To view The Economist article, please click here.
The Economist posits that Prime Minister Erdogan's effort to cultivate greater energy ties with Iran will help his country's chances to join the European Union in the future. It believes that Turkey's heightened role as an energy transportation corridor will only increase its strategic value to the EU.
While these energy developments will certainly not hurt Turkey's bid to join the EU, it seems unlikely that they will represent a deciding factor in the EU's admission process as The Economist might be suggesting.
Simple economic and geographic realities dictate that Europe is by far the most important and logical market for any energy supplies flowing through Turkey. This will be the case whether or not Turkey is eventually offered the opportunity to join the EU.
It is therefore the opinion of this observer that that the EU would not gain any meaningful, strategic energy advantage by drafting Turkey into its ranks. The lack of formalized political ties between the Republic of Turkey and the EU will not influence the realities that govern Turkey's future energy transportation business with Europe.
In addition to Azerbaijan's close geopolitical ties with the United States, Iran is primarily concerned with Azerbaijan's territorial claims in the resource-rich Caspian Sea.
While ancestry plays an important role in anchoring Turkish interest in Central Asia, more contemporary interests related to economic and political influence have developed this relationship further. Until the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkey's connection to its Turkic cousins in Central Asia was considerably limited due to the Soviet Union's suzerainty in these areas. When the fall of the Soviet Union opened the Turkic countries of Central Asia to outside influences, Turkey considered itself in a prime position to augment its influence in Eurasia.
Turkey's contemporary attempts to make inroads in Central Asian affairs peaked in the middle of the 1990s. Hoping to renew older attempts to forge Pan-Turkism under the direction of the secular and western-oriented direction of Ankara, Turkey set out to promote new modes of cooperation in the Turkic world. Although Turkey was successful in realizing the adoption of Latin script in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, their efforts to create greater cultural, political and economic cooperation were stymied. Progress was made in Azerbaijan due to a shared antipathy for Armenia, but Turkey was unable to overcome the lingering obstacles related to the Soviet era in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Since meaningful progress was not made during this first post-Soviet attempt, the cause of Pan-Turkism seems to have been abandoned for the time being.
American military activities and the new Great Game to control the flow of Central Asia's energy resources have dominated the region's geopolitical headlines during the past decade. Compared to its political initiatives in Europe and along its southern borders, Turkey has not been particularly active in the east. Making deals to transport Central Asian energy through Turkey's system of pipelines represent the recent highlights of Ankara's dealings in Central Asia.
Joshua Foust of Registan.net recently wrote a piece about the future of Central Asian geopolitics entitled, "Iran and China Rise; Shall Russia and the U.S. Fade Away?" While his insights are all quite sound, it is remarkable how Foust does not feel it necessary to mention the possibility of Turkey playing a bigger role in Central Asia's geopolitics. When asked about this omission by this observer, Foust answered:
I certainly see Turkey trying (they’ve made a few weak stabs at it), but I don’t see how they can overcome the heft of Iran, Russia, China, the U.S., or the EU. The Turkic connection exists, but it’s also fairly weak, as you rightly said. There remains more cultural affinity for, depending on the country, China, Russia, or Iran—no one seems to want to announce Turkey as their best friend. Which, I think, is too bad. I would prefer Turkey to Russia or Iran or China any day.It would seem that Turkey can not afford to continue this course of treading lightly in Central Asia. Central Asia simply has too much economic significance for Turkey's future. Although the United States currently protects Turkey's interests as a conduit for Central Asian energy, Turkey should not depend on this arrangement alone. While Ankara does not possess the same financial resources as Beijing or Moscow to back its policy in Central Asia, it will become more capable as the Turkish economy receives more foreign investment.
If Turkey does not pursue its interests in Central Asia more aggressively, it ultimately risks losing Central Asian energy to ports on the Persian Gulf and to pipelines built by Russia and China. Such a fate would significantly diminish Turkey's standing in the region.
This piece outlines Russia's energy strategy and competitive interests related to future pipeline development in the region. Its consideration of Chinese interests in Central Asia is also noteworthy.
In July 2007, The Bosphorus Watch featured its first article about Turkey's recent maneuverings concerning pipeline politics in Eurasia.
Over the course of the summer the Turkish military shelled positions inside the Iraqi border, causing a buzz among pundits concerning the possibility of a full-scale invasion. On July 30th, Robert Novak broke the news that the Turkish and the American military were preparing a joint operation meant to suppress PKK guerilla activites in the border areas. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's media outlet reported on August 6th that significant numbers of Turkish special forces are currently operating in Iraqi territory.
While Tuesday's agreement does have diplomatic significance for the relations between Iraq and Turkey, it is of little military significance in the eyes of this observer. The Iraqi military is a set of statistics in the minds of Pentagon bureaucracy. Middle East pundits are foolish to think that Iraqi cooperation will somehow improve Turkey's efforts to eradicate the PKK in Iraqi territory.
Moreoever, al-Maliki was not able to actually formalize Tuesday's agreement since he was required to seek approval from his parliament. Even if he does receive such approval, al-Maliki has had little success realizing such divisive initiatives through his country's fractured government. If anything, Tuesday's agreement coupled with the news of American military cooperation has merely paused the discussion in Turkey concerning the possibility of military actions in Iraq.
Turkey observers should also be cautioned for their tendency to hang onto every word expressed by Turkey's generals concerning an invasion of Iraq. A sustained and full-scale invasion of northern Iraq with its substantial border force would be a very expensive proposition. While Turkish forces would certainly inflict considerable damage on the PKK guerillas, it would seem very unlikely that an invasion would result in their total destruction. As the events of America's war in Iraq have shown, it seems likely that PKK forces would evade Turkish military incursions by slipping into neighboring Syria or Iran. Although these countries are by no means friends of the PKK, they have sporadically used the PKK as a destabilization tool against Turkey for almost two decades.
Finally, economic issues related to a Turkish assault on northern Iraq deserve greater consideration in the opinion of this observer. In his article entitled, "PKK Insurgency Grows as AK Party Renews Debate on Cross-Border Operations", Gareth Jenkins of the Jamestown Foundation refers to a series of pieces in the Turkish newspaper, Milliyet, which outline Turkey's growing economic presence in the Kurdish region of Iraq. To compromise the surplus of trade, jobs and investment opportunities that Turkey enjoys in northern Iraq would not appear to be prudent.
In addition, extensive Turkish military activities in the Kurdish areas of Iraq would certainly disrupt the ongoing positive economic trends experienced in the region. The certain cessation of foreign investment in the area governed by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), due to Turkish military operations in the region, would give the KRG reason to push for more autonomy and possibly the creation of a new Kurdish state. Such a scenario would certainly cause Ankara greater consternation than the current situation involving pesky PKK guerrillas based in northern Iraq.
For this observer, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this July political experiment did not actually take place within the borders of Turkey. Rather, the very inadequate manner in which the election was covered in much of the Western press deserves great criticism. In particular, it seems more than fair to point a finger at the American media, which continued to use a litany of recycled analysis for its election coverage.
The journalist intelligentsia at publications ranging from the New York Times to Salon.com appear to have a one-track mind when it comes to analyzing Turkish affairs. They repeatedly choose to explain their analysis of Turkey in the following light: An election as complex as the country in which it is taking place or the clash of two Turkey's - one secular and one religious or Turkey is increasingly turning its attention away from Europe and the West. While some of these statements or observations might indeed hold some truth, they are nonetheless woefully superficial in terms of their level of helpful analysis.
In short, these journalists would appear to be interviewing my English students (upper-middle class, educated, secular) as opposed to my taxi driver from the Istanbul airport (lower-middle class, uneducated, religiously observant but not necessarily conservative), who predicted on June 25th that the AKP would win the July 22nd election without any trouble. His thesis was straight to the point: Turkish people were pleased with the country's strong economic performance under the AKP. As it turned out, the taxi driver was a very accurate observer of his fellow countrymen; the majority of Turkish people don't particularly care about the dialog concerning Turkey's place in Europe or whether they were drifting away from democracy or toward the east. What does concern them is whether they have a job in order to feed their family.
In the aftermath of this decisive victory for the AKP, Turkey's secular upper class elite continues to howl about the prospect of their country evolving into an Iranian style society by November. The irony of this clamoring is that they are essentially complaining about a possible outcome delivered by the very system that they so strongly associate with their secular society -- democracy!
Erdoğan and the AKP did not come to power through a 1979-style Islamic revolution. Nevertheless, these compassionate supports of secularism will neither accept the democratic will of their fellow countrymen, nor do they even have genuine faith in the prospect of a future democratic election turning the country in a direction, which is more favorable to their interests. Instead, they accuse Prime Minister Erdoğan of wanting to dismantle the democratic system and/or impose Islamic Sharia law on the country.
Unfortunately, Turkish society is not yet ready to accept the idea that democracy can serve as a vehicle for *co-existing* social views or political opinions in a single society. Whether one is a religious conservative or an ardent secularist, the Turkish people still tend to maintain the "all or nothing" mentality, which was originally instilled in them by Ataturk. I very much doubt that Turkey will organically evolve into a society that maintains a certain level of self-awareness regarding the values of pluralism. Perhaps the only hope for this, if it is in fact pluralism is important or relevant for Turkey, is through the continuation of the stick and carrot strategy utilized by the EU.