U.S: SECURITY REPORT : Syria threatens stability in Turkey, US think tank report warns

8 January 2014 /ANKARA, TODAY’S ZAMAN – A report released last month by the American think tank the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has warned that an intensification of the civil war in Syria could prompt a limited external intervention by the US or its allies in 2014 and that the ongoing conflict threatens the stability of US allies, especially Turkey and Jordan.

The report, titled “Preventive Priorities Survey 2014” ranks conflicts around the globe according to how likely they are to occur or grow and how high the potential impact is on US interests.

CFR asked more than 1,200 US government officials, academics and experts to evaluate a list of 30 conflicts that could break out or escalate over the next year, and the results show that Syria is considered one of the hot spots.

“Ongoing civil strife threatens the stability of US allies, particularly Turkey and Jordan. Additionally, increased regional instability could create a safe haven for extremist groups active in Syria, such as the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Hezbollah,” said the report.

The New York-based CFR, specializing in US foreign policy and international affairs, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization, publisher and think tank.The report said the civil war in Syria shows no sign of abating, as opposition groups continue to battle government forces and the militant groups allied with them. The US and Russia are working with the United Nation’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to effectively dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. But the report warned, “An intensification of the civil war in Syria could reverse these gains and even prompt a limited external intervention by the United States or its allies.” Syria failed to meet a Dec. 31, 2013 deadline to hand over its chemical weapons to international authorities. The OPCW cited security concerns, bad weather and bureaucratic challenges.

“More than 110,000 people have been killed, 4.25 million have been internally displaced, and two million have fled as refugees to neighboring countries. The country is increasingly divided along sectarian lines,” the report said.

The report also indicates that the spillover from Syria’s civil war and violence in Afghanistan as coalition forces draw down are among next year’s top conflict prevention priorities for US policymakers. The most urgent concerns also include terror attacks or cyber attacks on the US, military strikes against Iran and a crisis in North Korea.

The CFR report categorized the conflicts into three tiers, in order of priority to US policymakers. While the Syrian civil war is among those in the first tier, “resumption of conflict in the Kurdish-dominated regions of Turkey and the Middle East” is in the last tier, indicating that the issue is not a top priority for US policymakers.

“The Kurdish areas of Turkey and the greater Middle East could experience increased violence in the coming months. In Turkey, peace talks between the government and the militant Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) have stalled since a ceasefire was agreed to in March 2013,” said the report, adding that PKK members are refusing to withdraw from Turkey to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) territory in northern Iraq.

The report also warned that the deepening ties between Syrian Kurds and the PKK, who may want to establish an autonomous state under the pretext of Syrian civil war, are most worrisome.

Syrian Kurds, the report said, constitute about 10 percent of Syria’s population and who control a large area of northern Syria, have been fighting the central government in the ongoing civil war and have now secured definitive control of the Kurdish area of northern Syria.  “If the Kurds succeed in establishing an autonomous state, the secessionist movements in other Kurdish areas of the Middle East could accelerate, intensifying ongoing sectarian conflicts in the region. Heightened terrorist activity by Kurdish separatists is a growing concern for the United States, which has designated the PKK as a foreign terrorist organization and wishes to maintain the territorial integrity of states in the region,” said the report. Another third tier conflict in Turkey’s region listed in the report is the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The report said that Nagorno-Karabakh faces an increased risk of renewed hostilities due to the failure of mediation efforts, escalating militarization and frequent ceasefire violations. “Although 95 percent of Nagorno-Karabakh is ethnically Armenian, it is internationally recognized as being part of Azerbaijan. The conflict over the secessionist territory officially ended with a ceasefire in 1993, following a six-year war, but has the potential to flare up again,” said the report.

The report said that the mediation efforts led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group have failed to produce a permanent solution to the conflict and without successful mediation efforts, ceasefire violations and escalating tensions threaten to renew a military conflict between the countries and destabilize the South Caucasus region.

“Increased tensions could also disrupt oil and gas exports from the region, since Azerbaijan is a significant oil and gas exporter to Europe and Central Asia, producing 850,000 barrels of oil per day while harming U.S. economic interests and creating a spike in the global oil market,” stressed the report. North Korea ranked high on the report because of the nuclear test it conducted in February 2013, as well as US estimates that it has enough plutonium to produce five nuclear weapons. Another priority issue for US mentioned in the report is Iran. It notes that while prospects for a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff with Iran have recently improved with the November interim agreement between Iran and Western powers aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for easing sanctions on Iran, but a lasting settlement of the dispute is still uncertain.

“There are still obstacles in the way of a long-term agreement that both satisfies Iran’s desire to develop nuclear energy and reassures its international counterparts, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia, of its peaceful intent. The threat of renewed tensions stemming from a breakdown of the interim agreement and even the possibility of military strikes cannot be discounted,” said the report. Regarding Iraq, the report said the dividing lines between religious groups have widened. Shi’a groups, which constitute more than 60 percent of the population, have been able to influence the country’s political atmosphere. “If sectarian violence continues to take hold of the country, Iraq may plunge into a deeper state of chaos and potentially into a state of civil war,” said the report. http://www.todayszaman.com/news-336027-syria-threatens-stability-in-turkey-us-think-tank-report-warns.html