‘Why Turkey’s relations with the West are rapidly deteriorating?’ “The steps they are taking are contrary to their long-term interests and our partnership.”
21. Yüzyıl Türkiye Enstitüsü tarafından yazıldı.
‘Why Turkey’s relations with the West are rapidly deteriorating?’
“The steps they are taking are contrary to their long-term interests and our partnership.”
INSIGHT, Incek Debates
‘Why Turkey’s relations with the West are rapidly deteriorating?’
The Incek Debates, on 7 September 2016, discussed the question of ‘Why Turkey's relations with the West are rapidly deteriorating' and explored steps/actions to be taken by the Turkish government as well as allied governments and partners in the West, and alternative policies to be adopted to reverse this accelarating and worrying course with participation, as speakers, by former MP Amb Faruk Loğoğlu, LTG Nazım Altıntaş (Ret’d) of Turkish Army and Assoc Prof Banu Eligür of Baskent University. The session was chaired by Dr Haldun Solmazturk, Director of the 21st Century Turkey Institute. Below is a Rapporteur’s Summary of the debate, not necessarily reflecting particular viewpoints expressed by any one of the panelists, nor those of any one or all of the participants in consensus. The debate was off-the-record.
Just as Turkey is mending ties with Russia—and Iran—its relations with the West are rapidly deteriorating. In some sense this is not surprising because there have been many items in the common foreign and security policy agenda over which Turkey and its partners in the West have failed to arrive at even a common understanding, let alone resolution and cooperation.
Turkey’s relations with the West are determined by two concerns conditioned by the demands and needs of Turkish domestic politics: threat from Islamism and Kurdish separatism. Both the understanding and perception of these issues diverge intrinsically and radically. From Turkish government’s perspective the main threat comes not only from PKK, i.e. Kurdish separatism, but also from the so-called ‘Shia’ axis.
Growing sectarianism and intervention in internal affairs of neighbouring countries represent a slow, incremental but fundamental shift in Turkish foreign policy. On the other hand, there has been a growing deficit in fundamental freedoms and, domestication of foreign policy with no national consensus on any foreign policy issue.
The rise of xenophobia and racism in the West is compounded by the refugee crisis. Anti-semitism and anti-Western sentiments—with ethnic-religious overtones—have always been high in Turkey as well. These are ominous signs for cooperative international relations.
Treatment of Turkey—by the West—has always been like a ‘panic button’ ally, available when(ever) needed, but forgotten otherwise. Terms such as strategic partner, model-partnership or moderate Islam are Western inventions and do not mean much to Turks.
The policy of ‘multiplying friends’ did not materialize because changes in policy were ad hoc and cosmetic. Complete overhaul of Syria policy represents a dilemma for the Turkish government and in the absence of a consistent, coherent and viable ‘Kurdish’ policy regional policy stays in limbo.
Turkey’s relations with the ‘East’ are developing as an alternative to—in some cases as a substitute for—its relations with the West. The fundamental reason for this shift is a clear clash of interests—with the West—and differing priorities, particularly in the Middle East.
There are firmly-settled multilateral retrenchments in the region: a Shia axis of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah of Lebanon. Against them is the Sunni axis of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and, ostensibly, the Turkish ‘government’. Both the West and Russia are intimately involved in regional politics sometimes across sectarian lines. Although ‘sectarianism’ gives an inherent coherence to—and perfectly explains—Turkish government’s foreign policy, its application to regional circumstances brings Turkey into clash not only with the West, but also with all others.
Bearing in mind the issues involved, potential political ramifications and the reluctance on both sides to compromise, it is unlikely that a positive change in Turkey’s relations with the West will occur any time soon.
‘Nothing is exactly as it seems, nor is it otherwise’
Just as Turkey is mending ties with Russia—and Iran—its relations with the West are rapidly deteriorating. In some sense this is not surprising because there have been many items in the common foreign and security policy agenda over which Turkey and its partners in the West have failed to arrive at even a common understanding, let alone resolution and cooperation. …Unfolding of events climaxed when Boris Johnson emotionally argued that ‘Turkey was set to join Europe’ and made the majority of the British people believe in this outright false suggestion and made them vote for Brexit—he eventually became UK Foreign Secretary.
Along with countries which have always harboured negative sentiments for Turks—and foreigners in general—such as Austria, Germany and France—now even the most ardent supporter of Turkey’s EU membership bid, Sweden, is now at loggerheads with the Turkish government. 15 July failed coup attempt in Turkey did not help, but worsened this course of events: the West is accusing Turkey of supporting ISIS, of avoiding cooperation with the anti-ISIS coalition—and NATO (!) against Russia—and becoming increasingly autoritarian. Turkish political leaders in turn are openly and bluntly accusing the West—particularly the USA—for being behind the failed coup and for conspiring for formation of an independent Kurdish state in the Middle East. …
In their own words
In a recent interview President Barak Obama was asked “Is Turkey a liberal democracy, a staunch NATO ally where we have nuclear weapons, a force for stability in the region—OR—should we be worried?” President Obama was very careful in selecting his words, but crystal clear in what he meant:
“He (President Erdogan) began as a democrat and reformist. …The longer you stay in power (you need) to constantly remind yourself the values you came in with. …mere act of voting is not the only part of democracy. …rule of law, freedom of press, freedom of assembly.. …We haven’t seen a diminishing effect on our security relations. They have gone through a political and civil earthquake. …We want to give them honest feedback. The steps they are taking are contrary to their long-term interests and our partnership.”
This was a warning, hardly hidden.
Not all ‘fans’ of President Erdogan (read ‘Turkey’ in this context) are so careful in their choice of words. US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), known by his keen interest in foreign policy, described him as “a Putin in the making”.
“We have a process to do that (on the question of extradition of Fethullah Gulen, officially demanded by the Turkish government from the United States on terrorism and coup-attempt charges). I find Erdogan’s Turkey to be a disturbing place. I’d be very reluctant to send anybody back to Turkey—fair trial.. There is a breakdown of institutions in Turkey. He is becoming a Putin within NATO. …Here is what I would say; the Turkey to me is a problem that cannot be ignored much longer. They are on a collision course not only with the United States, but with the West in general. Stop while you still have a chance.”
The final wording—that might have been addressed both to the Turkish government and the US administration—is probably an example of the so-called constructive ambiguity.
With so many crises, multi-dimensional challenges, negative psychology and conflict of vital ineterests, this shape of relations between Turkey and the West, is unprecedented in recent history—perhaps since the I. World War. Zero-sum game mentality dominates relations. …
Recommendations to the Turkish government:
- There are limits to Turkey’s cooperation with the West, even under the most favourable circumstances. Set reasonable and modest targets with limited, but clearly defined aims.
- Even if some Western governments are eager for cooperation with Turkey, domestic environment may not be favorable. Bear in mind domestic politics and public psychology, having an influence on foreign—Western—governments, limiting their freedom of action.
- There is a perceived change both in espoused values and those in practice, in Turkey. Address this subject as a matter of priority so that a major ground for conflict—or a pretext to evade cooperation—is eliminated. (This does not necessarily mean that this perception—democratic deficit—is unfounded. Most participants did share this observation).
- Western perception of Turkish policies and international posture is (mis)perceived based on, sometimes exaggerated, political rhetoric used by leading Turkish politicians. Address this phenomenon as necessary and appropriate.
- Avoid offensive language, disrespective of international law, customary law and state sovereignty, refraining from interfering in internal affairs of other countries.
- Avoid using anti-Western rhetoric for domestic political consumption.
- In the absence of common interests with the West—and allegedly common values—in the interim, look for a practical common ground for cooperation towards limited ends.
- Initiate a foreign policy debate in Turkey involving academia, civil society, media, the public and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.
- Look for alternatives to full EU membership and initiate a debate within Turkey to this end.
- Tap the potential in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs into foreign policy formulation and implementation.
- Address the problem of deinstitutionalisation and reverse wave in democratization within the country.
- Abandon ‘sectarianism’ as a foreign policy principle and promote reconciliation between Sunni and Shia branches of Islam and power centers associated with either branch.
- Review aims and purposes of regional and global policies, in the light of Turkish national interests.
- Deep polarisation within the Turkish society and conflictual politics do not allow rational policy-making. Review this state of affairs with a view to replace it with a more conciliatory and pluralist approach to policy-making.
Full report is available for members of the 21st Century Turkey Institute.
- Awaiting Approval0