Turkey’s combative foreign policy could soon reach a dead end

More than 10 years in the past, then-Prime Minister Erdogan made a decisive foreign policy pivot. No longer would Turkey grovel on the gates of the European Union, begging to be let in. Instead, Turkey could as soon as once more venture regional power, broaden its affect over its former imperial topics within the East, and turn into a international power to be reckoned with.

It was an concept that captured the creativeness of his well-liked base, buttressing his bid to maximise the breadth of his powers. Erdogan’s allies in Egypt and Syria made large political features within the early years of the Arab Spring, which first started in December 2010 and Erdogan’s Neo-Ottoman dream gave the impression to be materializing.
But fast-forward a decade, and the President’s allies within the area — largely teams affiliated with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood — are a grossly diminished power. Outside of regional bastions of help in Qatar, Somalia and the Tripoli-based authorities in war-torn Libya, Erdogan’s energy projection has left a bitter style within the mouths of many regional leaders.
He’s additionally drawn the ire of European nations, specifically France, Greece and Cyprus, which have publicly tried to contain Turkey’s reach in the eastern Mediterranean. A floundering Turkish financial system, exacerbated by the consequences of Covid-19, has thrown one other wrench within the works of Erdogan’s venture, and restricted his potential to shake off Turkey’s rising isolation.

“Erdogan’s slogan was that Turkey was going to rise by and through leadership over Muslim-majority states in the Middle East,” mentioned Soner Cagaptay, Beyer Family Fellow and Director of Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and writer of a trilogy of books concerning the rise of Erdogan.

“But now with the exception of Qatar, Somalia and half of the government of Libya, it has good ties with no Muslim majority country nearby.”

Those regional powers hostile to Erdogan seem to have discovered frequent trigger with some European nations. Egypt, Israel, Cyprus and Greece have intensified strategic cooperation over a number of initiatives, specifically the extraction of fuel reserves within the japanese Mediterranean, and have sidelined Ankara within the course of. France, which has opposed Turkey’s marketing campaign towards Kurdish fighters in Syria and its backing of the Tripoli-based authorities in Libya, has lent help to the japanese Mediterranean vitality initiative. The United Arab Emirates — which has backed efforts to quash, generally brutally, Turkish-backed teams — seems additionally to have given tacit help to the endeavor.

The US administration of President Donald Trump, which has largely maintained a good relationship with Erdogan, has additionally lately appeared to aspect with Turkey’s rivals. Recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned he was “deeply concerned” with Turkey’s actions within the japanese Mediterranean. Last month, the US additionally introduced it could waive a decades-old arms embargo on Cyprus.

 World leaders gather in Berlin on January 19, 2020 to make a fresh push for peace in Libya, in a desperate bid to stop the conflict-wracked nation from turning into a "second Syria".

“All of this didn’t happen overnight. It happened as a consequence of (Ankara’s) more assertive, more conflictual and more combative foreign policy,” mentioned Sinan Ulgen, a Turkey analyst and Visiting Scholar at Carnegie Europe. “I (also) think the EU, and the US particularly did mismanage the relationship with Turkey.

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“Nonetheless, that is the end result. Therefore all of this coalescing at this second in time. But it did take 10 years to come back thus far.”

Turkey’s muscular foreign policy recently culminated in its support for Azerbaijan’s military campaign to retake the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The renewed conflict, which pitted Azerbaijan against neighboring Armenia, has claimed hundreds of lives. Erdogan has gone his own way, once again, refusing to join the international community’s call for a ceasefire.

Ethnic kinship between Turkey and Azerbaijan, and a growing bilateral military relationship, can be seen as driving forces for Turkey’s staunch support for Baku’s bid to retake the majority-Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and other territories are under Armenian military control, analysts say. But so does an urgency for Erdogan to call foul on the international community. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as a Azerbaijani territory, a point that the Turkish leader wishes to underscore.

Erdogan’s stance on Azerbaijan’s conflict “goes effectively with Turkey’s rhetoric concerning the double requirements of the worldwide group and the ineffectiveness of multilateral establishments,” said Ulgen.

“When a Turkish president involves energy or a prime minister, the very first thing they do is that they pay a go to to Turkish Cyprus and Azerbaijan,” said Cagaptay. “Erdogan has damaged with all traditions of Turkey, with the West, with Israel, with the EU, with the Middle East. But he has not damaged with that custom.”

Economy in the doldrums

But circumstances that enabled Erdogan to revolutionize Turkey’s foreign policy have evaporated, analysts say. In the early 2000s, Erdogan produced excellent economic results, bolstering his bid for both domestic and foreign policy transformation. Today’s Turkish economy is a far cry from that, which led to sizable losses for Erdogan’s party in municipal elections, and may eventually prompt a retreat from the international scene.

The first decade or so of Erdogan’s rule saw millions of Turks being lifted out of poverty, an economic boom, further diversification of the Turkish market, and even a precipitous drop in infant mortality rates. In recent years, however, the currency has sometimes taken a nosedive, government debt has ballooned, and inflation has risen. As with many other economies, the Turkish economy is expected to shrink in 2020, but may recover next year.

President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a speech during 2nd International Women and Justice Summit, organized by KADEM (Turkish acronym for "Women and Democracy Association") at WOW Convention Center in Istanbul, Turkey on November 25, 2016.

“The financial system is Erdogan’s Achilles heel, not solely domestically but in addition in foreign policy,” said Cagaptay. “Not solely does the financial system decide if Turkey can proceed to flex its muscle mass, but when the financial system tanks, Turkey will not have the finances to dedicate to all these battles and fronts.”

Turkey’s economic future is intimately tied to its international relationships. A tanking economy could lead to a request for International Monetary Fund assistance, which could come with foreign policy strings attached. An internationally unpopular Turkey could miss out on badly needed gas extraction prospects in the eastern Mediterranean.

“That’s the most important dilemma going through Turkish policy makers, it isn’t the bounds on foreign policy assertiveness per se. It is what that foreign policy assertiveness and combative rhetoric does to the nation’s financial prospects,” mentioned Ulgen.

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