Syria and Libya’s Contributions to the Evolution of the Turkish “Forward Defence” Doctrine

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Syria and Libya’s Contributions to the Evolution of the Turkish “Forward Defence” Doctrine

By Nebahat Tanrıverdi Yaşar, IPC-Stiftung Mercator Fellow, CATS

Executive Summary
In the last decade, there have been considerable changes in Turkey’s regional policies, especially in terms of the increasing use of hard power. Such changes are largely in response to regional rivalry, refugee flow from Syria and the revival of Kurdish issues, as well as strained relations with Turkey’s traditional allies, such as the United States and the European Union, among other factors. In the first decade of its rule, the AKP government moved away from Turkey’s traditional approach to foreign policy by adopting soft power in its relations with the states in the Middle East region. However, following the Arab Spring, and especially 2016, the AKP government embraced a “forward defence” doctrine, reminiscent of the security policies of the 1990s.

At the end of the Cold War, Turkey reoriented its defence posture around a security-oriented approach due to its geostrategic location. This defence posture was based on the belief that Turkey has an unstable but strategically important location and hence needs powerful armed forces to employ hard power to protect its interests and security. Naturally, security threat perceptions reached their peak in Turkish foreign policy and Turkey came to the brink of using military force against several states such as Greece, Cyprus and Syria. Modernisation of armed forces and development of national defence industry were among the policies adopted during this era.

The forward defence doctrine is key to Turkey’s policy in Syria and Libya. Given the dominant role played by Turkey in Syria, AKP has intensified its military activities beyond the Syrian border with the aim of preventing the expansion of the YPG and advance of the Syrian army into Idlib, which would trigger a large influx of refugees. Maritime disputes between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean intertwined with geopolitical tensions and rivalry between Turkey and its regional rivals such as France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. In response to its regional isolation and to block these developments, Turkey signed two Memoranda of Understanding, on maritime delimitation and on security cooperation, with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya.
The recent shift in Turkey’s security policy is in line with the basic principles of the AKP government’s grand strategy, which seeks to reposition Turkey as a central state in the international and regional system.

The ideas expressed are those of the author not the publisher or the author’s affiliation
Published in June 2021
All rights reserved to GCSP

Part of the Syria Transition Challenges Project


Nebahat Tanrıverdi Yaşar is IPC-Stiftung Mercator Fellow at the Centre for Applied Turkey Studies (CATS) at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, and independent researcher. Her main research areas include North African politics, foreign policies of North African countries, Turkish foreign policy, social movements, the Arab Spring and the transformation processes. She holds an MA degree in Middle East Studies from Middle East Technical University and is pursuing a PhD degree at the Department of International Relations at Middle East Technical University on foreign policies of North African countries. Besides academic publications, Tanrıverdi Yaşar has published many national and international publications so far and contributes to various journals and media outlets. Her research project at CATS focuses on Turkey’s policies in Libya and its implications for the Mediterranean region.