Turkey’s foreign policy based on real estate value
Ankara has historically tended to side with the United States whenever relations with the European Union have deteriorated.
Of course, there were times when we observed the opposite. For instance, Turkish-American relations took a nosedive when Turkey’s parliament turned down a resolution in 2003 that would have allowed U.S. soldiers to use Turkish territory to open another front in the Iraq War. Europeans, in contrast, considered that vote a victory for democracy, resulting in Ankara and Brussels growing closer together. Back then, Turkey was being presented as a model in the region.
Over time, however, these patterns have lost their significance. Today, Turkey has troubled relations with both the EU and the U.S.
However, amid the recent spat with Europe neither Ankara nor Brussels has the luxury to turn their back on the other, given their mutual political and economic interests. Therefore, when populist pressures wane after various upcoming elections, Turkey-EU relations will certainly be redefined on different terms.
Turkey-U.S. ties are another matter entirely. The Ankara government turned out to be wrong in assuming that the problems inherited from the Obama administration would be easily solved once President Donald Trump took office.
Despite reactions from Ankara, Washington has resolved to cooperate with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. And just before U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Ankara last week, the Turkish government declared that the Euphrates Shield Operation, which had actually already reached its limits on the ground, had ended.
Meanwhile, Ankara’s belated and relatively mild response to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) flag crisis in Kirkuk and the KRG’s push for independence should also be noted.
To an extent, domestic political concerns might have influenced the government’s reserved tone toward Arbil, as it tries to retain KRG President Massoud Barzani’s support in mobilizing some of Turkey’s Kurds to vote for the presidential system.
But when assessed in line with Trump’s plan to establish safe zones in Syria, a regional policy may be coalescing in which the Kurds, with their secular identity as an antidote to jihadist ideology and Iranian expansion in the region, become central in Syria and Iraq.
As a result, Turkey’s ongoing conflict with its own Kurds will continue to create vulnerability and narrow its room to maneuver in foreign policy.
On the other hand, Turkey’s geopolitical position makes Turkey an indispensable ally in the eyes of Washington in terms of balancing against Russia and Iran – something Ankara is fully aware of.
Unlike the EU, Trump is not at all concerned about Turkey’s slide toward authoritarian rule. To understand the mindset, just look at how the U.S. lifted human rights constraints on the sales of F-16 jets to Bahrain and how steps are being taken to resume the sale of ammunition to Riyadh for use in Yemen.
However, the ban on electronic devices on U.S.-bound flights from Turkey also shows that Washington has put Turkey in a different category.
Still, in spite of everything, there is a potential to break the ice between Ankara and Washington if the Americans can deliver anything regarding the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based cleric accused of masterminding the failed July 2016 coup attempt.
Turkey is too focused on the referendum process. Regardless of the outcome, there is an urgent need to fix the current state of political polarization and to de-escalate tension both at home and abroad.
To speak using the jargon of Turkey’s ever-important construction sector, the country owes its game-setting position over the past 15 years not only to its real estate value, (i.e. its geopolitical position), but also to the facilities earmarked for that land: Democratic institutions and sustained economic growth (with good neighborly relations also key).
Turkey is located in the heart of a troubled region, but its geopolitical position alone does not provide the ability to shape the course of developments according to its interests. The only way for it to win back its regional influence without having to raise its voice is by achieving domestic stability and maintaining well-balanced ties with its neighbors and allies – it is not for nothing that Turkey’s founders summarized this goal with the maxim of “peace at home, peace in the world.”
Perhaps after the referendum we’ll be able to deal with the real issues…