Cyprus Mail

Turkey’s offensive doctrine: strike first

By Farid Mirbagheri

The tremors of the failed coup attempt in Turkey last July are still rocking the body politic in the country as the push towards an authoritarian regime under the tutelage of President Erdogan is picking up pace. Now the National Intelligence Organisation of the country (MIT) is also going through the changes that would more than likely ensure full compliance and support for the government in Ankara.

Arrests, dismissals and reorganisation, however, are not the only repercussions. Using the momentum for change Erdogan has launched a new doctrine that stands in contrast to the policies of the Turkish Republic since its establishment nearly a century ago. As he phrased it in bold terms to a group of visitors in the presidential palace: “After today we shall not wait for border problems to break out. We shall not wait until the last minute, until we fully sink into a mess. From now on we will confront problems. Is there a problem with terror? We shall not wait to be hit by terrorist organisations. Wherever they may be, we will find them and strike at them hard.”

This offensive approach is reminiscent of the former US President George W Bush’s pre-emptive strikes that was the linchpin of his national security strategy. After all, as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.

Saban Kardas, a Turkish writer has actually defined the new Turkish doctrine in greater detail. In his article in the daily Yeni Safak, he states that Turkey will no longer shy away from using military force beyond its border whenever required; even if such military operations may appear to not fully comply with Ankara’s military and political alliances. In other words, Turkey is prepared to act outside the remit of the United States and Nato if deemed in its interests.

The success of Kurdish fighters in Iraq and the long-standing conflict with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) are what, according to Kardas, have prompted Erdogan to depart from Turkey’s traditional commitment to remaining within its borders. Northern Syria, where the Kurds also maintain organised military capability is of concern to Ankara. Considering the capacity, the experience, the recruitment potential and the high-level weaponry they have, the Kurds can no longer be contained by a policy that restricts itself to national borders, Kardas writes.

Military redeployment of the 28th Mechanised Infantry Brigade, arguably the best equipped unit in the Turkish army, from the capital Ankara to the south near the Iraqi border could be seen in this light. Turkey does not wish to leave anything to chance and has prepared itself to step into Iraqi territory to ensure its perceived security and territorial integrity.

However, moving the 28th brigade may also entail other benefits for President Erdogan. It would put a great distance between the brigade and the capital just as the earlier redeployment of 2nd Armoured Brigade from Istanbul to the Syrian border ensured remoteness of the unit from a major political centre. Such military relocations are believed to lessen the possibility of another attempt by the army to topple the government.

Additionally the display of military prowess and firmer commitment, in this case, could potentially be translated into political gains for Ankara when negotiating with Americans over the future of Syria. No doubt the tragic turn of events in West Asia in the past few years has sadly energised and highlighted the dictum of ‘might is right’.

This new doctrine by the Turkish president, may, however, suffer from pitfalls. Two particular points have to be heeded: Does Turkey have the military capabilities to assume such a role for itself? And secondly how far is Ankara prepared to distance itself from the United States in view of expanding Russian policies? A recent visit to Moscow by the Turkish chief of general staff together with the country’s intelligence chief could be seen in this light.


Farid Mirbagheri is professor of international relations and holds the Dialogue Chair in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Nicosia

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