Turkey Drifts Away from the West, but How Far Will It Go?


It is difficult to say that Turkey will break off all its ties with the West. The main principle should be a “balanced policy” in the Turkish foreign policy. However, a harsh American tone can bring the situation to a deadlock. Most probably, Turkey will maintain pursuing alternative ways rather than the West, like BRICS.

Turkey, which has the second biggest army in NATO, and the United States, NATO’s biggest partner, have different points of view regarding terrorism. As it is very well known, the US has sent trucks of weapons and arms to YPG [which Turkey considers the Syrian branch of PKK, an organization it qualifies as terrorist – Ed.] and seems very reluctant about extradition of FETÖ ringleader who stays in Pennsylvania. The July 15 traitorous coup attempt deepened the confidence crisis between Turkey and the US. At the moment, the US strategy in Syria focuses on limiting Iranian presence and US President Donald Trump insists on new sanctions against Iran. However, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced that Turkey will not abide with unilateral sanctions against Iran. A dialogue mechanism about Manbij was established between Turkey and the US after former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Turkey, but there is no understanding about the general situation in Syria.

Considering the relations with the EU, there is no development in negotiations. Turkey has been waiting in front of the EU door for more than half a century. The only topic discussed between the two sides is “refugees in Turkey”. Turkey hosts nearly 5 million refugees (4 million Syrians, if we take into account those who are not officially registered, and approximately 1 million people from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries). EU wants to prohibit their passage to European countries and keep them in Turkey, therefore the second tranche of 3 billion dollar was given to Turkey.

Turkey has serious problems with the West, which have reached the level of a full-scale institutional crisis. Turkey’s NATO problem can be seen as a reflection of crises with Germany, Holland and the United States. The problematic points in Turkey-NATO relations have been discussed since the day Turkey became a NATO member-state.

Because of all these facts, Turkey started to seek alternative partners. Turkey and Russia have initiated a process of rapprochement and signed agreements on energy and military issues. Strategic projects like the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, the Turk Stream pipeline, and the purchase of S-400 air defense missile system enriched the content of the relations. Moreover, Turkey started to intensify its trade relations with China, which is designated as the greatest rival of the United States. For example, a few days ago Bank of China provided a $3.6 billion loan to Turkey.

Such incidents have caused concern in the USA, and Senate passed a bill about delaying the delivery of F-35 jets to Turkey. From the American perspective, it can be seen as a response to the S-400 agreement. Then US has introduced sanctions on Turkish Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu and Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül over pastor Andrew Craig Brunson who was detained in Turkey which claims that he has links to terrorist organizations. Brunson is not the only problem in the Turkish-American relations but recently he has become a “symbol of the tensions”. Also, it is not the first tension between Turkey and US but the relations have been passing through the hardest times recently. It should be underlined that the pressure of evangelist groups on the Trump administration has played a determining role in Brunson’s case. Vice President Mike Pence, who is a prominent evangelist figure, has played a very active role in the pre-election period in the US to consolidate their votes.

Worsening economic conditions and the uncertain future of AKP – MHP alliance are two main factors in having a decision to make snap presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24, 2018, says Valdai Club expert Sinan Oğan, Turkish politician, member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, founder and president of the Center for International Relations and Strategic Analysis TURKSAM (since 2004).

Trump has used economy as a foreign policy card and started some manipulative actions against the Turkish economy to keep its “ally” beside the US. The tumbling of Turkish lira will open a way for the search of hot money flow from the Gulf region and BRICS. Turkey wants to tranquilize the current situation with backchannel diplomacy and acts soberly. It is difficult to say that Turkey will break off all its ties with the West. The main principle should be a “balanced policy” in the Turkish foreign policy. However, a harsh American tone can bring the situation to a deadlock. Most probably, Turkey will maintain pursuing alternative ways rather than the West, like BRICS. If Turkey joins this platform, it will also be a message to the EU. On the other hand, Turkey plays an important role in NATO in terms of control of the Caucasus and the Middle East. NATO’s decision-making mechanism is based on consensus. If the relations worsen and become more problematic, Turkey will have a chance to lock the NATO system with its veto. Additionally, Turkey has NATO bases and the Incirlik Air Base which has been used by the United States. Their closure may be another option if the problems remained unsolved.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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