Likewise, will Joe of Scranton give Erdogan the “Come on man!” No clumsiness! ” treatment? It would certainly warm the hearts of a range of lawmakers, political experts, journalists, human rights activists and dissidents, but it probably won’t mean much even if Biden privately reads Erdogan l act of riot. Despite the braying for a pound of Turkish flesh in Washington these days, those who expected fireworks at the Biden-Erdogan meeting will likely be disappointed. There is little that Biden can do in the face of Turkey’s geopolitical dilemma, and he’s unlikely to recognize the tension – at least publicly – given his focus on mending transatlantic ties. and shows solidarity with its allies. Ankara will remain a NATO ally on paper, but it has long since ceased to be a partner – and that is not about to change.
Turkey’s advantage in NATO has always been its location. Close to Russia, the Middle East and the Balkans, the country is an indispensable asset on NATO’s south-eastern flank. This always gave Ankara some freedom to pursue policies that didn’t quite align with NATO, whether it was the mild authoritarianism of four successful military coups between 1960 and 1997. or the occupation of northern Cyprus which began in 1974 and continues today. . In recent years, Erdogan, who sees Turkey as a great power in its own right, has tested the limits of Ankara’s privileged position.
While Biden is unlikely to berate Erdogan on cameras in Brussels, his administration has responded to the long list of irritants on the US-Turkey agenda by significantly changing the tone of bilateral relations. The State Department has been exceptionally harsh (by its own standard) on the Turkish government’s use of riot police against student protesters and the mock trial of a Turkish businessman and American scholar who have been absurdly accused of instigating the failed July 2016 coup d’état. The White House itself issued a statement when Turkey withdrew from a 2011 multinational agreement to address domestic violence against women, which the Turkish president’s office said was “a[ed] by a group trying to normalize homosexuality.
And then, of course, there was the recognition of the Armenian genocide, something Armenian-American activists hoped to see from President Barack Obama, but he kicked for fear of upsetting a key American ally. Much has changed since then, however.
Other older differences between the allies include the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, where the United States relied on a Kurdish fighting force that Turkey considers a terrorist organization; the presence of Erdogan’s nemesis, Fethullah Gulen, in the United States; and the beating that Turkish security agents inflicted on US citizens protesting against Erdogan in May 2017.
Less well understood on this side of the Atlantic is that Ankara has proven to be a major headache for NATO, given its often untimely relationship with other members of the alliance. Last summer, for example, Turkey precipitated a crisis with other NATO allies, Greece and France. In short, Turkey has drawn a maritime border with Libya that has no legal basis and has essentially cut the Mediterranean in half – in addition to coming dangerously close to the Greek island of Crete (where there could be large submarine gas deposits). France, which considers itself a Mediterranean power, opposed the Turkish move, as did the Greeks, for obvious reasons. At the same time, Turkey was looking for gas in the waters of the Republic of Cyprus – which is a member of the EU, but not of NATO – precipitating a display of Greek and French military support to the island.
There were no shots, but it was hardly a given. Beyond the Mediterranean, Turkey last year also threatened to send Syrian and other refugees to Greece and other European and NATO countries.
In a sense, all this muscle flexing was a rational response to what Turkey’s leaders saw as an effort by Greece (and its allies Egypt, Cyprus, and Israel) to lock Turkey into a very small part of the Mediterranean. , despite its 995 miles. coastline with this body of water. In another sense, Turkey was demonstrating that it nurtures its own geopolitical interests distinct from those of NATO – a reality the alliance has yet to face, but little can do either.
And then there is Russia. Turkey and Russia have deepened their trade, diplomatic and military ties in recent years, but this relationship is not as straightforward as is generally believed.
The most important indication of Turkey’s ambivalence towards NATO has been Erdogan’s determination to purchase and deploy the Russian S-400 air defense system – the most sophisticated in Moscow’s arsenal – despite the objections of the United States and its European allies. Despite repeated US warnings, Turkey’s withdrawal from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and the imposition of sanctions by an angry Congress, Turkey has closed the deal.
For some observers, the S-400 saga clearly shows that Ankara is aligned with Moscow. Likewise, a few weeks ago angry European diplomats leaked to the press that Turkey had watered down a NATO statement condemning the Belarusian hijacking of a Ryanair flight to apprehend a dissident journalist. The Europeans have hinted that Turkey wants to take a softer stance against Belarus because of Erdogan’s desire to curry favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But scathing critics of Ankara in Europe and the United States often forget that the Turkish and Russian governments are poles apart from every major conflict in the regions concerned, including Syria, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh and Ukraine. . If so, why would the Turkish government buy the S-400, and why did Erdogan and Putin work so hard to compartmentalize their differences?
The answer can be seen in a statement by Home Secretary Suleyman Soylu just before the first S-400 components arrived at an air base outside Ankara. The pugnacious minister declared that it was Turkey’s “independence day”, that is, its independence from NATO and the United States. Turkish nationalists like Erdogan and Soylu resent what they perceive to be NATO’s long-term effort to make Ankara just an appendage of the alliance that should pursue the interests and goals of others. country. Instead, Ankara’s rulers regard Turkey on a par with the major European powers. They also see their country as a Mediterranean power, a Eurasian power and a Muslim power.
In this context, Turkey’s relations with Russia take on a somewhat different tint. Erdogan’s cooperation with Russia in some areas is not a sign that he is Putin’s stooge, just as his opposition to Russia on other matters does not make Ankara a bulwark against Moscow than his NATO allies want it to be. On the contrary, Erdogan’s double-edged approach underscores Ankara’s determination to be an independent and powerful player on the global stage in its own right.
This is what makes the debate in NATO over how to deal with this troublesome ally so complicated. The allies understand Turkey’s value and want to keep it, but Erdogan seems to be hesitant about the importance of NATO to Turkey. He does not want to withdraw from it, but his actions suggest that he does not believe that an international order led by America – and therefore by NATO – strengthens Turkish power. Whatever happens between the American and Turkish presidents in Belgium, Turkish leaders have and will continue to warn their NATO partners that the country will pursue its own goals, even if it means conflict with its allies.
Rather than sweeping Turkish bad behavior under the rug like previous administrations have done, Biden seems to have taken a different approach: working with Erdogan on areas of common interest, such as Ukraine and security of the United States. Black Sea, but with a focus on what was once considered a critical bilateral relationship.
The Biden-Erdogan meeting will likely be as cold as the April reading, but the NATO summit will end as it started: with leaders still complaining about Ankara’s role in mitigating the decline of the alliance against Belarus, the S-400 issue is probably still unresolved and American doubts about an important but difficult ally unchanged. In other words, Turkey is a problem and don’t expect Biden or Erdogan to do much about it anytime soon.