Can regional powers replace the U.S. and Europe in policing perennial trouble spots such as the Middle East and West Africa? Or are their own weaknesses going to create new problems for the West? Recent events in Turkey and Nigeria have illustrated the dilemmas involved. Both countries have faced very different internal security challenges in recent months. Nigeria has tried to extirpate the Boko Haram Islamist rebel group with a major military offensive in the northeast of the country. Turkey has made a mess of handling widespread public protests stemming from arguments over a popular park in Istanbul.
These episodes are hardly comparable in terms of their human costs. The Turkish crackdown has claimed a handful of lives. These fatalities were unnecessary, but the figures pale in comparison to the estimated 3,000 killed in Nigeria’s battle with Boko Haram since 2010. Yet both cases have earned notably firm expressions of concern from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Turkey has also been slapped down by the European Union. While basic human rights issues are clearly at stake, strategic concerns are also in play.
Western strategists have invested increasing hopes in these regional powers in recent years. The rise of Brazil, China and India may have more far-reaching implications for global order. But there has been a creeping recognition that these states are still surprisingly ill-prepared to handle problems such as the collapse of Syria or the rise of Islamists in Mali. There has been some excitement among U.N. experts that China is prepared to send 600 personnel to the new U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali, for example, but such a commitment remains a token gesture.