Turkey looks on as the SCO strikes back

Turkey looks on as the SCO strikes back

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is keen to see Turkey join the Russia and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). He wants this to show that Turkey is not beholden to the West. He appears unconcerned when most analysts say the SCO cannot provide the economic and military advantages Turkey’s secures from its ties with the West. 

Erdoğan’s recent remark indicating that the Turkish military was in Syria to oust Bashar al-Assad, and his retraction of this two days later, following an unmistakable reprimand from Russia, shows he is not concerned with “big picture considerations” either.

He does not appear to be perturbed by the fact that his expectations and impulsive pronouncements that have a bearing on foreign policy issues may not be realistic. He is also not concerned about the contradictions that underlie his statements.

Russia and China, which are both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have provided a notable example of this over the past few days with their vetoing of the draft resolution for a seven-day ceasefire in Aleppo.

Erdoğan loves to hit at the Security Council by declaring that “the world is larger than five,” a reference to the five permanent members that effectively decide what happens – or does not happen - at the U.N., and consequently the world. He repeats this slogan at every opportunity.

Under normal circumstances he should blast Russia and China over this veto, given his openly declared sympathy for the suffering people of Aleppo and support for those in that city who are fighting the regime. He should declare not only that the “world is larger than five,” but that it is even “larger than two.” 

But that is not happening. While Turkey’s Western allies are condemning the Russian-Chinese veto, there is no sound out of Erdoğan or the government. Look at the websites of the presidency or the Foreign Ministry or scan the news - you will not find any statement on this matter.

The reprimand Erdoğan received from Russia over his remark about toppling al-Assad has clearly had the desired effect as far as Moscow is concerned. One can’t help but wonder if we would be facing the same situation had the veto come from any other permanent member of the Security Council. 

If things go according plan, Erdoğan will soon become the all-powerful executive president of his dreams. This means that Turkey’s foreign policy will be based on his desires and directives. He will be counselled by his own team of advisers at the presidency rather than by the Foreign Ministry, which he has little love for anyway.

Saying one thing one day and retracting it two days later, or remaining silent over developments he should be raising hell over –given his past history – does not exactly portend well with regard to Ankara’s ability to come up with consistent and coherent foreign policy choices. 

Erdoğan is not a Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin either – two men he barely hides his admiration for because of their “damn-the-world” attitude. Those two leaders are able to call the shots internationally because of the power their countries wield. Turkey is not like that.

Erdoğan has in fact been forced to climb down from all the high horses he has mounted in the past, whether regarding Israel, (tellingly we do not see many, if any, Hamas visits to Turkey any more), or regarding Russia, to which he was forced to apologize over the downing of its jet last year. 

Erdoğan will be faced with the reality of a Russian-Syrian victory in Aleppo soon, and what this means for the Syrian crisis. He will also come face to face with having to accept that his arch enemy, al-Assad, will be around for much longer that he expected. And he will have to deal with this reality.

Turkey’s place on the map is too dangerous a place for foreign policy mistakes that result from confusing domestic and foreign agendas. We have seen this over the past five years, to Turkey’s detriment. It remains unclear whether any lessons will be learned.