May 19, 2015
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for a clearer security agreement between the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East in order to fight terrorism in the region. The statement, which came during a NATO meeting in Turkey on this topic, was a relief to a country that has been calling for just this. Turkey, which borders not only Syria but also Iraq, has been dealing with the dual challenges of ISIS and Syria without a clear plan from its allies for too long. The U.S. and its NATO allies need to step up and support Turkey before this burden becomes too much to bear.
The Secretary-General of NATO admitted as much at the end of this week’s talks in Turkey, saying “The challenges we all face demand a comprehensive response, so all of us need to work even closer together.” Nowhere is this need clearer than in Syria. More than four years of civil war have created a vacuum that allowed for not only the growth of ISIS, but also a complicated network of rebel groups with varying agendas. Meanwhile, the international community has stood by as the Assad regime brutalizes its own people and there is increasing evidence that the country did not hand over its chemical weapons as promised.
While the U.S. watches from afar, Turkey, with 750 miles of borders with Syria and Iraq, deals with the threat of ISIS and its neighbors’ instability on a daily basis. In addition to fighting along the border and the threat of terrorism, the Syrian civil war has displaced nearly 4 million people, of which more than 1.7 million are living in Turkey. More than 300,000 more refugees are expected to flee to Turkey by the end of the year. To date, Turkey has spent more than $5.5 billion on humanitarian relief alone, while regional instability continues to threaten its economy. At the same time, Turkey has been working to stem the growth of ISIS, deporting more than 200 would-be terrorists in the first three months of the year.
While the U.S. and NATO have previously expressed the need to do more to support Turkey, not enough has been done to date. While increased intelligence sharing has increased the number of would-be terrorists Turkey has been able to deport, missile defense systems sent by NATO have improved the country’s defenses and the U.S. has pledged to partner with Turkey to train Syrian rebels to fight ISIS and the Assad regime, the underlying problems remain.
In order to end the crisis in Syria, the U.S. needs to take a greater role in developing a comprehensive plan that addresses both ISIS and Assad. The present piecemeal approach will not lead to a long-term solution. Worse, the longer the world’s leaders wait to deal with this issue, the greater these problems become. The spread of ISIS and the increasing desperation of the Assad regime make the region more volatile, and further damage the communities and institutions that will be needed to support any return to normalcy.
Secretary Kerry’s acknowledgement of the situation is a step in the right direction. The situation the world faces in Syria today is the worst humanitarian crisis in a generation, and deserves a comprehensive international response. Turkey has long been calling for a coordinated response to this crisis, but no other country has stepped forward to join it.
The U.S. needs to support its allies in the region by working to coordinate a plan that will stop ISIS and put an end to the Assad regime. The security situation in Syria is messy and complicated, and if we are to have any hope of putting an end to the chaos and achieving lasting peace, the international community needs to develop a clear plan for achieving it and to support those countries that are bearing the brunt of the impact. It is time to turn words into actions and take concrete steps to ending the crisis in Syria and helping to bring peace and stability to the region.
President, Turkish Heritage Organization