Turkish diplomacy full of surprises

Turkish diplomacy full of surprises

As usual, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was as blunt as possible in his statements on the prospect of Turkey’s relationship with the European Union, vowing some “surprises” after the April 16 referendum.

In televised remarks late March 23, he hinted that the political and administrative aspects of the relationship would be reconsidered while economic ties would not be affected. He also said the current migrant deal would also be reviewed amid hints that Turkey could ignore the potential flow of refugees into Europe via Turkey. 

He did not further elaborate whether Turkey could suspend full membership negotiations on the grounds the EU has not fulfilled its promises toward the candidate country and in light of recent tension with a number of prominent European countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands. 

President Erdoğan, however, needs to clarify whether these surprises in Turkey-EU ties are linked to the result of the referendum. In other words, will Turkey trigger its own Brexit-like split from the EU in the event that the “yes” votes prevail or even in the event that naysayers claim victory on April 16? Or have Turkey’s prospective actions against the EU already been decided and the government is just waiting for the referendum in a bid not to avoid distracting attention from the campaign?

We are yet to hear what these surprises might be even as Turkish diplomacy faces new surprises every day from its traditional allies, regional allies and others. Non-EU but NATO ally Norway granted asylum to four former Turkish troops and a military attaché in recent days at the expense of angering the Turkish government. 

Turkey’s two main allies, the United States and the United Kingdom, included Turkey’s airports and Turkish Airlines on a list of terminals from which passengers will not be able to bring laptops or tablets into the cabin if they are flying direct to either of the countries. This is seen as a major blow to Turkish Airlines, one of the fastest growing airline companies in Europe and the world. 

There are other surprises as well. A Russian general has been seen wearing the symbol of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an organization Turkey considers a terror organization linked with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria. Russia, which has long been active in the Afrin canton under YPG control, is no longer hesitating to hide its military activities in the region at a time when Turkey has increased its threats against Syrian Kurdish groups in Manbij and elsewhere. 

Despite Turkey’s well-known concerns, Russia is now pressing for the inclusion of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) at the Geneva Conference where Syria’s future will be discussed. 

Another surprising move came again from Russia which said it wouldn’t lift sanctions on agricultural products from Turkey, especially on tomato products, sparking fresh tension as Ankara has seemingly stopped buying Russian wheat in retaliation. However, surprisingly, Turkey and Russia made progress in the former’s attempt to purchase Russian-made S-400 anti-ballistic missiles, even though it won’t be able to integrate them with NATO’s system. 

The new administration in the United States is also expending efforts to surprise Ankara. Ankara’s hopes that Donald Trump’s leadership would demonstrate drastic changes in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are fading. The U.S.-led coalition dropped Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), consisting mainly of YPG forces, near the town of Tabqa in northern Syria, marking another first in Washington’s support for the groups. 

Just to recall, diplomacy is the art of conducting negotiations with other nations in order to avoid crisis, surprises and unwanted developments in a bid to gain advantage for the sake of the country. Tactful diplomacy flowing from the collective mind of a state is, therefore, needed not only for Turkey but for all nations in the world.

Foreign ministries, experts and university academics should be considered as essential elements by governments in making and conducting a sound foreign policy with no surprises. The Foreign Ministry and its diplomats should not only be advised when their policies collapse or are derailed but also during decision-making processes as well. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be astonished by the surprising moves of both our partners and rivals.