A wake up call for Turkey-US relations
Turkey’s discovery of natural gas reserves within its Black Sea territory last week dominated the headlines.
On Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, along with former energy chief and current Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, announced that Turkey had discovered some 320 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas – the largest deposit found in the country’s history.
According to Turkish officials, this is only the beginning and many more discoveries are anticipated around the same region. There are also high expectations in regards to exploration activities in Turkey’s exclusive economic zones of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The ultimate goal expressed by Erdoğan and Albayrak is to end Turkey’s dependency on foreign oil and natural gas and ultimately to become a net energy exporter. Considering Turkey’s high dependency on fossil fuels, this is an extremely ambitious objective. However, the increasing focus of the Turkish government on energy resources in recent years has demonstrated that Ankara will do everything possible to reach this goal.
In fact, though fossil fuel exploration activities have intensified in Turkey in recent years, many observers doubted Turkey’s ability to explore and extract its own resources. If Turkey continues to make such discoveries in the coming years, however, cynicism about Turkey’s efforts will prove yet another mistaken projection from certain quarters. In a year’s time, some of these observers will have failed to predict Turkey’s success.
Almost a year ago, when Turkey launched a military campaign to wipe terror groups from along its border with northern Syria, some thought Ankara would be doomed to a major defeat. They believed that the PKK/YPG was very well trained and that Turkish forces would be bogged down in the hostile terrain. Some foresaw that it would be a quagmire for Turkey. However, they too turned out to be wrong. After a rather smooth campaign, Turkish forces and their partners kicked the PKK/YPG out of the areas bordering Turkey.
Plus, when this operation was launched, some asserted that it would end Turkish-American cooperation. Following several proposals for sanctions at the U.S. Congress, some predicted they would be adopted and mark the final blow to the alliance. However, the diplomacy conducted between Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump led to a solution to the problem. After a few weeks, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, along with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. National Security Advisor Robert Charles O’Brien visited Turkey. After negotiations, Turkey and the U.S. reached an agreement in regards to Turkey’s military operations in northern Syria.
When the COVID-19 crisis erupted in the world, there were also some who predicted that it would be a major disaster for Turkey. The model they drew in their reports foresaw the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Turkey was expected to turn into another Italy, Spain or Iran within months. Some even claimed that Turkey was hiding the true number of people who died as a result of COVID-19. However, Turkey, through its public health system and social welfare, turned out to be a successful example of how to contain the crisis. Once again, the predictions turned out to be wrong.
In the midst of the outbreak, Libya also saw some concerning developments. The putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar launched a campaign to take power from the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), asked Turkey to support its forces to halt this campaign. When Turkey responded positively and sent forces, many predicted that this, too, would be a disaster for Turkey. Considering the support that Haftar’s forces were receiving from multiple countries, another bunch of analysts predicted that it would be another quagmire for Turkey.
Only when Haftar’s forces were stopped and Turkey engaged in diplomatic initiatives, those analysts started to change their assessments of the situation on the ground.
The energy exploration issue is not so different in regard to how it is being dealt with by some observers. Some predicted that it will be a futile effort on the part of the Turkish government. However, Friday’s announcement showed the problem with their approach. It should be a wake-up call for these observers. Maybe they are making some miscalculations. Maybe they are depending too much on wishful thinking.
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on August 24, 2020.