Turkey is reportedly in pursuit of a better alternative to the EU. They have been engaged in a stall of civilizations with their European neighbors and may sue for irreconcilable differences. Among many are the barriers to full membership, discrimination of migrant workers, Cyprus 2012 frozen relationship, and economic recession of the Eurozone.
In their last issue for January/February, Foreign Affairs’ managing editor Jonathon Tepperman interviewed Turkish President Abdullah Gul who made a pitch in the conversation for closer Turkey-US relationship.
Last month Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a dialog member. SCO is an Eastern economic and security partnership based in Beijing, China. Its full members include Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Interestingly, Turkey shares a great deal of history with the steppe countries in SCO and retains a positive image for the most central parts of Central Asia.
What does it all mean?
The US-Turkey relationship offers the state a chance to tap into military advantages, regional power, trade, and still remain an important NATO member. It can easily fit into the US, NATO and the EU, but it will be difficult for them to stay with the US, NATO and SCO.
The EU does not offer Turkey much politically or economically. In many ways Turkey will have to chance socio-politically as well as economically. The demands for full membership have only resulted in grid lock relations. Moreover, the decline and fall of the European economy has beckoned a growing wealthy Turkey to seek other markets and partnerships outside the Eurozone.
Turkey is shopping for power and regional influence. They are hedging their bets between the US, the EU, and China.
This is done for several reasons: One, it allows Turkey to test the waters and find the best strategic partner to work with in the future. After all, so many have said that the future is between these two world powers of the US and China so why stay with Europe?
“The economic powers of the world are shifting from west to east,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Is Turkey preparing for an Eastern future?
Either it will be with the West, the East or for a while— both of them—whatever will maximize their freedom of actions politically, boost their storehouses, and rekindle the Ottoman.
Another reason for Erdogan’s recent visit to Beijing and Gul’s outreach to the US has been presented by a number of commenters to force the EU to get serious about Turkey’s status. Turkey can work with the US and the EU but the EU would rather have Turkey all to themselves. Meanwhile, Turkey would rather teeter between the US and China; although they welcome any and all investment.
Turkey is in a good position right now as a ‘middle’ state. It is growing as the 15 largest economy in the world. It favors a modern secular government but an Eastern philosophy. It maintains a religious cultural heritage that it does not want European’s to meddle with. The recent position, trade and partnerships have awarded their soft power skills many gains in foreign affairs at what some have dubbed neo-Ottomanism, as they place dabble in governments anywhere from North Africa to the Caspian Sea.
As Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu: “We can build diplomatic relations of equal status with any big or small country which was previously in Ottoman lands. This is what modern diplomacy requires.”
Turkey’s influence in the region and positive image continues to grow outside of Europe; meanwhile, its relationship with the EU remains one of stagnation. It is as simple as this: Turkey is not welcome in the EU and is looking for other cooperatives to boost power.
Turkey’s exit strategy from the Europeans may be working as the EU rushes to reassess its role. Currently, Turkey is only an “associate” member to the Union. Full EU membership has been set at 2013, but more recently it might take up to 2023 for Turkey to comply with EU law before entrance and accession.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stated that: “If we aren’t careful, the day will come when Europe’s interest in Turkey is greater than Turkey’s interest in Europe.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel races to Turkey to mend the relationship. “In recent times, negotiations stalled somewhat and I am in favor of opening a new chapter in order to move forward,” Ms. Merkel remarked. She has consistently expressed the term “privileged partnership” in place of full-fledged member, in which Turkey would have to overcome odious requirements. Norway, for example, has close and positive relations with the EU but is not a full member.
“I think a long negotiating path lies ahead,” offered Merkel. “Although I am skeptical, I agreed with the continuation of membership discussions.”
Merkel did not go to Germany alone just to chat either—she brought a few industrial German heavy weights with her. As Financial Times reports, Chief Executives Johannes Teyssen of Eon, Peter Löscher of Siemens and Christoph Frantz of Lufthansa also made the trip.
Perhaps they will be able to purchase Turkey’s entry back into the EU, at least partially. In that case, Turkey may have just conducted one of the most brilliant diplomatic maneuvers played by a mid-sized state in the early 21st century. A bid for the SCO could have been just a political ploy for greater German investment and economic gain—and potentially eased requirements of entry. At the same time, Turkey befriends new industries in the East and greater political influence in its new Ottoman league.
The SCO gesture still offers an escape from the EU and continual leverage. The move reunites a lost lineage more closely together and a hearty embrace by more like-minded states, as Erdogen is credited to crave.
The SCO is no true alternative to NATO but the security alliance shift is not stressed by Turkey; nor has NATO ever required full EU membership. If anything, Turkey appears safest in NATO but even that is shaky.
With the Syrian Civil War and Iran’s potential Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) capabilities, Turkey is not seriously considering leaving NATO but it would be an interesting bridge if it actually did join SCO as a full member—an event likely not to happen any time soon.
This is due to differences of other partial members. Iran, for example, is an observer member of SCO and would not want anything to do with it—as Turkey partakes in a more substantial role in the Syrian Civil War—a move likely to be the great divide, separating it from its would-be Eastern partners.
Still it is interesting timing, being that NATO is operating within their country and preparing anti-missile defense systems and the funneling of covert supplies to the Free Syrian Army. Turkey is the state in the middle of a tug-of-war shouting out to rile either side into pulling it the hardest to their respective side.
As Foreign Minister Davutoglu says: “Model partnership is not an issue of preference, but it is a necessity.”
About the author: Brett Daniel Shehadey
Brett Daniel Shehadey is an analyst, writer, and commentator. His areas of interest include: strategy, political theory, foreign affairs, intelligence and security. He holds an M.A. in Strategic Intelligence from American Military University and a B.A in Political Science from UCLA.