Turkey and the UK’s shared interests
The façade of strength that London has sought to project since the 1980s has slowly been chipped away, most recently by the March 2018 nerve agent attack and the relatively weak response of the United Kingdom and its allies. Despite the expulsion of Russian diplomats, most EU states limited themselves to a single token expulsion. Others didn’t even go that far. Economic concerns and a broadly non-confrontational EU policy toward Russia will ensure that London’s goal of implementing substantive anti-Russian sanctions are unlikely.
Foreign policy weaknesses, particularly its inability to effectively influence EU policy and Trump’s reluctance to target Moscow, and the potential of becoming the new sick man of Europe post-Brexit leaves the U.K. in need of friends. The U.K. will, however, be desperate to project strength. This provides Turkey with the opportunity to rekindle the 19th century relationship between the two, but this time on Ankara’s terms.
It makes sense for Turkey to use military and aerospace contracts, like the existing TF-X stealth fighter deal, as a carrot for U.K. contractors in the pursuit of warmer relations. Turkey’s $6.2 billion trade deficit with Germany necessitates a Turkish-British post-Brexit trade deal, particularly the removal of visa requirements.
The U.K. and Turkey share the goal of preserving their influence in the Balkans, at the expense of Russia and the EU. Russia’s presence and the EU’s increased activity in the western Balkans in 2018 poses a direct challenge to both. The U.K. and Turkey have typically adopted soft power tactics–hosting meetings and summits and developing educational and cultural links. With the upcoming Western Balkans Summit, London will also pursue the institutional development of EU accession candidates, investment and a greater security presence.
However, London sees the Balkans primarily through the prism of Russian influence and meddling. Its primary goal will be to limit that influence, particularly in Serbia, Montenegro and the Republika Srpska. With little incentive to push the Balkans into the hands of the EU, the U.K. is likely to pursue NATO expansion and leverage its influence in the region to make itself more useful to the EU.
History, as well as the promises made to Greece and Cyprus in recent weeks, suggests that British diplomats will involve themselves in discussions over regional border disputes to better exercise influence. Turkey should look to dictate the narrative by jointly hosting talks with the British, especially in the former Yugoslav republics. Furthermore, it should pursue greater security cooperation, particularly in regard to terrorism and Russian operations.
Collaboration with the U.K., therefore, gives Turkey the opportunity to strengthen its foreign policy position, expand trade, make itself less reliant on Russia and the EU, and leverage ties with London for greater influence in the Balkans and potentially even the Middle East.