In a move that further complicates an already messy Middle East, Turkey is moving to finalize a long-term military base in the Persian Gulf. Olivier Decottignies and Soner Cagaptay write on the Washington Institute’s website:
In December, Ankara announced that it will establish a new military base in Qatar, putting Turkey in a small group of nations willing and able to project power in the Persian Gulf. [..] Ankara and Doha are currently in talks to sign a Status of Forces Agreement, laying the groundwork for a long-term Turkish military presence. The agreement will likely include a “casus foederis” clause stipulating that if one country is attacked, the other will come to its assistance. This would put Qatar in a special league in Ankara’s eyes. Apart from its NATO casus foederis obligation, Turkey has such arrangements with only two other partners: Northern Cyprus (which Ankara recognizes as a state) and Azerbaijan.
[…T]he Turkish base in Qatar will reportedly include army, navy, air force, and special forces components as well as trainers for the Qatari military, allowing Ankara to show off its military hardware and perhaps boost sales of its Altay tanks, Firtina self-propelled howitzers, and other arms. It will also give the Turkish military the desert training medium it currently lacks, allow Turkish naval forces to conduct counterpiracy and other operations in the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, and Arabian Sea, and perhaps serve as a hub for future Turkish operations overseas. More symbolically, the base will signal the Turkish navy’s return to the Indian Ocean for the first time since the 1550s, when the Ottomans unsuccessfully fought the Portuguese Empire for dominance there.
This base is not a unique development. Instead, it’s part of a regional trend:
While the United States remains by far the largest provider of security in the Gulf, major NATO allies have been stepping up their presence. The French established a multipurpose air, sea, and ground base in the UAE in 2009, while British foreign secretary Philip Hammond took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for a similar project in Bahrain last November.
Key non-Western nations are also closing in on the region. Russia has deployed forces to Syria and established itself at bases in Latakia and Tartus, while China controls commercial operations at the Pakistani port of Gwadar, not far from the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
And then there’s Tehran’s deployments in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. As the United States continues to seek to minimize its profile in the Middle East, peace has not broken out; rather, the region has become ever more contested, with an increasing number of active players. While this time may be different, trends like this historically don’t end well.
Take the Turkish base in Qatar. As Decottignies and Cagaptay note, the Iranians will see this as an aggressive move by the Turks. In the short term, the Saudis and the Gulf States will probably welcome the assistance against what they see as an existential threat, but in the medium- to long-term, there are substantial differences between Ankara and Riyadh. This deal will give Turkey both more leverage against the Saudis and more ability to stick its nose into matters in the Gulf, creating more complications and potential sources of friction in the region in the future. Multiply this by every foreign base, alliance, and rivalry in the Middle East, and you begin to see the scale of the problem. Sometimes, as we seem set to learn the hard way, the alternative to unipolarity isn’t balance, but a multipolar rivalry that’s very hard to predict or control.