This year’s G20 Summit was held in New Delhi recently.
The most striking development during the summit was the signing of a memorandum of understanding by Saudi Arabia, India, the United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Italy, the United States, and the European Union to build the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC).
The corridor is planned to reach from India to the Persian Gulf by sea, then to Israel via the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and from there to Europe by sea again.
This project, supported by Washington, is said to aim to prevent the Gulf countries from getting closer to BRICS on the one hand, and to create an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative, developed by China on its way to becoming a global hegemon, on the other.
However, the initiative’s sphere of influence is not limited to the Belt and Road. The Suez Canal under the control of Egypt, the Development Road Project, which is planned to start from Basra in Iraq and reach the Turkish border, and the North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which is projected to connect India to Europe via Iran and Russia, are also among those affected.
After the G20, the strongest reactions to this initiative came not from China, Russia or Egypt, but from Türkiye.
On his way back from New Delhi, the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made statements that there could be no corridor without Türkiye and that the most suitable route for east-west traffic must pass through his own country. Referring specifically to the Iraq Development Road, the President said that they are working on the construction of this corridor that will go to Europe via Iraq, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Türkiye.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan made similar statements, arguing that energy and transportation corridors in the region cannot be effective and sustainable without Türkiye’s participation. He also stressed that his priorities are the Caspian Transit Middle Corridor, which will connect the Turkic world to Europe, and the Iraq Development Road. Fidan even said that he expects the Development Road Project to enter the implementation phase within a few months.
Türkiye has serious concerns about the IMEC initiative, which is backed by the United States: Is the United States trying to isolate Türkiye, which is increasingly getting closer to Russia? Or, by supporting IMEC, is it trying to force Türkiye, like Saudi Arabia, to establish ties with Israel? Is it trying to undermine Türkiye’s plans to become a central hub for the transportation of Caspian region energy resources to Europe by facilitating the transfer of Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern energy resources to the West via Israel?
To be honest, in all this geopolitical/geoeconomic turmoil, we can say that Türkiye’s choice so far has been clearly in favor of the Middle Corridor Initiative. This corridor, starting from China, connects to the Caspian Sea via Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, and after the Caspian crossing, it reaches Europe via Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Türkiye. The memorandum of understanding on the Middle Corridor was signed between Türkiye and the People’s Republic of China during another G20 Leaders’ Summit in 2015. Türkiye has long been planning its investments related to trade between Europe and Asia, and especially the transfer of energy resources, taking this corridor into account.
Türkiye’s interest in the Iraq Development Path was brought to the agenda much more recently, perhaps in anticipation of IMEC-like developments. This project, which was discussed again between the two countries during the recent visit of the Iraqi Prime Minister to Türkiye, is expected to open up not only Iraq, but also the Gulf countries, directly to Europe.
IMEC signatories will meet again in November to develop an action plan, including timelines. We will be able to see more clearly after the meeting whether the initiative is a pipe dream or not. However, at least from an energy perspective, it is not possible to say that IMEC has significant advantages over other corridor options.
First of all, it is unclear what the IMEC corridor will bring to India, which already supplies most of its imported gas from the Gulf countries by sea. On the other hand, the idea of Europe supplying the gas it cannot get from Russia from the Middle East or Eastern Mediterranean through an undersea pipeline immediately brings to mind the EastMed Project. At the beginning of 2020, an agreement was signed between Greece, Israel and Greek Cyprus for the construction of the EastMed pipeline, which will carry Eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe, but this project was never started due to its high costs.
Transporting fossil fuels via IMEC would undoubtedly be much more costly compared to existing routes. In addition, it is not possible to compensate for Europe’s energy deficit or satisfy India’s energy hunger in the short or medium term by placing electricity cables along the route or laying pipelines to supply clean hydrogen.
Thus, the IMEC idea does not seem to be easy to realize. Moreover, it is clear that the geopolitical risk of this project, which claims to bring arch-enemies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel to the same table while eliminating regional powers such as Türkiye, Iran and Egypt, will be extremely high, considering the disputes and ongoing tensions in the Middle East. The project, which is still unclear how to finance the enormous resources it needs, will likely take decades to come to fruition, and will face many political or economic obstacles along the way.
In conclusion, both the Middle Corridor, which claims to carry the energy resources of the Caspian region to Europe, and the Iraq Development Corridor, -when political instabilities and security problems can be resolved-, appear to be in a much more advantageous position than IMEC in terms of technical and economic aspects. In this respect, we can easily say that Türkiye, which seems one step ahead thanks to its geostrategic position, will be one of the key actors in the corridor wars of the coming period.