Afghan crisis shows need for Turkey-EU strategic dialogue
In an opinion piece published in the New York Times on Sept. 1, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Josep Borrell, rekindled a long-standing debate over the European defense autonomy from the United States.
Borrell gently criticized the U.S. for not consulting about the timing and nature of the withdrawal from Afghanistan with its European partners, but he rightly noted that the main reason for this was that Europe was not a capable ally.
The EU high representative cited the need for developing a coherent strategic culture in the long-term and the establishment of an “initial entry force” or rapid reaction force with around 5,000 troops in the short-term. “Helping to secure an airport in challenging circumstances, as in Kabul, could be the type of operation we aim for in the future,” he wrote.
He is absolutely right. The EU was not there when needed for the evacuation of thousands of European nationals.
There were three NATO countries that were present at the airport, including Turkey, which facilitated the evacuation of all the foreigners from Afghanistan, days after the Taliban’s takeover of the country.
Turkey evacuated many European nationals who had no chance to be taken from the airport. Leaders of those countries and others thanked Turkey for the role it played during these messy days. German and Dutch foreign ministers paid a visit to Turkey while a number of others exchanged phone conversations with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to discuss the developments while hailing the Turkish assistance.
In his piece, Borrell also says that “China, Russia and Iran will have greater sway in the region, while Pakistan, India, Turkey and Gulf monarchies will all reposition themselves. We cannot let them be the only interlocutors with Afghanistan after the Western withdrawal.”
It’s true that the EU should be able to directly intervene in Afghanistan-related issues but it simply can’t due to different priorities and interests of the prominent member states. Borrell, in his statement following the defense and foreign ministers meeting in Slovenia, announced the EU’s decision to directly engage with the Taliban, subject to strict conditions.
As one of the most important providers of humanitarian aid, the involvement of the EU is essential, especially when Afghanistan is on the verge of a major humanitarian tragedy. But for this to happen and for aid to be delivered to Afghanistan, the airport needs to be operational, and Turkey steps in at this stage.
All this points to a fact: Turkey and the EU should increase strategic dialogue in all international developments, whether their interests overlap or conflict. Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine are some of the examples where an effective Ankara-Brussels dialogue can produce results for the benefit of both sides.
The last 20 years have painfully shown that the world will not be a peaceful, conflict-free place. It’s unfortunate to observe that the international order fails to ensure peace and co-existence and that regional and global competitions rapidly turn into armed conflicts. This trend, accompanied by growing transnational challenges, will likely overwhelm the global order in the coming decades.
This necessitates a better dialogue between Turkey and the EU as a whole. Turkey, for its part, should realize that it can benefit from the EU, particularly by transforming the country’s social and economic structure. Plus, continued escalation with the EU is not helpful for Turkey’s reaching its foreign policy objectives.
On the other hand, the EU should see Turkey’s growing influence in its wider environment and reiterate the country’s candidate status.
Establishing a sincere and respectful relationship with Turkey, avoiding the efforts of some member states to disrupt relations with Turkey, will accelerate the EU’s efforts to become a strategic power. Finally, an enhanced strategic dialogue will enrich the entire Ankara-Brussels relationship.