Turkish Geostrategy- trying to make sense?

The country seems to be in a category of its own. Perhaps its geographical position, making it a Balkan country in Europe, but also a country of the Caucasus, and a country of the Middle East, is responsible for what appears to be a major dilemma for the country to determine an international relations strategy.

A candidate to join the European Union, the negotiations seem to be getting nowhere. Abandoning this dream, the country’s foreign policy has become too removed from that of the EU.

The country has turned its attention to the Middle East where it wants to be respected as a regional power but it has failed in attempting to do so.

Turkey’s policy of being friendly with all its neighbors could have had as a final objective to induce the EU to take it as a necessary partner to enable it to be closer to the countries of the Middle East. Perhaps Turkey was even considering the establishment of a holy Islamic alliance and further its international trade and tourism. The events in Syria destroyed any hopes in that direction.

Turkey has set up ties with Hamas, Iran and Syria. However, its involvement often appears amateurish as it lacks an in depth knowledge of the area.

Turkey has been playing a role as a mediator in the relations between Shiite Iran and the West, having signed an agreement to ship enriched uranium in exchange for the uranium produced in Iran. Turkey’s main concern in its relationship with Iran is that the latter does not develop nuclear weapons.

The Kurd issue is also gaining pre-eminence not only because of the surprisingly good showing in the Turkish parliamentary election, allowing it to have seats in the parliament, but also because of the increasing successful role the Peshmergas are having in containing ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The Iraqi Kurds are producing oil which is exported to Turkey while the central government in Baghdad has raised major objections to deals done directly by the Kurdish regional government in exporting directly large quantities of oil.

Turkey’s position regarding Cyprus and Israel is also a major barrier for the country to have access to the gas fields in these two countries, although that would make economic sense.

Russia is Turkey’s most important energy supplier – two thirds of the natural gas imports is supplied by Russia as well as large quantities of coal and oil. This makes Turkey one of Russia’s largest gas customers and has led Russia to offer to build strategic reserves in Turkey as well as a nuclear power plant and the required fuel. The Blue Stream pipeline, which lies on the floor of the Black Sea, serves not only Turkey but also Southern Europe.

Russia and Turkey face each other along the shores of the Black Sea and both also have a presence in the eastern Mediterranean. However, for Russia to have a Mediterranean presence, its vessels need to cross the Bosporus which is controlled by Turkey.

With the exception of Tajikistan, the native population of Central Asia is of Turkic origin and their languages are very similar. Russia therefore fears that Turkey may view them as a possible zone of influence.

Turkey’s population being Sunni Moslems and an Islamic party now in power while in contradiction with the secular constitution, Russia fears that it may give refuge, if not fund, radical movements such as the ones in the Caucasus.

Turkey has also had an extraordinary behavior as a NATO ally, having conducted maneuvers with non-NATO members including China. President Erdogan has voiced his intention of joining China and Russia in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and has become a ‘dialogue partner’. Turkey is also acquiring ballistic missiles and related technology from China.

In conclusion, Turkey is not considered to be a good NATO ally, is not being considered European by EU member countries, is not Islamist enough, is not a great friend of Russia and is not outspoken enough against Iran.

The coalition that the last elections will produce will need to better define its position in an increasingly complex and dangerous world.

Michael Akerib
Michael Akerib
Michael Akerib, Vice-Rector, SWISS UMEF UNIVERSITY