A shifting Turkey…?
ISTANBUL-In recent weeks media reports on Turkey have been dominated by the question of whether the West is somehow “losing” Turkey as an ally and strategic partner as the country held negotiations with Iran and lashed out at Israel.
I wrote about the issue for Aol News here.
“Turkey is not the Turkey of yesterday,” said Henri Barkey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It has interests that are new and not necessarily in concert with us.”
That change has been under way for many years, of course, wrought by the end of the Soviet Union, two unpopular U.S.-led wars in neighboring Iraq and the 2002 election of the pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party, or AKP. But the current crisis underscores the depth of Turkey’s alienation from the West…
As the whirlwind that was June comes to a close I think its important to back up and take another look. What may be perceived as Turkey distancing itself may be more a fuller realization by Western countries of how much Turkey has grown in recent years. Throughout the Cold War Turkey was an easily compliant ally. Today, the country is economically stronger than many of the surrounding countries in the European Union. 5.5 percent growth is predicted this year and unemployment is declining while its markets are expanding. Turkey does not need the West in the same as it used to. Instead it has realized a new position as a hub for the transit of energy from the Middle East, Russia, and Central Asia. The country remains a close friend that the West cannot do without, though the interactions will be carried out differently than in the past.
Much of the hardline rhetoric about Israel has to do with gathering support before upcoming parliamentary elections. Though relations between Turkey and Israel have deteriorated to a new low point, any talk of Turkey joining the Iran-Hezbollah alliance is absurd. Turkey has long held forth a policy of maintaining good relations with its neighbors including Iran. I wrote of this history of alliances and agreements for the Asia Times last month.
The Balkan Pact was meant to protect the participating countries from the rise of fascism in Europe and the Treaty of Saadabad was meant as a promise of non-aggression towards participating countries. Turkey knows it is a country at the crossroads. A policy of open relations is aimed at staving off conflict, which, along with being draining for Turkey, would also most likely provoke internal instability from the country’s Kurdish or other ethnic factions.
As Davutoglu recently wrote, “There are more Bosnians in Turkey than in Bosnia-Herzegovina, more Albanians than in Kosovo, more Chechens than in Chechnya …”.
The agreements also do not come without benefits for Turkey. For example, the Lausanne Strait Agreement, which settled boundaries contested after World War I, led to the Turkish republic being recognized as the successor to the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey’s current “shift” must be put more in the light of domestic politics and history of trying to maintain good relations with its neighbors. Seen in that light, strong relations between Turkey and the US will continue, even if its EU bid will perhaps no longer be given the same priority domestically. Turkey is the friend nearly everyone cannot afford to be without. The rise of traditionally weaker countries is a reality that major powers must adjust themselves to. Henceforth, there will be more voices weighing in on world affairs than in the past.