President R.T. Erdogan clearly believes in gambling. Aware that his own military is puny in comparison with that of the Russian Federation, Erdogan has been acting as bait, seeking to draw his partners in NATO into an armed conflict with Moscow. This is the logic of his call for a No Fly Zone across Turkey’s border with Syria, a plea endorsed by US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who during her tenure as Secretary of State made one disastrous decision after the other: for example, in Pakistan, by backing the military against then President A.A. Zardari, who in some respects resembles Bill Clinton but whose commitment to a moderate rather than an extremist course is undoubted; in Egypt, by backing the Muslim Brotherhood in taking over from Hosni Mubarak; in Libya, by being a cheerleader for the coalition which took out Gaddafi and handed over the country to extremist militias; and in Syria, where Hillary Clinton has backed the arming, training and funding of “moderate” fighters who are indistinguishable from the fanatics who flock to ISIS, Al Nusra and other ideological cousins of Al Qaeda. The Turkish supremo is going the way of Zia-ul-Haq, changing the chemistry of his country through his policies, in the process creating the conditions for civil war and civic unrest which are waiting to erupt within the coming year.
Given that the armaments industry is the only viable Russian export left standing after the collapse in oil prices, it is a high-risk strategy to taunt Vladimir Putin. A second downing of a Russian military aircraft will almost certainly lead to a matching response from Moscow, something which Erdogan evidently looks forward to, as he believes that the US and other NATO member-states will be treaty-bound to intervene in force, thereby getting into, at the least, an air war with Russia, which would result in several aircraft getting shot down. Such a spectacle would have the advantage to buyers of military equipment of demonstrating in actual combat the relative strengths of the types of aircraft used by the US, Russia and France. Despite its popularity with the Ministry of Defence in India, the Dassault Rafale does not appear to have distinguished itself in combat in Syria, as compared to the SU 35 and the SU 27, leaving some to wonder if India has made the right choice in the hyper-expensive deal to purchase fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force. Indeed, the effort by the US, the UK and France against ISIS in Syria has been puny, with that organisation suffering reverses only after Putin sent in his air force to ensure that Bashar Assad won back most of the territory ceded to extremist fights (otherwise known as the “moderate opposition”). This was fully three years after videos first began to surface which showed “moderates” in Syria slicing away the heads of Christians and others they saw as theological or other foes.
Given the cliff-hanger state of the global economy, with prospects for a global depression gaining momentum despite efforts by central banks in East Asia, Europe and North America to stimulate spending via low (and even negative) interest rates, it is unlikely that there exists any appetite in NATO headquarters in Brussels for joining hands with the Turkish military in taking on Russia. The Turkish head of state seeks to overcome such diffidence by creating a fait accompli. By goading and provoking Russia, he expects a response sufficiently robust enough to result in an activation of the joint defence clause of NATO, when Turkish and Russian aircraft go at each other in the skies above Syria, Iraq and possibly Turkey itself. To get enticed into combat would be to adopt the ISIS playbook, as Russia is for now the main threat faced by the extremist group. Unfortunately for his country, Erdogan has converted the Turkish Air Force into the air arm of the extremists, going after the Kurds when these are among the most potent forces challenging ISIS on the ground, of course separately from Assad’s military and its Iranian allies. Just as in the 1990s, the US seems to be leaving the Kurds to their fate after having received substantial assistance from them in the otherwise lacklustre military campaign being waged by the US against ISIS, a campaign in which the role of the UK and France is derisory. Hopefully, the Sarajevo of 1914 will not get repeated in Diyarbakir in 2016.
This columnist has long favoured closer military-to-military ties between the US and India, including signing the three “foundation agreements” which had been consigned to cold storage by Manmohan Singh that would enable closer interaction between the two sides. Rather than expend billions of dollars in the purchase of junk such as the Admiral Gorshkov, the Indian Navy needs many more vessels on the USS Trenton model if it is to ensure that it has a force sufficient for the need of this country and its partners for freedom of navigation across the seas. The US is the only partner that has the capacity to assist the Indian military into becoming a global force at a cost that does not bankrupt the exchequer. Leaving aside the occasions on which he has deferred to the Clintonites that he has filled his administration with, Barack Obama has had almost as clear an understanding of ground realities as Donald Trump has demonstrated on the campaign trail. Hopefully, Erdogan will lose his high-stakes gamble to tilt the world towards a war between the globe’s most deadly militaries, and be left to his fate in case he continues on a policy of provoking Moscow in a manner designed to assist the extremists nurtured by him since 2012.