Germany Pitches Internationally-Controlled ‘Security Zone’ in Northern Syria

By James Carstensen | October 21, 2019 | 10:44pm EDT
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Photo by Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)

Berlin ( – Germany should leverage its U.N. Security Council membership to push for an “internationally-controlled security zone” in Syria, the country’s defense minister said on Monday.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is also head of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic (CDU) party, said such a zone would stabilize the region and ensure Syrian refugees now housed in Turkey return on a voluntary basis.

“My recommendation is that we establish an internationally-controlled security zone, in cooperation with Turkey and Russia,” she said, adding that the move would also ensure that Turkey’s military offensive does not result in a permanent occupation of northeastern Syria.

CDU foreign policy expert Roderich Kiesewetter suggested that 30,000 to 40,000 soldiers from E.U. nations, including Germany, could be deployed, in consultation with Turkey and Russia.

The proposals came a day before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Turkish offensive.

Ankara aims to clear a strip of Syrian territory 20 miles wide of Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters – which it labels terrorists due to their links to the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) – and then resettle Syrian refugees in that “buffer zone.”

The offensive began on October 9, after President Trump said he was pulling back a small number of U.S. troops from the immediate area to ensure their safety. The operation has displaced more than 160,000 people, and sparked concern over the fate of YPG fighters who were key allies in the U.S.-led campaign to defeat ISIS in Syria.

Under an agreement between Erdogan and Vice President Mike Pompeo, Turkey has suspended its military actions for five days, while YPG fighters withdraw from part of the territory Erdogan is eyeing for his buffer zone.

Erdogan on Monday again accused Western countries of “standing by terrorists” for failing to support the Turkish military operation.

“Can you imagine, the whole West stood by the terrorists and all attacked us, including NATO member states and European Union countries?” he said in Istanbul.

The E.U. has condemned the operation and questioned whether the planned resettlement of the Syrian refugees would be voluntary. It also adopted a resolution to halt arms exports to Turkey.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has warned that the E.U. may also impose economic sanctions in response to the Turkish operation, which he said was illegal under international law.

But Maas has not thrown his support behind the idea of an international security zone, saying it was too early for such considerations.

Matt Pinsker, professor of international law at Virginia Commonwealth University, said whether or not Turkey’s operation is illegal under international law depends on the facts.

“Turkey’s incursion into Syria does violate Syria’s sovereignty,” he conceded, but added that on the other hand Syrian authorities do not have control of the area in question.

“Turkey is claiming their action is necessary self-defense against PKK terrorists, which if true, is legal and valid,” Pinsker said. “However, if it is false pretense to murder, seize and control land, and establish a geographic buffer zone, then it is illegal.”

Should Kramp-Karrenbauer’s security zone proposal win support in the German cabinet and parliament, Berlin would be contribute soldiers to the mission.

But the CDU’s coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), fiercely oppose any form of military involvement in Syria, as do the Greens.

Greens lawmaker Claudia Roth rejected the idea of any security operation or involvement in Syria.

“What this country needs is an international diplomatic offensive, not more warring parties,” she told Welt. “And for that, the United Nations is the right framework.”

Meanwhile, Anna Bradshaw from the international law firm Peters & Peters Solicitors, which deals with matters including sanctions law, said E.U. sanctions may provoke policy change in Turkey, but the threat of breaching E.U. sanctions is not as potent as it is in the case of U.S. sanctions, given the relative dominance of the U.S. financial system.

“The effectiveness of any sanctions adopted by the E.U. will depend to a large extent on what activities they target,” she said. “An E.U. arms embargo may be at the lower end of the spectrum of measures that might be expected to provoke policy changes in Turkey.”

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