Turkey and the West
No one can claim that there are no problems between Turkey and its Western allies, “strategic partners,” or main trade partners. Probably to say that a country is having no problem with other countries it has been interacting with the most might not be possible. Yet, if problems are not emanating from contradicting interests but rather are products of some seriously eroded confidence, to say the least, the situation is, of course, unsustainable.
Whoever can say whatever, the European Union is not just an economic organization, nor the Transatlantic NATO pact is just a security gathering. Downgrading NATO to a mere security organization would be a gross mistake to its political nature bonding nations so strongly that it enabled it to survive the Cold War and come to this day without losing its clout and importance. The EU, on the other hand, is a project for peace more than being an economic club. It evolved over the decades to such a status that strong European integration proponents have long started dreaming of a united Europe, very much like the United States of America. In any way, Europe is an unprecedented successful peace project that came into being thanks to some visionary leaders in the aftermath of a catastrophe, World War II.
There are crucial problems between Turkey and the EU as well as the U.S. To know which side is more at fault in this situation will be a futile attempt, waste of time and energy. Some of the problems stem from the perceptional and cultural background, while some have far critical political reasons behind them. But most of them belong to a cluster that we might define as serious conceptional differences both in the Turkey-EU relationship and in the EU’s fatigue regarding visionary leaders with a strategic perspective.
When two top European politicians visited Turkey recently, I expected to hear some talk about norms and principles that constitute the backbone of the EU – despite the fact that some EU member countries today seriously falter in this area as well. However, apart from the sofa crisis regarding the protocol fatigue and some fussy exchanges over the “keep the refugees, will pay you some bucks” issue, nothing else was heard. Apparently, today’s all-capable EU leaders are more interested in these than “trivial” rights issues.
Turkey has huge economic opportunities. Its industrial base cannot be ignored. Despite all the problems, the non-energy imports of Turkey originate from EU countries still. It has long become impossible for Turkey to boycott products of any European country as bilateral investments both in EU territory and Turkey have reached such a dimension that right from banking to industry, a strong interdependency has developed.
Furthermore, the defense industry of Turkey - though some components need to be imported and embargoes from “allied” countries might create provisional difficulties - has grown sufficient enough to earn praise with Turkish operations or demonstrated fighting power in Libya, Azerbaijan, the eastern Mediterranean and such. What if Turkey is not allowed to purchase some parts it needs for its defense industry products? Would not Turkey find some alternatives through purchasing from some other countries or co-producing in Turkey itself? After all, today’s defense industry is a by-product of the 1975 American arms embargo. This should not be forgotten.
Problems between Turkey and its Western allies or sidelining Turkey and forcing it to search for alternatives might produce detrimental consequences, not for Ankara alone. For instance, if a major ally of Turkey continues to align with a group of terrorists - despite the fact that they as well describe that group as a terrorist - in the fight of another terrorist group, probably executives of that major ally might be suffering from amnesia and have forgotten how they were aligned with the Taleban against the Soviets and faced the consequences that are still unfolding because of that awful premeditated action.
Turkey has some serious deficiencies, mostly in the judicial system as well as regarding rights and liberties. The Turkish government must have been aware of such ailments as it charted a new reform plan. Now, which is wiser, whether to isolate and push Turkey to search for some alternatives or engage Turkey and encourage it to undertake reforms that would carry it closer to the Western family of nations?