‘No eternal allies, no perpetual enemies’
The quote in the headline is one of the best known and most accurate descriptions of the nature of international relations. Spoken by former Prime Minister Henry Palmerstone in the British Parliament in 1848, the full quote is as follows:
“We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.
”The quote in the headline is one of the best known and most accurate descriptions of the nature of international relations.
Spoken by former Prime Minister Henry Palmerstone in the British Parliament in 1848, the full quote is as follows: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
The quote perhaps also accurately describes the current state of Turkey’s foreign relations.
For example, Ankara has for a while been experiencing a chain of problems - perhaps one of the worst in its modern history - with its major ally, the United States.
The two are allies in NATO, the Western defense organization whose primary foe was Moscow under Soviet rule and is Moscow once again today. Turkey has been serving NATO as a front country with Russia for decades, relying on the NATO charter with its basic principle of the joint protection of allies’ territorial integrity and security.
The Turkish government currently perceives three existential threats facing the country:
• The threat posed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has carried out an armed campaign since 1984 for an independent Kurdish state carved out of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. That campaign has claimed more than 45,000 lives so far.
• The threat posed by the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamist preacher accused of masterminding Turkey’s July 2016 military coup attempt.
• The threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda, exacerbated by the civil war in Syria ongoing since 2011.
Turkey and the U.S. have a number of serious problems regarding the first two of those three issues.
The PKK is officially designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. (as well as by the European Union), and its founding leader Abdullah Öcalan was arrested in 1999 with the help of the CIA. However, the U.S. has picked the Syria branch of the PKK, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as its ground partner against ISIL, amid Turkey’s protests and offers of its own assistance. U.S. General Raymond Thomas himself casually admitted that it was only after his warning that the YPG/PKK came up with the more PR-friendly name of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) for the anti-ISIL campaign.
Gülen, meanwhile, has for nearly 20 years been living in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania, from which he oversees an international network based on English-teaching schools, NGOs and business initiatives. Once a close ally of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, Gülen became a sworn enemy after Erdoğan started to clamp down on his supplementary education institutions in Turkey in 2013.
Despite numerous applications made by Turkey at the highest level - under both President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump - no legal steps have been taken against Gülen in the U.S. In Turkey, meanwhile, courts have arrested an American pastor and two Turkish employees of U.S. diplomatic missions in the country on charges of having links to Gülenists and the PKK. There has also been the New York court case against former Turkish public banker Hakan Atilla for facilitating violations of sanctions on Iran after the prime suspect in the case, Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, pleaded guilty and became a witness. The final hearing of the case was held in January, and it is seen as potentially posing a big threat to the Turkish banking system.
Russia banned Gülen schools back in 2008 on accusations that they could be used for espionage purposes – not for Turkey but for the U.S. Russia has not designated the PKK as a terrorist organization but President Vladimir Putin has, on Erdoğan’s appeal, given support to Turkey’s ongoing military operations in Syria targeting the YPG/PKK: First in 2016 in the “Euphrates Shield Operation” in Jarablus and Al-Bab and now for “Operation Olive Branch” in Afrin.
Russia is currently a major Turkish trading partner, sending more tourists than any other country to Turkey, engaging in strategic energy projects with it, and providing S-400 (non-interoperable in NATO) air defense systems amid U.S. reluctance to provide Patriot missile systems to Turkey. All of these factors remain despite the fact that Turkey is fulfilling its requirements in NATO operations to stand against Russia in Ukraine and in the Baltics.
In politics everything can change in the blink of an eye. It is true that for all countries there are no eternal allies and no perpetual enemies, only interests. But it would be good for Turkey to feel from time to time that it actually has allies.