What is Next for the new Sykes-Picot of the 21st Century now That Russia and U.S. Have Reached an Understanding on the Middle East
By Sargis Sangari and Steven Weingartner
Sykes-Picot is dead. A century after Britain and France formulated their plan for shaping the post-World War I Middle East, the agreement that bears the name of its authors, Mark Sykes and George-Francois Picot, has come to a violent end. One would hope that it might rest in peace, but this is unlikely, for there is no peace in the Middle East: there is only war, now as in the past, and in the foreseeable future – war and suffering, death and devastation.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement, drawn up and signed in 1916 in anticipation of an eventual Allied victory over the Central Powers (i.e., Germany, Austria-Hungry, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria), was conceived with the best of intentions, namely to establish a new regional order in the Middle East following the expected Ottoman collapse. Spheres of influence would be apportioned, nations would be created, the political situation would be stabilized, everyone would get along (more or less), and peace would reign (more or less). But it was not to be.
It is beyond the scope of this article to explain why Sykes-Picot failed. Suffice to say that the deathblow was dealt recently by the rise and success of ISIS. There are, of course many other factors contributing to the demise of the Middle East order that Sykes-Picot was foundational to creating; but it is ISIS that took the kill shot.
Today new powers are rushing in to fill the vacuum that has formed in the wake of the old order’s death. Britain and France were long ago removed from the picture, to be replaced by the U.S. and Russia.
The U.S. and Russia are working jointly to create and implement a 21st century version of Sykes-Picot. They have decided that Syria must be divided and they have determined how it is to be divided. However, it is important to grasp that neither the U.S. nor Russia are seeking an end to the conflict in Syria.
As things now stand it is in the interests of both the U.S. and Russia that the conflict should continue until the final agreement is agreed upon. Peace is not the objective; rather, the objective is a “functioning” Middle East influenced by major powers under their agreed-upon and mutually supporting objective.
Nor is regional peace an objective. The U.S. and Russia have reached a behind-the-scenes agreement that the Middle East must be kept in a perpetual state of low-grade conflict. The reason? Because peace means that one of the Middle Eastern nations has grown powerful enough to establish and enforce peace on the region.
Recent events show us how this perpetual war will linger in the region. During an emergency Security Council session on the conflict in Syria on Sunday, the UK, France, the United States, and other nations bluntly and repeatedly accused Russia of collaborating with Syria in the commission of war crimes in Aleppo and elsewhere. But this accusation only begs the question: who is really to blame for all the bloodshed in Syria — the opposition forces in Aleppo or Syrian government forces? Whereas one side is fighting to remove Assad, the other is fighting to defend and keep Syria intact. So we must ask: is Russia solely to blame? Or should the U.S. be blamed as well? http://www.niyitabiti.net/2016/09/britain-france-us-accuses-russia-of-barbarism-and-war-crimes-in-syria-at-un-security-council-session/
The prospect of this happening is made all the more troubling by the realization that any nation that rises to the position of regional hegemon is likely to be an Islamic dictatorship.
This cannot be allowed. Any Middle Eastern nation powerful enough to assume the role of regional hegemon is a nation that can control the region’s oil and gas reserves and continue to drain the national resources of Western nations as they compete for influence and control over the hegemon. It thus becomes a de facto global power with the political, economic and, ultimately, military leverage to challenge the other world powers – namely, the U.S. and Russia by playing them against each other.
This speculative scenario is consistent with China’s vision for the future, as presented by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in a speech he gave at the Brookings Institution in 2012. In that speech, titled “A New Power Relationship,” Mr. Wang Yi observed that the interests of China and the United States are clearly divergent and will thus enable the two nations to avoid the kind of frictions that spark conflict between expanding and dominant global powers. In this conceptualization, the “new power relationship” is necessarily and inevitably a peaceful one that will prevent the kind of wars that devastated vast regions and killed millions in the previous century. https://nec-se.com/2015/10/16/the-new-model-of-power-relations-and-the-middle-east-crisis/
The “new Sykes-Picot” agreement is now being designed to perpetuate conflict in the Middle East and, accordingly, to prevent the formation of a hegemonic power in the region, by using inept strategic players such the Kurds in their traditional role as a political catspaw. This will be accomplished rather paradoxically by both empowering the Kurds while at the same time hobbling them.
The nations and peoples of the Middle East hope that the Kurds do not put themselves in the position of becoming a toy for the major players in this game. But the Kurds long history violent factionalism, compounded by corrupt leaders at all levels of Kurdish society, suggests that this is precisely what will happen. And if that proves to be the case – if the Sunni Muslim Kurds allow themselves to become mere tools and pawns in this sorry drama — then they own the game and must take full responsibility for their leaders’ actions as well as the failures consequent to those actions.
The Kurds will be compelled to agree to the new Sykes-Picot, as will Turkey, “Syria”, “Iraq”, and Iran. The U.S. and Russia will tell them what the region’s borders will become and will continue to do so over the next three to five years. The Kurds have already demonstrated their willingness to go along with this arrangement by withdrawing their forces east of the Euphrates and allowing their foot soldiers to stand by as they are bombed by both Russian and CF aircraft, depending where their loyalties lie. The Kurds didn’t want to withdraw, but they had no choice, given they are strategically inept, operationally dysfunctional, and tactically incompetent.
Under the terms of the original Sykes-Picot agreement, Ottoman Turkey was partitioned. It is the NEC-SC’s view that the same fate has been reserved for the modern Turkish republic in part as long-delayed punishment for using the Kurds as their henchmen in conducting the Syfo genocide of 1914-1923.
Turkey has endeavored to remain a viable nation-state with the ability able to direct or influence events in the region and abroad, particularly in Europe. To that end it has intervened militarily in the Syrian civil war, supported ISIS, and caused refugee problems for the EU. Relatedly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even staged what has become to be known as “his coup,” which he used to consolidate and expand his power in Turkey. Further, in the immediate aftermath of the coup Erdogan demanded the extradition of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen from the U.S to Turkey (Gulan currently resides in the U.S.) for his supposed role in plotting Erdogan’s ouster.
These moves should be seen for what they really are, namely an indicator of Erdogan’s (and, by extension, Turkey’s) vulnerability to the pressures of both the internal and external forces that are threatening that nation with dissolution.
Erdogan’s response to this threat is typically belligerent. Erdogan’s idea of negotiation is to put his foot on the neck of his opponent and then say, “Let’s negotiate.”
This method has worked for Erdogan in the past. But lately it has been yielding progressively less-than-satisfactory results. Again, it is the NEC-SC’s view that it will fail completely, and in the near future.
In other words: we believe that Turkey – despite Erdogan’s efforts and also, perhaps, because of them — will break apart if it continues on the path of refusing to reach a compromise with the internal enemies it created in 1915. The breakup will be historic event that will see the Turkish republic split into two and possibly three or more political entities. One or two of these entities will be Kurdish; another will be Turkish.
Here we would remind our readers that the U.S. supports the Kurdish PKK while Russia supports the Kurdish YPG. The U.S. and Russia are pressuring Turkey to reach an accommodation with the two groups. Turkey, of course, is unwilling to do so for the very simple reason that reaching an accommodation with the Kurds is tantamount to acquiescing to its own destruction.
Which, of course, is the objective of the U.S. and Russia in pressing for accommodation.
The creation of a sovereign Kurdistan is the apple that the U.S., Europe, and Russia are dangling before the Kurds. And the Kurds are reaching for it, as their “voluntary” withdrawal east of the Euphrates demonstrates. But they will not be allowed to take hold of it. The promise of Kurdistan will be used as a goad to the Kurds to vex Turkey – to remain a thorn in Turkey’s side. Or, rather, what remains of Turkey given that Turkey will not be able to keep the Kurdish-dominated lands within its borders except by eradicating the Anatolian Kurdish population in its entirety, just as it once attempted to rid itself, through genocide, of the Anatolian Christian peoples.
For Iraq’s Christian Assyrian community – and for other minority religious and ethnic groups in the Middle East as well – the possible coming breakup of Turkey will be a time of both peril and opportunity. The Assyrians are not part of anyone’s calculations except their own. They understand that they need to position themselves to take advantage of the opportunities that will ensue as a result of Turkey’s breakup even while protecting themselves from the destructive forces that Turkey’s breakup will assuredly unleash.
Assyrians are optimistic that they they will achieve this objective. As the NEC-SC observed in our post of 16 OCT 2016, “Although [Assyria] is presently a nation without a physical home, the Assyrian people have formed a global network—a ‘virtual nation,’ if you will—that cannot and will not be conquered. There is no sovereign Assyrian state. Unless and until that situation changes the Assyrian nation will continue to exist through the Assyrian people. You will not control and conquer a people who have existed for more than 7,000 years-now in a global network-and who consider the Middle East their historical homeland. They are a global nation that the greatest powers in the world cannot dismiss.”
We ask our readers to stay tuned to our future articles as we look at every single country and network that will make up this new Sykes-Picot agreement.
Steven Weingartner is an award-winning military affairs writer and editor specializing in military history, national security strategy, defense policy, and national military strategy and operations.
Image Source: ErikaWittlieb/Pixabay
License: CC0 Public Domain