By Ssemanda Allawi, Marvin Saasi
and Emmanuel Mukiibi
Anyone is hoping for a turnabout in International Policy that would bend Erdogan’s will has received his loud and clear message: Turkey will be everywhere and nobody will stop it.
Turkey’s move to continue with its oil exploration in areas of the East Mediterranean which are laimed by Greece and Cyprus is visibly setting teeth on edge in Western capitals particularly in Washington and several other European Capitals. Last week, US’ State Department Spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus issued a statement calling Turkey’s move a calculated provocation that must end. “We urge Turkey to end this calculated provocation and immediately begin exploratory talks with Greece,” he said, adding that “Coercion, threats, intimidation and military activity will not resolve tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
On the other hand, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas whose country now holds European Union’s rotating presidency argued that, “Ankara must end the cycle of detente and provocation if the government is interested in talks.”
Germany and America’s response followed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announcement of Turkey’s geological oil survey in one of the marine at blocks close to Turkey. Greece claims that the bloc in question is in its territorial waters. Although Erdogan seemed to be bowing to diplomatic pressure, it is very clear that he is not about to abandon the idea of oil exploration in the East Mediterranean despite protests by Greece and Cyprus.
As Turkey advances their moves, talk of imposing sanctions and military embargo should Ankara continue exploring oil and gas in the contested areas is rife. Surprisingly, when European Union leaders met for a summit last Friday, the issue was not included on agenda, only to appear after Greece’s pressure. The move to approve sanctions was later blocked by five EU leaders.
After discussions, the EU summit firmly made it clear to Greece that it had better wait for the discussion of sanctions for the summit scheduled for December. The division between Germany, Spain, Italy, Malta and Hungary, who object to sanctions, and France is playing into Erdogan’s hands. These countries are afraid of a new wave of refugees Erdogan can send their way if they impose the sanctions on his country.
This isn’t the first time that refugees have become a winning bargaining chip for Turkey against the European Union. Despite Ankara not getting everything it wanted from the refugee agreement it signed with the EU, it has consistently threatened to open the refugee floodgates several times so as to block European initiatives to curb Erdogan, such as drilling in the Mediterranean or Turkey’s role in the Syrian crisis. Indeed, in March 2020, the Turkish government bused thousands of migrants from Turkish refugees’ camps to Turkey’s border with Greece and threatened to allow more entre into Europe, a move that left European countries worried.
Diplomatically, Turkey is also awake. Last week, a rightwing hardliner who has long advocated for closer ties with Turkey won a presidential runoff in the Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus. Ersin Tatar, whose candidacy had been openly endorsed by Ankara, garnered 51.74% of the vote once all ballots had been counted. In Public Diplomacy lenses, an Ankara-backed candidate winning polls in a region contested for by both Cyprus and Turkey is a win for Turkey. Indeed, Turkey’s president, Erdogan was quick to congratulate his counterpart, Tatar.
Arguably, pushing until December the discussions on blocking Turkey is in many ways connected to presidential elections in the US. Despite some rebukes and attempts from State Department, Erdogan’s personal relations with president Donald Trump cannot be underestimated. Trump stopped the congress and NATO’s plan to impose sanctions on Turkey when Ankara bought the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. This was after Erdogan promised Trump he wouldn’t use the missiles before the election, but just last week, Turkey held a drill using the missiles and there are also credible reports of having used them. It is important to note that Turkey was excluded from the F-35 planes’ building plan.
In the ongoing Armenia – Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh where Turkey has openly expressed support for Azerbaijan, president Trump has avoided clashing with Turkey’s Erdogan. Trump instead first joined France and Russia’s call for a cease fire. He has since then gone silent and only offered to host negotiations between the sides in the United States which later announced a ceasefire that many believe will not hold with Turkey still stressing it is ready to intervene and support Azerbaijan militarily. Arguably, some analysts contend that Trump could not blame Armenia since he wanted the over 1.5 million Armenian votes of American citizens, who mainly live in the democratic cities of New York, Boston and Los Angeles. On the other hand, he’s also reluctant to blame Turkey because he has to protect his friend, Erdogan. Loath
Contrary to the above, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that “Russia never saw Turkey as a strategic ally, but as a close partner.” This means that unlike President Trump, President Putin doesn’t see himself bound by his good personal relations with Turkey’s Erdogan when Moscow sees Ankara to be stepping on Kremlin’s foot.
Considering Trump’s personal relationship with Erdogan, European Union may miscalculate that if Joe Biden gets into White House, Washington’s Foreign Policy specifically towards Ankara will fundamentally change and match with EU’s, hence amplify EU’s diplomatic pressure on Erdogan to slow down his rising wish to grow Turkey’s influence and ambitions especially regarding the Turkey-Greece crisis.
However, Erdogan has a favourable card that will continue to play in his favour that no matter who wins the White House race, European Union will have no shortcut to address the Turkish-Greek issue and at no time will Washington set rules to address the Eastern Mediterranean challenge.
For one to imagine that Erdogan is about to change the course of Turkey’s foreign Policy, is to dream. Indeed, during a press conference last week after the Cabinet session, President Erdogan was very categorical, stressing that:
“All the methods, including terrorism, revolution attempts, economic traps, efforts to isolate us, were intended to remove Turkey from its goals. We succeeded in thwarting all those attacks and schemes…Most international organizations and states that claim to carry the flag of democracy have exposed their true colors when they applied a double standard to Turkey…Turkey is becoming bigger and stronger and its interest fields are growing with it.”
Upon that background, whether it is the Libyan crisis where Turkish forces defeated War Lord Khalifa Haftar forces backed by France and Russia as Erdogan stood firm in support of UN backed Tripoli government, Oil exploration in the Mediterranean, Kurds in Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Israeli-Palestine conflict, or Turkey’s defense pact with Qatar that Erdogan feels will make Turkey great again, nobody will stop it, at least for now.
In his first steps as Turkey’s Prime Minister, Erdogan achieved his political power thanks to the meteoric economic success he led his country to. In recent years, despite the growing economic crisis, Erdogan has built Turkey into a regional and diplomatic power that cannot be ignored or dismissed – one that is ready to confront Europe, Russia and the United States.
From a state seeking a warm corner in Middle East, one can argue that in the process Turkey became a confrontational state leaving some Arab states to consider it an enemy. Early this month, following president Erdogan’s comments on murdered Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi in whose murder many believe Saudi’s Crown Prince had a hand, Saudi announced sanctions on Turkey. Though Saudi’s sanctions may cost Ankara about $3 billion, which is a considerable sum for a state whose currency is on a rising curve, with growing unemployment, and a budget deficit of about 4.9 percent of the gross domestic product, compared to a 2.9 percent expectation, Erdogan’s charismatic leadership and Foreign Policy stand makes him favourable at home. Referring to Saudi sanctions, Erdogan is quoted to have noted: “Don’t forget that these states didn’t exist yesterday and will probably not exist tomorrow, but we’ll continue hoisting our flag in the region forever, Allah willing.”
A closer analysis of Erdogan’s Foreign Policy moves is clear. He is making a point that Europe and indeed the United States need Turkey more than Turkey needs them. After questioning French President Emanuel Macron’s mental health claiming he is Islamophobic, Erdogan dared the US to impose sanctions on his country as he rejected US warnings not to directly get involved in Nagorno-Karabakh. “Whatever your sanctions are, don’t be late,” stressed Erdogan. He also dismissed US sanctions threats for testing Russia’s S-400 missiles noting that, “We stepped in for the F-35, you threatened us … you said, ‘Send the S-400s back to Russia.’ We are not a tribal state. We are Turkey.” He says the old world order, traditional coalitions and blocks, agreements that were practiced so far are collapsing and making way for new power balances stressing that, “Turkey is the rising star of these world and regional trends.”
This observation is possibly correct considering the upheavals that have occurred in the Middle East over the past decade, considering US’ diminishing power and status especially in this Trump era and European convergence.
Turkey’s Influence in Africa.
While Turkey’s growing influence in the Europe, and Middle East has caused some concerns, in Africa despite Ankara’s growing presence, there is no much concern so far. Since Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party assumed power in 2002, the country’s interests in Africa have been steadily rising especially diplomatically and through trade. In less than two decades, the country’s trade volume with African countries has grown to over $26 billion, representing a 381% rise. In 2005, the African Union granted Turkey “observer status” and opened an Embassy at AU’s headquarters in Addis Ababa which resulted into high level exchange of visits and in 2008, AU declared Turkey a “strategic partner” of the continent. Since August 2008, Turkey has been organizing the Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit. During this summit, both sides have identified several key areas to be given priority in their cooperation. They include, among others; intergovernmental cooperation, trade and investments, agriculture, health, education, and security.
Today, Turkey has embassies in 42 countries and commercial counselors in 26 countries on the African continent. Turkey’s national airline also flies to 35 destinations on the continent. In 2017, Turkey opened its largest military oversea base in Somalia, with the intention of being a training base for several African countries.
In Libya, on invitation of the UN backed government in Tripoli, Turkey armed and fought alongside government forces forcing war lord Khalifa Haftar and his western backers to negotiation table. In Somalia, under the so-called “first movers” concept, Turkey has invested billions of money to rebuild the strategically located country to recover from effects of prolonged insecurity.
Generally, Turkey’s interests in Africa rival those of former colonial powers such as United Kingdom, France and those of China. Though Turkey’s interests may not be imperialistic per se, this also comes at a cost. For example, in 2017, Senegal and Sudan were forced to close several schools linked to one of Erdogan’s political rivals Mohammed Fethullah Gülen, a move that some analyst view as Turkey’s influence in African countries internal affairs for political reasons.
In conclusion, Turkey’s megalomaniac approach to its Foreign Policy under Erdogan, which in many ways seems to enjoy protection of both allies and rivals who seem to be afraid of his response, should possibly compel Scholars to critically examine it. Turkey’s appetite to extend her influence from its neighbourhood and beyond should attract Foreign Policy strategists to carefully examine the possible consequences of the now inevitable growing regional leader with a powerful military force while asserting that existing arrangements don’t bind him. It is not far-fetched to conclude that the current confrontation with Greece and Europe in general over oil exploration in contested areas may give Turkey a clear experiment in implementing Erdogan’s new ambitious Foreign Policy and Strategy and not only an economic influence between two states but many as we have seen in Libya’s case, Syria, and or currently over Nagorno-Karabakh. Whatever the lenses one chooses to use, President Erdogan is slowly but steadily planning a New World Order in Which Turkey Is The Rising Star in Global Governance.
Ssemanda Allawi is a Senior Research Fellow at DWC and author Global Governance and Norm Contestation: How BRICS is Reshaping World Order.
Marvin Saasi i is a Ugandan Lawyer and a Social Critic.
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