On Thursday, Sept. 19, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his desire to extend without delay the parliamentary authorization that would expire in two weeks that allows the government the full authority to decide on sending troops to Syria. “The new legislative permission that will be introduced to the parliament could share the same content as the previous one, or it may contain some differences. The Foreign Affairs Ministry and the chief of staff are now working on the details of this new bill,” he said, and added that he would give the final go-ahead after taking a careful look at it.
Despite the objection of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) last year, the parliament passed the aforementioned authorization on Oct. 4, 2012, valid for one full year, with Decision No. 1025. “The ongoing crisis in Syria not only negatively affects regional stability and security, but it also increasingly negatively impacts our national security,” the parliamentary authorization stated. “Within the framework of the military operations carried out by the Syria Arab Republic Armed Forces, aggressive actions have also targeted the territory of our country since Sept. 20, 2012, and these actions continued despite our numerous warnings and diplomatic initiatives. These hostile actions aiming at the territory of our country are on the verge of being categorized as armed attack. This situation has risen to the point of posing serious threat and risks to our national security.”
While the Turkish jet allegedly downed by Syria in June 2012 does not find its place in this declaration, the parliamentary authorization added: “In this regard, there occurred a need to address potential additional risk and threats to our country in a timely manner, and to act instantly and to take necessary precautions. In this context, the government is granted the full authority to decide on the limits, quantity and the timing for sending out the Turkish Armed Forces to foreign countries; provided that the assignment will be determined by the government according to the principles set out in Article 92 of the Constitution for a period of one year, in accordance with the General Assembly’s fourth meeting on Oct. 4, 2012.”
In the meantime, the United Nations General Assembly convenes this week to mark the opening of its 68th annual session, and the Syrian crisis without a doubt will dominate the contacts of world leaders. The UN Security Council is expected to pass a resolution this week aiming to stamp the US-Russia deal in Geneva to eliminate Syria’s chemical arsenal with the authority of this international body, attributing to it an indisputable legality. On Friday, Sept. 20, Syria met the first deadline of the Geneva agreement and submitted an initial declaration of the list of chemical weapons it possesses. The New York Times reported the same day that the US side is satisfied so far. “We were pleasantly surprised by the completeness of their declaration,” the US official, who declined to be identified, said. “It was better than expected.”” On Saturday, Sept. 21, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Sergei Ivanov, President Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff, as saying Russia’s position “could change” and Moscow could drop its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if it were “certain that Assad is cheating” on giving up chemical weapons.
Despite all these encouraging signs for increased pressure on Assad, the United States and Russia still have disagreements over the specifics of how to approach the Syrian crisis. For example, they still disagree over who carried out the Aug. 21 chemical weapon attack in Syria. Americans are determined that the UN Security Council resolution should clearly blame the Assad regime for that attack, while Russia insists on keeping the opposition responsible for it. While this is not the only divergent issue — there is also intense debate about measuring Syria’s compliance and whether Chapter VII of the UN Charter could be enforced in that regard, meaning an automatic permission to use military force or not — it doubtless promises to be a tough week for the negotiating teams of all the permanent members of the UN Security Council to enable passage of a resolution on Syria marking the General Assembly’s opening for this term.
The reason why all this relates to Erdogan’s decision to ask the parliament to extend his government’s authority to send troops to Syria is, however, the following: There is a paragraph in the US-Russian agreement that hints at the possibility of sending foreign troops to Syria. It reads: “The two sides intend to work closely together, and with the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons], the UN, all Syrian parties, and with other interested member states with relevant capabilities to arrange for the security of the monitoring and destruction mission, recognizing the primary responsibility of the Syrian government in this regard.”
In simple terms, there is a growing consensus that while Syria will be named as the sole responsible body for providing the safety and security of international inspectors in doing their work, foreign troops also may be authorized to provide the security of the inspecting teams. For Turkey, therefore, it is simply immature to talk about renewing parliamentary permission that could authorize sending Turkish troops into Syria at this specific time.
First of all, there is no rationale at this stage for Ankara to take an aggressive military tone with the Syrian regime when the international community is somehow at its best point in addressing this almost 3-year-old catastrophic crisis; Turkey has so far shown that despite its alleged efforts in finding a solution to this mess, it’s not a game-changer in the end. It is, however, a part of the Western alliance — both with its NATO membership, and with its strong bilateral ties with the United States.
Second, if the Erdogan government decides to contribute to this potential international force that would work in Syria to secure the safety of the chemical weapons inspectors, the parliament needs to be informed about the details of the mission in full. After all, it’s still fresh in memory that while the Arab League did not have any say about the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, it had a unanimous vote strongly objecting to Turkey's sending troops to Iraq, because it would be the return of its old occupier — referring to the Ottoman era.
Turkey may be wise to step back for a while — at least until the Security Council decides how to move forward — before asking the parliament to renew the authorization for sending troops to Syria. Turkey, however, can significantly contribute to resolving the Syrian dilemma if it relentlessly acts to stop the flow of arms to the opposition — mainly the jihadist groups — and pressures all sides in diplomatic and political terms to stop killing.
When there is so much pressure on Assad, this may rise as an opportunity for all sides to honestly address the opposition’s murdering machines and take a decisive action against their wrongs, as well to stop the regime’s slaughter in Syria. That is what the Turkish administration should do before asking parliament to decide yet again on an authorization allowing the country to send troops across the border.
Tulin Daloglu is a contributor to Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has also written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report.