A proxy war New Zealand does not need

A proxy war is normally a war fought by small actors on behalf of bigger actors. As such, there is a war between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a client state of America, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is a client state of Russia. As client states, they receive aid from their more powerful mate.

Neither Russia or America want the other to gain absolute control in the Middle East. This is a cross roads region between the Asian, North African and European continents. Both need the oil that comes with these nations, and both are propping up dictatorships who care nothing for the supposed Western influence of human rights.

Both America and Russia are guilty of arming war criminals. They will deny it as this is a very heavy allegation to make, but American and British cluster bombs have been dropped by Saudi Arabia on Yemeni schools, hospitals and homes. And irrefutable evidence of these events has been found by Amnesty International.

Russia has blood on its hands from supporting the regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria. It has vetoed numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions trying to hold Mr al Assad to account. Russia has also steadfastly stood up for Iran in the same way America has for Israel. It has vetoed U.N. resolutions against Iran. It has ignored Iran’s abomination of a record on women’s rights. Were a war to start between the two I expect Russia will respond militarily to a direct attack on Iran, at which point the stakes rise by orders of magnitude. So too does the risk.

Has the U.S./Israel /Saudi Arabia thought about this? I am not sure that they have.

Iran, perhaps under the Russian umbrella may think it is safe and that the United States would not strike. Perhaps true, but I think Israel would. It struck Saddam Hussein by knocking out his Osirak reactor; it struck Syria several years ago. What would happen if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to bomb the entire Iranian nuclear programme and any military installations deemed to be strategic back into the stone age?

But there is another country involved. Turkey. Over the decades Turkey has maintained an increasingly hard line against its Kurdish minority. As a result some Kurdish groups such as the P.K.K. have been labelled terrorist groups. Turkey is in a unique position. It is friendly to Russia and – to a decreasing extent – the United States. It has hosted N.A.T.O. forces during various operations, including the 1991 Gulf War and the U.S. used to have missiles there, which were removed after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Recently the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become more authoritarian and survived an attempted coup in 2016 that led to a massive crack down against the intelligentsia and activist groups.

But in the last few months that has taken on a new dimension with Turkey acquiring advanced Russian S-400 anti aircraft missiles and is talking to Moscow about participating in its 5th Generation combat aircraft programme. This has led to a sharp and possibly long lasting deterioration in its relationship with N.A.T.O. and the United States, which has cut Turkey out of the F-35 fighter programme.

And then, last week it started a military operation against Kurdish forces who had been participating in the war against I.S.I.S. after the Americans downgraded their forces in northern Syria. In an already complicated geopolitical mess, this was something totally unnecessary on Turkey’s part and that of Washington.

And all it achieves is the diminishing of the prospects for a lasting peace in a region that has been nearly continuously wracked by some sort of conflict since October 2001. It is not a conflict New Zealand needs to be a part of. It is not one we will gain anything from and definitely one we should be actively pushing towards the peace negotiations table.


Post coup crack down damaging Turkey

Tayyip Recep Erdogan has launched a massive crackdown against the Turkish military, Turkish dissidents and political opponents following an attempted coup that happened overnight Saturday morning New Zealand time. Over 190 have been reported killed, over 1,000 injured with more than 1500 arrests made. Social media access has been restricted and martial law has been declared. As details emerge, it is appropriate to look at why it happened and how the Government response will affect Turkey.

Turkey is a strongly secular nation, despite being in a part of the world with a predominantly Muslim population. Its geographical location on the edge of what is recognized as Europe. Having risen out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, which was disestablished by peace treaties signed at the end of World War One. The founder of the modern Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the hero of the Turkish campaign against the attack by the British Commonwealth, French, Indian and South African forces that attacked Gelibolu (Gallipoli)in 1915 envisioned a secular society. Mr Ataturk encouraged Turks to adopt a western style of dress based on reforms started by Mahmud II. He undertook comprehensive education reforms that saw huge increases in the numbers of Turks receiving education at all levels. He instigated economic reforms that included the establishment of Turkey’s first bank and national railways. Mr Ataturk also permitted the first private ventures – steel, textile, paper and sugar factories – were all established.

Over the decades since, Turkey has become one of the most prosperous nations in the Middle East. It has maintained strategic importance as a nation that is viewed as moderately Islamic, where most ethnicities are treated with a degree of decency – Kurds and Armenians being an exception. Turkey developed good ties with Israel and a degree of co-operation that few other Muslim nations have achieved.

Enter Recept Tayyip Erdogan, former football player, turned politician. Mr Erdogan’s political career began when he was elected Mayor of Istanbul. Many were worried that he might be going to impose Islamic law, but instead Mr Erdogan remained pragmatic and focussed on the major problems Istanbul faced, including rubbish, water shortages and traffic. He managed to ensure finances were responsibly used and paid back significant debt that the city owed.

His politics have not always been free of controversy. He was barred from office and jailed for 10 months in 1998 for inciting religious hatred, leading him to form a more moderate-conservative line of thinking.

When Mr Erdogan was elected President of Turkey, he had a vision of getting Turkey membership of the European Union. He proposed high speed railway networks and what has been considered a pro-Ottoman empire foreign policy. Starting in 2012, Mr Erdogan has taken an increasingly authoritative approach to his Presidency. Protests erupted when a development involving a park was opposed and Turkish security forces were deployed to quell them. Then a cartoonist who depicted Mr Erdogan in a negative way was censored for his work. Surveillance of dissidents began to increase and security forces were told to take a harder line. Journalists were silenced with threatening messages.

Since the establishment of Islamic State as a terrorist group, doubts have begun to grow about what Mr Erdogan’s real intentions are. Despite being at a crucial cross roads in the Middle East, for supplies heading to Islamic State, Turkey has failed to cut them off. Despite being linked to war crimes Turkey has supported acts of war by allies of the U.S., which have exacerbated the conflict in the Middle East. A good example is in 2015 Mr Erdogan said he supported Saudi Arabia’s campaign of aerial bombardment against rebel targets in Yemen. The bombardment which has involved indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets including residential, hospital and educational facilities has attracted widespread international criticism.

Now as we watch a crack down in Turkey begin to damage its international reputation and make the world wonder about the sanity of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, I cannot help but wonder if this supposedly moderate politician really is the good fellow he makes himself out to be. And how much more damage his brand of politics Turkey can sustain?