Authors: Richard Caroll and Jozef Bicerano
Modern Turkey was founded in 1923, and ever since then, Turkey has moved toward the western world; she has modernized her political, social, and economic policies along western lines. Turkish policy makers had hoped that this westernization of Turkey would open up Turkey to more investment, cultural and political ties to the European nations. Turkey’s application to enter the then “European Community” (EC) in 1959 reflected Turkey’s ambitions as well as its desire to limit Greek influence in the EC.
The progress of Turkish-European talks has progressed in fits and starts, and as of 2023 Turkey is no closer to joining the now European Union. The EU has dragged its feet for decades in the process towards granting membership to Turkey, but the EU will be the real loser if Turkey finally runs out of patience and loses interest in membership.
De-Globalization is Leading to an Increasingly Multi-Polar World
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has slowly been withdrawing from its global presence; this had led to an emerging multi-polar world. Whether this is a good thing, or a bad thing will not be discussed here. What will be discussed in this article is the effects of that withdrawal on the balance of power in Europe and West Asia.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle coined the phrase “Power abhors a vacuum.” The outbreak of the Russo-Ukraine war is a distinct product of the retreat of the United States in certain areas of the world. As Russia has devoted more and more of its military strength to the Ukrainian front, it has withdrawn troops from around its periphery that includes the Caucuses. With the tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia simmering, Turkey is slowly but steadily advancing its own interests in the Caucuses and inching ever closer to the borders of Iran.
The European Union’s Need for a Strong Southern Flank
With organized violence on the rise throughout the periphery of the European Union, The EU needs a strong military presence, especially on the EU’s southern flank. Not only for defense against a hostile power, but to ensure a steady supply of energy resources now that supplies are cut off from Russia. Turkey can do both.
Turkey’s military strength is rated as the 15th ranked military power in the world according to the Global Fire Power index. The Turkish military strength is estimated to be over 1 million members that includes the regular army, paramilitary and naval forces. Turkey has the world’s 9th largest air force in the world.
Turkey occupies the Anatolian Peninsula. This is where Europe meet Asia. The Anatolian Peninsula is also called Asia Minor. The geo-strategic position of Turkey is extremely important, it is a “hinge” so to say between Asia and Europe. With Turkey in NATO, the EU currently has no need to concern itself with its southern border. But with the balance of power changing in the world, the EU cannot be assured that Turkey will continue to guard her south flank. By dragging its feet on admitting Turkey to the EU, The EU risks losing Turkey as an allied power, and in the future might find her southern flank threatened by Turkey.
The Cultural Differences Between Turkey and Europe
While Turkey has trended to western values, it should be noted that Turkey is subject to the cultural influence of Arab countries to a much greater extent than Europe. Because of this Europe seizes on any disturbance on internal Turkish politics as a suppression of human rights. For examples thousands of government employees, and military personnel were either fired or arrested for their participation in the attempted coup against Erdogan in July of 2016.
Turkey has hostile relations with Cyprus and Greece, and that is a significant problem. The Seville Map which drew the lines of the Exclusive Economic Zones of Turkey and Greece, which blatantly favored Greece did not help.
In 2018 the EU suspended accession talks with Turkey, referencing Erdogan’s crackdown after the 2016 coup attempt. An article in the NY Times said:
“E.U. diplomats believe Turkey is highly unlikely to join the E.U. anytime soon, if ever, saying the country’s standards on the rule of law and respect for human rights have worsened in recent years.”
Yet, the EU continuously holds out the carrot of accession in order to persuade Turkey to acquiesce into allowing Sweden to join NATO. It should be noted here that Greece and Cyprus received much less scrutiny in their applications, despite their serious shortcomings in human rights and economic progress. In addition, the fast tracking of Ukraine for EU membership demonstrates that some countries are more equal than others.
What must also be taken into consideration is that the EU is reluctant to allow a Muslim country into the EU, and extend the EU borders to Iraq, Syria and possibly Iran depending on the issue in the Caucuses.
The Benefits to Europe with Turkey a Member in the European Union
In addition to Turkey’s military strength, the addition of Turkey to the EU would be a much-needed-injection of new blood, and economic dynamism to the statist economies of the EU.
Turkey would also function as a land barrier to the migration that is now taking place.
With Europeans traveling to Turkey, and Turks traveling to the EU, a cultural assimilation comparable to the era of Hellenization would occur. The concept of human rights, and the rule of law would find fertile ground in a Turkish population that has the education level to accept these concepts. Such interaction would mitigate, stop, or possibly reverse the drift of Turkey into the Arab sphere of influence. Having Turkey in the EU is better than having Turkey outside of the EU. It strengthens, rather than diminishes, the EU.
In the words of former President Lyndon Johnson, “It is better to have your enemy inside the tent pissing out, then outside the tent pissing in.”
Having Turkey inside the EU provides Europe with a strong, and vigilant ally in the right place, at the right time in a period of rising world instability.