Turkey is part of the Western system

Turkey is part of the Western system

The failed coup attempt on July 15 put Turkey and the West at odds in a way never seen before. There is nevertheless a growing, even if begrudging, awareness in European countries that matter that relations with Ankara should not be allowed to deteriorate beyond a point of no return.

Ties with the U.S. are not much better either. Vice President Joe Biden arrives this week to try and set things right. Washington is aware of the importance of keeping Ankara firmly on its side, at a crucial time in the Middle East and the Caucasus, despite calls from hot headed analysts and former officials to cast the line with Turkey.

In Turkey too there is much talk about severing decades old ties and turning the country’s face to another geography. Reconciliation with Russia, the improvement of ties with Iran, and what appears to be the impending normalization of ties with Egypt are seen by some as an attempt by Ankara to shore up its hand against the West.

Some also see the reconciliation with Israel in this context. They argue that this will disarm the West, where Ankara’s anti-Israeli policies have being interpreted as anti-Semitism, and used against Turkey. 

Whatever the case may be, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s remarks on Aug. 20 to reporters from foreign agencies and papers, as well as English-language news channels and dailies in Turkey, show that Ankara is recalibrating its policies according to prevailing realities.

This is good because a country like Turkey, in the foreboding geography it is in, has to be realistic and tread extremely cautiously, as if it is trying to maneuver in a mine-field. The cost of throwing caution to the wind and doing the opposite, as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) obstinately did for a long time, is more than apparent today.

Opposing Russia and Iran, for example, did not strengthen Ankara’s hand in Syria but rather weakened it. Likewise, continually blasting at Egypt after the military took over power shook ties with key regional Arab countries.

There are concrete signs that the lessons from these mistakes are being learned. But the picture will not be fully clear until the government’s new policy of “increasing the number of friends and reducing the number of enemies” also shows its effect on ties with the West. Otherwise, it will appear as if a fickle and impetuous Ankara is merely trading one set of ties for another and aiming again for unrealizable targets that ultimately harm Turkey’s interests. 

The debate about whether Turkey is a Western country or not will continue to rage for the foreseeable future. But what is certain is that, especially since the end of the Crimean War (1853-1856), Turkey has been part of the Western system and a key element in the Western balance of power. 

For Turkey or the West to alter this would mean a significant change of global proportions, which would not only be to the detriment of Turkey but also of the West in the long run. The West is what Turkey is locked into for a host of reasons that have a history going back over a century. 

The East, on the other hand, is a region with which it has to develop ties that serve its interests and also enhance regional stability and prosperity. This requires subtle diplomacy, rather that chasing after ideological pipedreams. 

Yıldırım’s remarks on Aug. 20, especially with regard to ties with Germany and the U.S. – the two countries that matter the most for Turkey - indicate that he is more than aware of this. This leads one to believe that once the high emotions and anger following the July 15 coup attempt subside, Ankara’s newly found sense of realism will also work to mend ties with the West. 

The bottom line is that Turkey will most likely remain part of the Western system after the present foul atmosphere starts clearing up. This is not 100 percent guaranteed of course, but the mistakes of the past few years should make all sides realize that pursuing any other course will come at a high price.