Turkey has pulled its troops out of the would-be pan-NATO military exercises currently being conducted on Norwegian soil. Turkey withdrew from the military drills after a poster of “enemies” seen at the training exercises included the name of the current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as that of the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
While NATO apologised for the “error”, Erdogan has stated that this falls short of what is required in order to ameliorate tensions.
The Turkish President stated,
“You have seen disrespectful behaviour at the NATO drill yesterday. There are some mistakes that are done not by fools but only by base people. This matter cannot be covered over with a simple apology”.
Turkey has been engaged in a diplomatic war of words with the three pillars of the so-called western alliance: the US, EU and NATO.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has accused the United States of funding the terrorist organisation of Fethullah Gulen as well as insulting Turkish dignity over failures to reconcile a row which began when Ankara arrested Turkish nationals working for the US Embassy in Turkey on allegations of being members of the Fethullah terrorist organisation. Washington’s reticence to engage in dialogue over Turkish requests to extradite Gulen, who is currently living in the US, has only added insult to injury, from Ankara’s perspective.
Turkey is also clearly also willing to stand up to NATO. The current disagreement over the “enemies list” compounded with effectively throwing out German military personnel and aircraft from NATO’s Incirlik Air Base, demonstrates that while maintaining formal membership of the US alliance, Turkey is prepared to exercise an independent policy vis-a-vis the rest of NATO.
Finally, the long running diplomatic row between the European Union and Ankara has led to Turkey withdrawing its long-standing application to join the EU. Erdogan has stated that Turkey no longer needs the EU and that EU member states discriminate against Turkish individuals in Europe.
While once inconceivable, Turkey may be on the verge of suspending its membership of NATO. It is still too early to state that this will be a short-term development, but longing to the longer term, Turkey and NATO seem to have less and less in common. NATO and Turkey now share more insults than joint strategic goals.
Erdogan’s recent assertion that the US has funded ISIS, is a further sign that Turkey is now openly challenging the predominate western narrative on the Middle East while aligning itself with the broader Eurasian narrative on the region.
The so-called western alliance has been pushing Turkey away just as surely as the wider Eurasian alliance has pulled Turkey closer. This phenomenon follows the trend of the west seeking ideological unity and economic partnerships that are grossly one-sided versus a Eurasian model that is willing to live with differences in both ideology and policy, in favour of placing a higher value on the bigger picture of long-term economic cooperation and cooperation over matters of mutual interests, in respect of security.
These push-pull factors have resulted in a Turkish pivot towards Eurasia. Turkey’s long-term economic interests are now far more reliant on Russia than on the EU. This has helped to guide Turkey to a position of abandoning its totally failed regime change policy in Damascus while also working with Russia to compromise on Turkey’s position against Kurdish ethno-nationalism in Syria and Iraq. Turkey could soon be guided by Russia into a compromise which sees Turkey make a commitment to an eventual peaceful withdrawal from Syrian territory, in-line with the wishes of the Syrian government. This will likely only happen if Turkey and its Astana partners (Russia and Iran) ensure that Kurdish ethno-nationalism ceases to be a major political force in the Arab world. This would be in Syria’s interest while Russia gently coaxing Turkey out of its occupation in Syria’s Idlib, could be the penultimate conclusion of matters once Turkey gets what it wants in terms of suppressing Kurdish militants. Likewise, Syria would get what it needs insofar as Turkish occupiers would cease being an issue in a post-conflict settlement, as would Kurdish designs on breaking apart Syria’s political and territorial unity.
Furthermore, Turkey and Iran continue to cooperate on issues of regional security as well as on trade and the expansion of economic ties. Turkey’s previous disagreements with the government of Iraq have been put to rest as Baghdad came to rely on both Turkey and Iran during its short and decisive security operation designed to restore law and order to Kurdish regions of northern Iraq.
Finally, Turkey is growing ever closer to China and has gradually moved to stop anti-Chinese provocations among certain quarters of the Turkish media, in a move designed to show Ankara’s long term enthusiasm for China’s One Belt–One Road and its respect for China’s own security concerns.
Turkey’s pivot towards its own historic Eurasian space is the result of pragmatism and patience winning out over the west’s ideology driven, financial capitalism powered alliances.
Turkey’s pursuit of logical self-interest has led to a calming down of the more radical elements of Turkish foreign policy while opening to doors to further compromise and cooperation along the lines of Russia’s Middle Eastern strategy for a healthy and respectful balance of power.