Whenever one doesn’t respect the right of sovereign states to exist, it does more than violate the letter and principles of international law. It opens up the floodgates to further crises. These crises often come back to bite the very countries who initially engaged in illegal interventions into sovereign states.
There is no better example of this than Turkey in respect of its recent Syrian policies. Prior to Turkey’s illegal intervention into Syria, Turkey’s Kurdish problem was largely an internal problem. Although Kurdish parties in Iraq and Syria did of course have ties to and communications with the Turkish PKK, things were generally at a level of uneasy but assured equilibrium.
Now, after an illegal invasion into Syria, which according to the Turkish Security Council has ended in a ‘success’, Turkey finds itself in a less secure position.
Not only are many of the Turkish trained jihadists going to enter Turkey with all the arms and anger they have been using in Syria, but more importantly in the long term is that emboldened Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria are now hellbent on creating a would-be Kurdish state. The Kurds now appear to have the solid backing of the United States.
After decades of living side by side with Syria, a country which does not have any ambitions in Turkey, now Turkey may be faced with the possibility of living next to an openly hostile Kurdish state.
Yesterday, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu tried to convince Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, that the Kurdish forces in both Syria and Turkey are terrorists. Tillerson did not agree and the Americans are not going to agree any time soon.
Now that Turkey is crying foul over worries of future violations of its own territorial integrity at the hands of Kurds, it has exposed the dangers implicitly inherent in any nation not respecting the borders of its neighbours.
When Turkey had much of Europe and America on its side in its jihadist proxy war against Syria, Turkey didn’t give a damn about the principles of international law in respect of illegally invading another country.
Now that Turkey is worried about its own borders, it has found that the Europeans and Americans are not sympathetic.
Indeed, many in Europe are now treating the Turkish state with the same open disdain they once heaped upon Syria and in many cases, still do.
Turkey’s own flippancy with respecting Syrian borders may come back to haunt Ankara. The genie is out of the bottle and its not going back in, any time soon.
Again, this is where many countries could learn a lot from the Russian style of diplomacy. Russia respects the right of countries to exist in peace, irrespective of whether the country in question exercises a form of government that is alien to the Russian way of thinking.
International relations is not a popularity contest and it is not a matter of ‘having things in common’. It’s a matter of understating the world as it is and one’s ability to make the most of it.
Russia’s own, often strained relations with Turkey are based on this very pragmatic principle. Although Turkey has gone against Russian interests in Syria and although Turkey has said some deeply foolish and untrue things about Russia, The Kremlin still respects the fact that Turkey has a right to exist and to do so in peace. What’s more is that Russia chooses not to ignore the fact that Turkey is a deeply important power, while many in the EU and US pretend otherwise when it suits their ideological agenda.
Turkey now ironically has something in common with Syria. Both countries are existentially threatened by the creation of a Kurdish state, a state which the majority of Syrians and Turks oppose. In this sense it would have been ideal for Syria and Turkey to make a common stand against Kurdish nationalism, but that bridge has been burnt long ago and Turkey is singularly to blame for that fact.
In this sense, in the form of Kurdish nationalists, Turkey’s chickens are coming home to roost.