24/1/11

Turkey: In search of an international role

  
Δευτέρα, 24 Ιανουάριου 2011 22:41
Turkey: In search of an international role
Viewed against the failure of the conference on the Iranian nuclear issue and the ominous turn of events in Lebanon, the quest of the Turkish Islamist leadership for a major role in the reshaping of the Middle Eastern geopolitical landscape comes out as both quixotic and troubling In Istanbul, Turkey served as the convenient host country, but was shut out of the negotiations between the international heavies and her newly found, intransigent Iranian friends – a clear sign of Western distrust; and Prof. Davutoglu’s much publicized efforts to mediate in the Lebanese crisis have yielded no tangible results – a victim, no doubt, to the mounting suspicions Turkish ambitions and controversial positions generate. Thus, one cannot escape the impression that the Turks are trying to punch above their weight on the international scene – and, more importantly, that they are on the wrong policy track.
This is not to dispute Turkey’s importance as a regional player. Her diplomacy is bolstered by her large population, hers pivotal geographic position, her growing economy – although her per capita income is still under $10,000 – and the strongest military in the area next to Israel’s. Recently, however, Ankara is trying to further increase its geopolitical weight by playing the Islamic card; which, judiciously used, could indeed have strengthened the Turkish position, both locally and in the councils of the West.
Largely for domestic reasons – out of concern for the protection of its secular institutions against possible theocratic threats – Turkey tended, for a long time, to turn her back to the Moslem World. It is therefore perfectly understandable – particularly in light of developments in the region following the Cold War and especially after 9/11 – that she should seek to bring balance to her previous, rather one-sided stance, by engaging more actively its Moslem neighbours.
In practice, however, this proactive approach is proving to be a double-edged sword. Because of the way it is managed, it often gives the impression that Prime Minister Erdogan and his team see their Islamic agenda as an end in itself, rather than as a tool in their foreign policy kit. In other words, they appear at times to be motivated more by religious zeal than by a realistic appraisal of Turkish national interest – Turkey’s Western orientation and commitments included. The vitriolic attacks against Israel, the praise heaped on the presidents of Iran and Sudan, or Ankara’s intimacy with organizations the West has on its terrorists list go largely beyond the bounds of realpolitik and smack of religious fanaticism.

Are these Turkish doings a passing aberration or the beginnings of a new Western geopolitical misadventure? Or to put it differently: Which way will Turkey finally turn? Will she remain, along with Israel, a firm Western ally in the troubled Greater Middle East? Or will she go astray propelled by illusions about America’s decline and Europe’s decadence and by delusions of grandeur – by dreams of a neo-Ottoman Middle Eastern and Balkan order? And thus become a liability to the Western World, while getting into deep water?.
In any case, Turkey’s leadership will not be able to keep up its present equivocation for long. With the West facing critical challenges, such as Teheran’s nuclear and hegemonic ambitions and destabilizing activities, it will eventually have to pick sides. And, while many Turks understand the dangers of a break with the Western World, the intentions of their leaders are inscrutable.
In this regard, a complicating factor is, admittedly, the refusal of the EU to take Turkey onboard. No responsible European would deny Ankara’s importance or dispute the desirability of collaborating with it economically, geopolitically and strategically. But it is also a fact of life that Turkey, as Mirella Bogdani aptly puts it in her interesting book “Turkey and the dilemma of EU accession”, is viewed in the European Union as “too big, too poor and too different” to fit; and that, consequently, it is highly unlikely she will ever be admitted as a full member.

On the other hand, however, Europeans are eager to closely cooperate with the Turks for mutual benefit – both directly, through a “privileged partnership”, and within NATO. It thus remains to be seen whether Ankara will accept to engage in such a creative adjustment – or choose to use EU’s “No” as an added pretext for distancing itself both from Europe and from the Western World in general.
For us Greeks the stakes are particularly high. Given the issues separating us from Turkey, it is clearly in our own interest that she remains firmly anchored in the West. Were she to take the opposite course, our country would become a front-line state confronted by a potentially dangerous neighbour.

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