In cooperation with the G7 Research Group and G20 Research Group


Terrorism, ISIS and Syria: the evolution of the G20

Dr Tristen Naylor is the Lecturer in Diplomacy at the University of Oxford. His work examines status and group membership in international society. Previously, Dr Naylor was a Visiting Researcher at Sciences Po, Paris and the Lecturer in Politics at Christ Church, Oxford. He formerly served as a Foreign Policy Analyst and Advisor for the Government of Canada.


Current affairs – at least informally – are the stuff of G20 summits. From the event that precipitated the G20 summit’s elevation to the leaders’ level – the Great Recession of 2008 – to the Eurozone debt crisis at the 2012 Los Cabos Summit, to the Assad regime’s chemical weapons at the 2013 St Petersburg Summit, to the Ukraine crisis at the 2014 Brisbane Summit, it is such issues that come to dominate discussions at the summit (and, indeed, discussions about the summit). The deadly suicide bombings in Ankara on 10 October 2015 almost certainly put terrorism and the fight against ISIS on the Turkish host’s agenda.

The conflict in Syria was already very likely to feature in the G20’s discussions, even before the events in Ankara, as Russia’s commencement of military operations in Syria and the ever-increasing refugee crisis are both of critical concern to Turkey (and, indeed, to most of the G20 leaders). The bombings increase the likelihood that Syria will be discussed, and make it more likely that it will be through the lens of the fight against terrorism, in general, and focused on ISIS in particular.

Russia’s move to begin military strikes in Syria set the stage for what is almost certain to be yet another summit about which a dominant narrative concerns President Putin’s relations with most of the assembled leaders. It remains to be seen what Russia’s endgame in Syria is now that it has begun using its military assets in the country. One possibility is that it is a move that aims to indefinitely prop up the Assad regime, which would be consistent with current Russian rhetoric and the symbolic act of Assad’s visit to Moscow. Another possibility is that it seeks to strengthen Russia’s hand in any possible transition negotiations; another still is that it opens the possibility for linkage between Syria and Ukraine, wherein Russia could use Assad as a bargaining chip to achieve its strategic interests in Europe. Regardless of the mid- to long-term scenario, Russian presence and activity in Syria nonetheless bolsters the Assad regime in the near-term. Moreover, Turkey, a NATO member, is heavily interested here. Russian armaments have been delivered from the Black Sea to Syria by way of the Bosphorus and Ankara has vocally called for Assad to be replaced. We can expect to see the Turkish hosts active on this issue.

A rare opportunity for coordinated action
The Syrian refugee crisis is also likely to be raised at the summit. With donor countries announcing new rounds of aid funding, destination countries being forced to review their refugee and resettlement policies (particularly in the European Union), and any international summit dedicated to the issue not on the cards until 2016 at the earliest, the Antalya G20 is the only near-term opportunity for any sort of coordinated, political direction at the global level to be made. With more than two million Syrian refugees in Turkey, we can expect the summit’s hosts to be centrally involved in any discussions. It is most likely that discussions would centre around financial support for states hosting refugees.

The Turkish Government has linked the Ankara bombings to ISIS, claiming that one of the two bombers is the brother of a suicide bomber who killed 33 people in Suruç in July and that the brothers used a coffee house in Adiyaman to muster support for ISIS. The Turkish Government was also quick to try to establish links between the bombers and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). While military engagement in Syria and the refugee crisis make it likely that Syria will be discussed, it is the bombings in Ankara that render it an almost certainty and mean that the discussion will very likely be especially focused on the terrorism dimension. What complicates this issue is that the Turkish Government has yoked its actions against ISIS to those against Kurdish rebel groups, by way of its ‘two-pronged war on terror’. By no means do all G20 members share Turkey’s position with respect to Kurdish groups.

Extending the G20’s remit
The G20 has been largely silent when it comes to making formal declarations about terrorism. The sole exception to this was a set of commitments made by the leaders at the 2013 Saint Petersburg Summit to address terrorist financing. By focusing on the financial dimension of terrorist operations, the G20 was able to avoid the appearance of mission creep by limiting the scope of their commitment to the economic sphere. All three interrelated issues – military action in Syria, the Syrian refugee crisis and ISIS terrorism – are ‘out of area’ for the G20, but of critical concern to the majority of G20 members, particularly the Turkish hosts. Given the level of import of these issues to members and the international community as a whole, the particular consequence of these issues to the Turkish hosts, and the apparent political imperative to be seen as addressing these issues, Antalya may well be remembered as the summit at which the G20 took a definitive step away from its economic roots towards a more political footing.

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