Turkey’s Deterrence Deficit

Despite Turkey’s numerous threats to intervene, and the purposeful non-defining of the military’s new rules of engagement, Ankara’s efforts to deter Syria have failed. While deterrence is a relatively simple concept, the policy rests on the premise of convincing your opponent that you are prepared and capable of carrying out your threats. Turkey’s actions, thus far, have not been convincing and have undermined its efforts to try and deter Assad. Moreover, its bellicose rhetoric appears to have exceeded the military’s capabilities, which further undermine Ankara’s aggressive efforts to coerce Assad to change course.

It appears that Turkey hoped that its very public decision to move some military equipment to the border and to scramble F-16s to intercept and track Syrian aircraft operating near Turkish airspace would prompt Assad to tamp down its military operations on the border. However, in order to really deter Assad, Ankara would have to continue its build up of military equipment and to take steps to signal that it is prepared to escalate the conflict. Rather than putting in place the military assets to be able to carry out the government’s threats, Turkey’s actions appear aimed at defending its own border and appeasing those angry about the government’s inaction.

This has led Turkey to talk tough and issue threats, but do little, if anything, to signal to Assad that Ankara is prepared to carry out any of its numerous threats. Moreover, Ankara’s decision to limit its response to errant Syrian artillery strikes, signal to Assad (and everyone else for that matter) that Turkey is not prepared to escalate the conflict. Instead, Ankara remains committed to a proportional response, thus showing that it’s policy remains reactive and defensive. This approach, while the correct course of action in my opinion, is not actually useful for trying to establish a deterrent.

Thus, we are likely to see a stalemate. Turkey is signaling that it wont do anything to stop the bombing of Syrian towns on its border and Assad is telling Turkey that your efforts at deterrence have failed. Faced with this grim scenario, Turkey will continue to agitate for a no-fly-zone, but do little to actually try and militarily dissuade Damascus from continuing its airstrikes. The Prime Minister will certainly talk tough, and we are likely to see some more leaked video of military units moving to the border, but the situation will not change.

The only threat to Turkey (and Syria for that matter) remains an unintended escalation. Turkish and Syrian military units are now only separated by a few meters and warplanes are intermittently coming into contact. A wrong move could lead to military strikes and an even tenser situation. Let’s hope that both sides don’t make a mistake.

About aaronstein1

I am an Istanbul based PhD Candidate a King's College London.
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