Turkey faces several economic, social and political threats in both the near (5-year) and long (10-20-year) term. Its geopolitical situation in the Middle East makes it particularly sensitive not to only local contexts but to global contexts as well. Bordering Georgia to the north, Armenia and Iran to the east, and Syria and Iraq to the south, it has been neighbor to some of the most controversial courses of action in recent history. It is only natural that its own security should be affected by that of its neighbors as well as by superpower interests in the region. This paper will analyze the security threats as they apply to Turkey in both the near-term and the long-term.
The latest and nearest term security threat is the rise of IS, the Islamic State, whose self-appointed caliphate has declared a religious war against Shia Muslims in the Iraq and Syria region. An off-shoot of Al-Qaeda, these Sunni extremists are a threat to Turkey citizens, a quarter of whom are Shia Muslims. If IS gains a stronghold in northern Iraq or in Syria, they could threaten Turkey's skies as well, which provide over-flight access for the U.S. For strategic missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because Turkey has good relations with the U.S. And provides a type of sanctuary for establishing regional allies for the Western power, Turkey may face additional pressure as IS has included the West in its threat. Men, women and children have been slain by the terrorist group, which has already invaded Mosul in northern Iraq. "There is a park in Mosul," reports Catholic Online (2014) "where they actually beheaded children and put their heads on a stick and have them in the park." Hundreds of thousands of Christians and Muslims are fleeing their homes as the terrorist group digs into the region. This is a near-term threat to Turkey's security, which may be overcome in the near-term with the assistance of U.S. firepower.
Indeed, President Obama has already dispatched bombers to the region in order to eliminate the arms of the terrorist group. Obama stated "We do have a strategic interest in pushing back" IS. "We're not going to let them create some caliphate…but we can only do that if we know that we've got partners on the ground who are capable of filling the void" (Frizell, 2014). Turkey's role in confronting IS will begin with its President, whether that is Erdogan or someone else. Refugees are expected to pour into Turkey, which has already accepted a million Syrian refugees, fleeing the civil war there. This tremendous influx of refugees will undoubtedly have an effect on Turkey politics. Already, Erdogan has denounced the U.S.'s role in Syria and its aloof stance towards the slaughter in Gaza, which Erdogan has likened to a new Holocaust, only this time it is Israel acting like a new Nazi state (Seibert 2014). Turkey's position in the region is thus a delicate one. Considering that "50 Turkish diplomats and civilians have been held hostage by IS" in Mosul since June 2014, the terrorist group's threats are palpable (Seibert, 2014). U.S. aid could be of help, but considering that Turkey has put relations with Israel on hold, due to the latter's attack of a Turkish ship "bound for Gaza in 2010," and that Israel is a recipient of a tremendous amount of foreign aid from the U.S., and the complexity of Turkey's situation becomes more apparent: on the one hand, it cannot afford to isolate itself from U.S. assistance in its fight against IS, but on the other hand, it cannot countenance the rise of a "new Hitler" in Israel (Seibert, 2014).
A long-term threat that Turkey faces is an economic one that centers on the BTC pipeline which runs from the Caspian through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and into Turkey, ending at Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea. This pipeline is an important source of revenue for Turkey. But it has been threatened by Syrian economic initiatives: "Syria signed off on a $10 billion pipeline deal that breaks the BTC monopoly" (Dawson, 2012). It also threatens the Nabucco-West pipeline. A pipeline that bypasses the BTC and the Nabucco-West would undercut Turkey's financial prospects and undermine its national economy. Thus, Syrian economics appears to be a long-term threat to Turkey's stability. The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, also called the Friendship Pipeline by those same countries, or the Islamic gas pipeline, is one such example of an economic threat. The Syrian civil war has thus far disrupted plans for the laying of the Friendship Pipeline, but if Assad remains in power in Syria, it is likely that plans will continue. The Nabucco-West is not likely to be operational until 2017. Interested parties are Western as opposed to Russian, which is the case with the Friendship Pipeline. The geopolitical relationship of Russia to Syria and Iran is also one that should be considered when discussing Turkey's economical stability in the long-term, as Russia is pivoting to China and solidifying its relationship with Syria throughout the course of the Syrian civil war. Russia has a port on Syrian soil on the Mediterranean Coast, which makes its relationship with Syria that much more important and which makes the pipeline deal that much more significant, as Russia is one of the top exporters of natural gas in the world.
Russia's South Stream is also a competitor to the Nabucco-West pipeline. Gazprom stands to supply the EU with most of its natural gas if the Nabucco-West fails to produce. Turkey must consider this situation and determine which superpower will be more economically stable in the coming years, the U.S. Or Russia. Turkey's alliance with the U.S. is satisfactory for now, but being a NATO country, and with Russia coming down firmly against NATO build-up in the Ukraine and its port in Crimea being threatened, a Russia-NATO conflict may appear. How will Turkey be affected by such a conflict? This question must be answered as it would apply to the long-term security of NATO. Russia did, after all, support the South Ossetians when Georgia invaded the territory (Nichol, 2011). Turkey has tried to maintain strong ties with Georgia, as well as Azerbaijan, while strengthening ties with the U.S. However, the power balance may be shifting in Russia's favor. The BRICS nations are developing a fund to counter the IMF, and the dollar's status as global reserve currency may come under increasing fire. Will it be in Turkey's best interest to maintain a strict allegiance with the U.S. considering these developments? How might diplomacy with Syria and Russia better place it in an economic sense, twenty years down the road? The Friendship Pipeline may be of interest to Turkey, if the Nabucco-West fails. And the BTC may lose its monopoly in the long-run. Turkey must consider its economic security in the light of these developments -- especially as "virtually all current geopolitical developments are energy-related" (Escobar, 2011).
Turkey's social and political position in the region brings about certain near and long-term threats as well. Its poor relationship with Armenia has made it susceptible to Kurdish pressure. Armenia's Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan has been a source of contention and while the U.S. has a working relationship with Armenia, Turkey does not.
The U.S. seeks stability in the region due to its investments in the area (pipelines, governments, etc.). Turkey remains a major player in establishing stability -- but this also comes with certain risks. An immediate risk may be found in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Turkey has influence with the latter and it may be in Turkey's best interest to use diplomacy in order to bring about a lasting peace between the two countries. As Russia seeks to maintain a significant portion of control in the area, it may also be in Turkey's best interest to open doors to diplomacy with this country as well. It has already voiced opposition to Israel, and broken ranks so to speak with the other NATO countries. Ignoring Russian influence in the area may prove to be a long-term threat to social, political, and economic security.
Another near-term threat is the nuclear reactor in Metsamor, Armenia that may be leaking dangerously high levels of radiation. The Turkish government has been attempting to address this situation. As Armenia is dependent upon Russian support, it may be an opportunity for Turkey to work with Russia in addressing the clean-up of this reactor, which may also lead to an opening of Turkey-Armenia borders, which could potentially stimulate the economy and be good for both societies.
The looming long-term threat, however, remains the threat of war between Russia and the West. With Russia pivoting to China and the U.S./NATO stepping up its military action in Ukraine, rumors of war abound. This would be a significant near-term threat, but the long-term affect is not to be ignored: a new alliance of powers may be in development, even as old alliances are seemingly re-affirmed. The balance of power is ever-shifting and much hinges on…