Can Turkey achieve a policy of equilibrium in diplomacy?
Whether it be de-escalating tensions with Greece through negotiation, jump-starting the Cyprus talks, organizing a regional conference on the Eastern Mediterranean, renegotiating the refugee deal, visa liberalization or updating the customs union, Turkey will persistently pursue diplomacy as it attempts to make a fresh start with the European Union. All of these points are on Ankara’s agenda as it awaits the upcoming visit of the presidents of the European Council and Commission to Turkey.
The European media questions President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s sincerity. Some experts say the EU will base its Turkey policy on the new U.S. administration’s approach, adding that Washington and Brussels will coordinate, pushing Ankara into a corner and depriving the Turks of the opportunity to adopt policies that reflect a balance of power.
The claim that Turkey can no longer strike a balance between the U.S. and Russia quickly follows. For the record, such assertions seem to lack a basic understanding of realpolitik.
Advocates of such views also do not seem to grasp the challenges facing America’s new policy of global leadership. Nor do they seem to take into consideration the Russian and Chinese responses, or the diverging geopolitical interests of the European Union and the United States.
A new balance of power is clearly coming into effect between the titans – a process that will inevitably result in fresh tensions but also opportunities. Thanks to the progress it has made over the last four years, Turkey has what it takes to adapt to the new equilibrium.
It is no secret the U.S. President Joe Biden, unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, looks to mend Washington’s relationship with NATO and the U.S.’ trans-Atlantic partners. The new U.S. administration will try to strengthen and unite the Western alliance by promoting values like democracy, freedom and human rights.
What really matters, however, is whether those values will speak to the mutual geopolitical interests of the United States and the European Union. It does not seem as though Washington and Brussels will be able to agree on a mutually beneficial policy regarding China and Russia very quickly.
If the U.S. tries to impose its policy of containment vis-a-vis the countries on the Europeans, divisions among EU members will certainly deepen.
How likely is it that Germany will just give up on the Nord Stream 2? What would the Russian reaction be to Ukraine and Georgia being admitted to NATO? And what do we do about the Russian-controlled regions within the nations’ borders?
Is there a way for the Eastern Europeans to overcome their fear of Russia? Would Russia’s aggressive containment push Moscow and Beijing closer? These are just some of the many questions that impact steps that need to be answered.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, recently reminded everyone that there is a new Europe and warned that there will be no return to the Barack Obama era in trans-Atlantic relations. Whose interests will the trans-Atlantic alliance’s new terms serve primarily? The answer will depend on Russia and Turkey.
I assert that a reset between Turkey and the EU would strengthen the hands of Brussels and Ankara in dealing with Washington. It is true that Biden’s Cabinet picks suggest that Turkey and the United States run into problems regarding the PKK/YPG and the S-400 air defense system. Turkey must be aware of the possibility that Biden will adopt a policy criticizing, or even actively pressuring Ankara.
My previous column stressed the importance of patience and persistent diplomacy. If Brussels jumps on Washington’s bandwagon and auto-enrolls in its misguided policy, Europe’s own interests will be at risk. After all, the Europeans stand to lose the most if tensions are to escalate between Turkey and the Western alliance, a situation which could directly affect counterterrorism, immigration, trade and other issues.
Let us recall the Syrian civil war’s impact on Europe – triggering the rise of populism, terror attacks and waves of refugees. Again, Turkey is of vital importance to Washington’s potential plan to contain Russia within the NATO framework.
At the same time, Ankara plays a more prominent role than before in the region spanning from Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the South Caucasus.
There may be tension and turbulence over the next four years, but Turkey has no reason to be pessimistic. The country will still have the opportunity to pursue a balance-of-power policy between the United States, the EU and Russia. That pursuit may be more difficult than in the Trump years, but it is still possible.
Repairing the Turkish-American relationship is my recommendation, but we must be prepared for all options.
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on January 26, 2021.