As one of the 28 NATO countries, it is often assumed that Turkey will align itself with American interests abroad. But recent tensions between the U.S. and Turkey centered on the Syrian civil war have shown those expectations aren’t always accurate.
Despite international pressure, Turkey has so far avoided a true alliance with the West over attacking Islamic State (IS) forces in Kobani, Syria. Although the Turkish Parliament voted to deploy troops to Iraq and Syria on October 2nd, it has yet to show any signs of follow through.
Up until October 13th, Turkey wouldn’t even allow U.S. troops to operate from their air bases. The most recent concession came from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, for new support of the Kurds fighting IS in Kobani.
“We are facilitating the passage of peshmerga forces to Kobani to provide support,” she announced Monday at a press conference in Ankara.
Considering the proximity of the IS threat to the Turkish border, it’s hard to see why Turkey has been so slow to join the fight. However, three major factors play into Turkey’s hesitation:
1. Turkey’s opposition to Western stance on the Syrian War. Since the first call for help, Turkey has firmly stated they will not participate in airstrikes against Kobani unless the U.S. broadens the fight to topple the Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad. This comes in stark contrast with many Arab countries who have participated in airstrikes, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, and Bahrain.
2. A perspective based in location. Turkey shares a 899 KM border with Syria, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. Turkish President Recep Tayyyip Erdogan has repeatedly stated that airstrikes without a deeper plan to stabilize and end Syria’s civil war will only result in more instability. Turkey’s perceptions on the catalysts behind the uprising of IS go much deeper. Therefore, it is a more complex issue than deciding to pull the trigger for them.
3. A history of disagreement. No foreign policy decision is made independently. In assessing whether or not to join the West in their fight against ISIS, Turkey comes to the table with a long history of misalignment on similar issues. The most recent example is Turkey’s refusal to assist the United States in the 2003 Iraq War. They also refused to play a major role in NATO’s 2001 Afghanistan operation, limiting their support to logistics and training. Turkey is weary of getting into bed with an ally who has been on the opposite side of the fence for years now. Furthermore, the U.S. assistance of the Kurds in fighting the terrorists has been another serious point of tension in Turkey, due to the animosity between Turkey’s regime and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
For all these reasons, and many more, Turkey will continue to be reluctant in helping the United States beat back ISIS until some concessions are made on their behalf.