down with Athens to barter.
And the president has little choice however to hearken to him. As he loses floor in opinion polls, the nationalist sway over his home and international insurance policies solely will increase.
Gonul Tol is Director of the Heart for Turkish Research on the Center East Institute in Washington DC