Turkey’s new lobbying motto should be ‘it’s the economy, stupid’

Turkey’s new lobbying motto should be ‘it’s the economy, stupid’

Blessed with its geographic position, Turkey has always benefited from having strategic importance stemming from its critical location.

During the Cold War, its importance stemmed from the fact that it was a frontier country between the communist camp and the Western capitalist camp. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Turkey has continued to maintain its strategic importance, on the frontier separating the West from the turmoil of the Middle East.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s it became a more proactive player. As it shared the same values and interests as the transatlantic community, Turkey’s strategic importance increased as a benevolent actor. As it diversified its relations with the rest of the world, its improved relations with Russia or other actors in the Middle East did not lead to serious clashes in its interests with the Western world.

But over time, and especially with the current Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, Turkey has found itself less and less on the same page as the transatlantic community on certain key issues.

That has not diminished its strategic importance. In fact, the contrary is the case. Turkey’s importance now stems not from its contribution as a like-minded, benevolent actor, but rather from its nuisance value.

As a country you can enjoy having a nuisance value, continuing to feel strategically important as international and regional actors cannot afford to ignore you and are forced to take your views and standing into account.

However, that country would then have a problem when it has to ask for favors from “allies” with whom it has thorny relations. “What for, what’s in it for me?” those allies will ask.

In the short to mid-term, I think Turkey will continue to remain in the eyes of the transatlantic community a strategic player with a nuisance value, rather than an ally with a common vision.

With the recent reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu, Turkish normalization with Israel will not take place any time soon. The gap on major issues like the war in Syria or Russian policies in its near abroad will not narrow in a short time either.

But Turkey is entering a period when it needs friends in several capitals in the transatlantic region.
I have already written about the fact that it is crucial for Turkey to upgrade its Customs Union with the European Union and find a way of “docking,” as the Americans are now saying, in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTİP) currently being negotiated between Europe and the United States.

Agreeing on a formula that will somehow include Turkey in the TTİP will benefit all sides. There are still some people left in Washington and in other European capitals that have faith in Turkey’s economic potential. Let’s not forget that recovering U.S. and European economies are looking for markets with lucrative business opportunities.

But Turkey still needs to mobilize support and do some convincing on the Customs Union and the TTİP.
In the 1980s and 90s, lobbying firms and public relations companies hired by Turkish governments used to underline Turkey’s geostrategic political importance. I think in the short and mid-term their motto while lobbying stakeholders in foreign capitals should instead be the famous phrase “it’s the economy, stupid!” Of course, they can omit the word “stupid.”