Christine Petré
Last updated: 11 December, 2014

Turkish security debates seek new solutions to Middle East chaos

Security personnel from across the world gathered in Turkey to discuss the region’s most acute threats. Your Middle East gives you the priorities, concerns and solutions raised.

The 6th International Symposium on Terrorism and Transnational Crime, a three-day conference in Turkish coastal town Antalya, brought together a varied group of academics, high ranking diplomats, journalists and human rights workers of different nationalities to discuss Turkey’s, and the region’s, most alarming security issues. The growing threat of the Islamic State (IS), foreign fighters, and Syria’s collapse were unsurprisingly high on the agenda.

“It is important for Turkey to establish an authentic security approach, for which this conference is a stepping stone,” declared Mehmet Ozkan, director of the International Center For Terrorism and Transnational Crime (UTSAM) in his opening remarks. “Let’s hope for three intellectually productive days,” he added.

IS challenges the concept of sovereignty

During the conference’s first panel session, Security: A conceptual and practical overview, Turkey’s Special Representative to Libya, Emrullah Isler highlighted Turkey’s commitment to reaching stability in the oil-rich North African state. “Libya is very important for Turkey,” Isler said, noting that it’s a country of both opportunity and threats. “It is mandatory for Turkey to be involved.”

The following speaker, Ahmet Erkan Koca from the Institute of Security Sciences and Turkish National Police Force, spoke about the complexity of state sovereignty. There are two types of sovereignty relationships, he explained: one between a state and its citizens and one between a state and the international society. “Security is not a closed-ended process, there will always be new risks,” he said, arguing that sovereignty and security ought to be thought of as dynamic concepts.

IS is now challenging the idea of state sovereignty, continued Saban Kardas, President of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies. Territorial gain lies at the core of the extremist group’s power structure. To deal with IS efficiently it is necessary with a bottom-up approach, including nation building, argued Kardas.

“IS – direct threat to Turkey”

But how big of a threat is IS to neighbouring countries? The expansion into Iraq and Syria was well-planned, underlined Lars Erslev Andersen, senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, and explained that this groundwork is unlikely to unfold in other countries. Instead the greater risk is that “they inspire groups in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon,” argued Andersen, a risk that may also increase with confrontations.

“IS is a direct threat to Turkey,” declared Fatma Ceren Yazgan from the Turkish Foreign Ministry and emphasised the need for unity against the militant group but added, “We shouldn’t expect anything from the international community.” UN is simply a reflection of the world powers and can be nothing more than its own members, she argued. However, at the same time as a unilateral Turkish intervention isn’t on the agenda the Foreign Ministry representative made clear that air strikes alone will not defeat IS, some form of united response will be necessary.

Foreign fighters

While the threat of foreign fighters has been making the headlines the last few months the concept of foreign fighters should not be perceived as a new phenomenon, emphasised Murad Batal al-Shishani from The Jamestown Foundation. Foreign fighters went to Spain in the battle against former dictator Francisco Franco and it wasn’t an uncommon practice during the former Bosnian war. In addition, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan have all experienced an influx of foreign fighters, however, with around 2,000 from Europe, 3,000 from Saudi Arabia, and 2,500 from Jordan and Tunisia respectively, the Syrian conflict is believed to now be the conflict with the biggest influx of foreign fighters.

The failing war on terrorism

Despite that the US has spent 500 billion US Dollars against terrorism, which is 50,000 times more than the country has spent on any other cause of death in the US, the number of victims of terrorism has not decreased, explained Peter Knoope from the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. “What counter-terrorism does is it shifts the risk to somewhere else.”

Since 9/11 counter-terrorism measures have been dominated by a hard military approach, and the focus has been on the symptoms and not the root of the problem, argued Hamed El-Said, Professor of Political Economy at Manchester Metropolitan University.


“Change needs to come from the social and economic roots,” emphasised Kardas. “The conflict resolution mechanisms don’t exist anymore in the region.”

There also needs to be a shift from warfare to a softer approach to terrorism argued El-Said, which is slowly starting to be introduced by for example the British government, UN and the EU.

The need for closer collaboration between policymakers and academia was raised in the end of the three-day session, concluding that to improve the counter-terrorism field bridging the gap is necessary.