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The Turkish Enigma

George Friedman

 

 

 

 

 

In my "Net Assessment of the World," I argued that four major segments of the European and Asian landmass were in crisis: Europe, Russia, the Middle East (from the Levant to Iran) and China. Each crisis was different; each was at a different stage of development. Collectively the crises threatened to destabilize the Eurasian landmass, the Eastern Hemisphere, and potentially generate a global crisis. They do not have to merge into a single crisis to be dangerous. Four simultaneous crises in the center of humanity's geopolitical gravity would be destabilizing by itself. However, if they began to merge and interact, the risks would multiply. Containing each crisis by itself would be a daunting task. Managing crises that were interlocked would press the limits of manageability and even push beyond.

These four crises are already interacting to some extent. The crisis of the European Union intersects with the parallel issue of Ukraine and Europe's relation to Russia. The crisis in the Middle East intersects with the European concern over managing immigration as well as balancing relations with Europe's Muslim community. The Russians have been involved in Syria, and appear to have played a significant role in the recent negotiations with Iran. In addition there is a potential intersection in Chechnya and Dagestan. The Russians and Chinese have been advancing discussions about military and economic cooperation. None of these interactions threaten to break down regional boundaries. Indeed, none are particularly serious. Nor is some sort of inter-regional crisis unimaginable.

Sitting at the center of these crisis zones is a country that until a few years ago maintained a policy of having no problems with its neighbors. Today, however, Turkey's entire periphery is on fire. There is fighting in Syria and Iraq to the south, fighting to the north in Ukraine and an increasingly tense situation in the Black Sea. To the west, Greece is in deep crisis (along with the EU) and is a historic antagonist of Turkey. The Mediterranean has quieted down, but the Cyprus situation has not been fully resolved and tension with Israel has subsided but not disappeared. Anywhere Turkey looks there are problems. As important, there are three regions of Eurasia that Turkey touches: Europe, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.

I have argued two things in the past. The first was that Turkey was an emerging regional power that would ultimately be the major power in its locale. The second was that this is a region that, ever since the decline and fall of the Ottomans in the first quarter of the 20th century, has been kept stable by outside powers. The decision of the United States to take a secondary role after the destabilization that began with the 2003 invasion of Iraq has left a vacuum Turkey will eventually be forced to fill. But Turkey is not ready to fill that vacuum. That has created a situation in which there is a balancing of power underway, particularly among Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

A Proximate Danger

The most violent and the most immediate crisis for Ankara is the area stretching from the Mediterranean to Iran, and from Turkey to Yemen. The main problem for Turkey is that Syria and Iraq have become contiguous battlegrounds featuring a range of forces, including Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish elements. These battles take place in a cauldron formed by four regional powers: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey. This quadrangle emerged logically from the mayhem caught between them.

Each major power has differing strategic interests. Iran's primary interest is the survival of the establishment and in assuring that an aggressive Sunni polity does not arise in Iraq to replicate the situation Tehran faced with Saddam Hussein. Iran's strategy is to support anti-Sunni forces in the region. This support ranges from bolstering Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up the minority Alawite establishment in Syria led — for the moment — by Bashar al Assad, and assisting the Iraqi army, itself controlled by Shiites and Iraq's Shiite militias. The United States sees Iran as aligned with American interests for the moment, since both countries oppose the Islamic State and Tehran is important when it comes to containing the militant group. The reality on the ground has made this the most important issue between Iran and the United States, which frames the recent accord on nuclear weapons.

 

The article’s full-text is available on the website of Stratfor

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