Appeasement towards neo-Ottoman & pan-Turkic tendencies
It has now become a matter of routine among the leading superpowers and European states to look away when Turkey is about to cross the line again. Nevertheless, the tactic of appeasement policy is nothing new in European foreign policy. Historically, the term is symbolic of the period before the Second World War, when Britain and France tolerated the aggressive expansionist policies of the Germans. Until they themselves were finally affected by the German military machinery.
Turkish foreign policy, once an integral part of the Western alliance, has divided the minds of Europe since the reorientation of Turkish foreign policy. Since Erdogan, the foreign policy of the “sick man on the Bosporus” has been supplemented by increased nationalism and a retreat into Islamist tendencies. If Turkey was in the last century seen as one of the modern Muslim countries – at least in socio-political terms – today it is choking in the renewed Neo-Ottomanism and Pan-Turkism. Particularly since the weakening economy and domestic political instability, Turkish rulers have increasingly used foreign policy instruments to distract from internal problems on the one hand and to consolidate the society behind them on the other.
Ethnic conflicts are once again becoming more acute. At the same time, modern Turkey is constructing its own history out of a construction kit. To get back to foreign policy: Never before in the country’s modern history Turkey has had such a clear, symbolic and nationalistic rhetoric. A symbolism that undermines the mood in the region. Such as the change of the Hagia Sophia to a mosque. This symbolism sums up the contemporary spirit of the Turkish society well. The statements of leading Turkish leaders resemble a permanent election campaign for the votes of the conservative AKP and nationalist MHP voters. The leadership has a broken relationship with the liberal forces within the country, so it must win the favour of the MHP, an ultra-nationalist party. This leads to a situation in which the years of extreme right-wing agitation by the Grey Wolves are increasingly reflected in statements by leading politicians.
Neo-Expansionism: The combination of Nationalism and Islamist tendencies
The constant of Turkish security policy has always been the Kurdish problem. The establishment of Kurdish dominance in the region was to be prevented for Turkey in any case. We know that Turkey is willing to do anything when it comes to the Kurdish problem. And Turkey has a rich history of persecution and killing of ethnic minorities. In modern politics, Turkey does not shy away from taking action against Kurds, Kurdish politicians, mayors or exerting foreign policy pressure. The arrest of the leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP party is only one aspect of this. Turkey is not afraid to take action against Kurds in foreign policy either, and above all in military terms. The importance Turkey attributes to this can be seen from the fact that it even accepts the invasion of Syria in violation of international law, or threatens its Iraqi neighbours with military intervention.
Namely, Neo-Ottomanism, which is increasingly focused on the Middle East and partly the Balkans, and Pan-Turkism, which is more oriented towards the Caucasus and Central Asia.
But apart from the Kurdish constant, a turnaround and a radicalisation has become established, especially since the end of the Cold War and above all since Erdogan’s inauguration. While Turkey was a clear member of the Western alliance as a Soviet border neighbour until the end of the Cold War, its relationship with the great powers has become much more opportune today. Since the end of the Cold War, two things in particular have changed: Firstly, the removal of the hegemony on Turkey’s borders, which restricted Turkish expansionist policies. Secondly, the disintegration of the Soviet Union has given rise to five independent Turkic-speaking states – namely Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. This mainly fuels the nationalist elements within Turkey, which have become increasingly vocal in recent years. Two Turkish-nationalist concepts that appeal to different regions of the world are partly served in parallel by the nationalists and also by the leading party: Namely, Neo-Ottomanism, which is increasingly focused on the Middle East and partly the Balkans, and Pan-Turkism, which is more oriented towards the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The invasion of northern Syria, the threatening gestures towards Iraq are only a partial aspect of this. Turkey is also increasingly turning against a NATO partner, namely Greece. The extremely tense situation between Greece, Cyprus on the one hand and Turkey on the other hand is being skilfully exploited by Turkey due to the silence of European partners, but also Russia and the USA. The invasion of northern Syria would not be possible without a green light from both Russia and the USA. Among other things, by violating Cypriot waters in order to start drilling oil wells in those waters. Or, for example, the daily airspace violations against Greece and the open and unconditional claim to Greek territory. By means of an ambiguous alliance policy, Turkey is trying to gain a foothold in Libya – and without any reaction from the international community.
In the Caucasus, Turkey is pursuing a goal that the Turkish ruler had publicly declared only a few days earlier: “The completion of the mission of the grandfathers”. In other words, not only in words, but also in actions, Turkey is showing a consistently anti-Armenian policy in the Caucasus. Ankara not only openly declares its support for Azerbaijan, but also openly supports the autocracy on the Caspian Sea with weapons. Turkish foreign policy in the Caucasus is geared towards weakening the Armenian presence, and ideally eliminating it. Of course Turkey cannot afford to provoke open confrontation – there are too many opponents in the Caucasus for that.
The tightrope walk: Between appeasement and confrontation
Moreover, Turkey does not have the once clearly defined foreign policy rival from which it had to protect itself – namely the Soviet Union. This also means that Turkey no longer depends on NATO, especially when Ankara is manoeuvring between Moscow and Washington. Despite considerable foreign policy and military activity, many regional and global players tolerate Turkish advances. Both for Russia, on the one hand, and for the USA and Eastern and Northern European countries, on the other, Turkey has become far too important. While Turkey remains geographically important for NATO troops, Russian’s are tolerating, even launching Russian-Turkish patrols in Syria. Turkey marks the transition between the Western and Russian spheres of influence, but also between the Orient and Occident. From a geographical point of view, Turkey is very important and provides the second largest army within NATO after the USA.
The only reason Turkey can afford to manoeuvre between Washington and Moscow is because both sides have an interest in the country. Nevertheless, it is crucial for Turkey not to overstep the mark in either direction. It is a tightrope walk which could backfire. States weigh up the costs and benefits of a partnership. Should Turkey, in the course of its newly created Neo-Ottomanism and Pan-Turkism, scratch too much at Western or Russian interests, it could become a dangerous act for the state on the Bosporus. The neo-Ottoman ambitions – above all in the Balkans and in the European region in general – are hardly met with goodwill. At the same time, Russia observes Turkish activity in Northern Syria, the Caucasus and Central Asia with suspicion. Central Asia, where, according to Turkish nationalist intellectuals, the great Turan is supposed to extend, is especially important for both the Chinese and Russian spheres of influence.
The Turkish presence within the Arab world is also not without controversy: with its questionable alliance with Libyan groups, Turkey has above all incurred Egyptian anger. Egypt is a regional power with a strong military apparatus that counteracts Turkish interests, especially in North Africa. In addition, relations with Iraq, a number of Arab states, but also with Iran and Israel are very tense. However, the states mentioned above have difficult relations with each other, which Turkey manages to use to its advantage.
Nevertheless, the appeasement policy towards Turkey is not a matter of regularity, but a factor that is causing disruption, especially within the EU and the NATO pact.
Nevertheless, the appeasement policy towards Turkey is not a matter of regularity, but a factor that is causing disruption, especially within the EU and the NATO pact. While mostly Eastern and Northern European states as well as Great Britain consider Turkey an irreplaceable partner, some exercise restraint or openly oppose Turkish influence. For many European states Turkey is not only important militarily towards Russia and the Middle East, but also in terms of migration policy. Thus, some states prefer to accept neo-Ottoman activities at their own doorstep rather than let the fragile refugee deal collapse. Within Europe, a bundle of Turkey-sceptical states has also formed, which are increasingly distancing themselves from Turkey. The Netherlands and Austria, along with Greece and Cyprus, are among the traditionally anti-Turkish countries and are pursuing a correspondingly consistent position. Indeed, Austria occasionally even stings with the initiative to formally end the accession negotiations with Turkey. Germany, too, which is known for its pragmatic foreign policy, occasionally takes a stance against Turkey, but tries not to damage the relationship too much, especially because of the refugee deal and the German soldiers based in Turkey. A growing rift develops between France and Turkey. The French, in particular, do not like the Turkish expansion in the Mediterranean area, such as in Libya. While France feels increasingly pushed back in its sphere of influence, Turkey is trying to consolidate its own sphere of influence.
Learning from the past: A warning signal for Europe
Turkish activities are unprecedented for the 21st century in their speed, determination and aggressiveness. The dangerous combination of Turkish-influenced Islamism and nationalist ideologies creates an unpredictable and, above all, unreliable actor in the Middle East who knows its own worth and deliberately tries to blackmail partner states in foreign policy. Nevertheless, the Turkish balancing act between East and West and the fragile relations with almost all neighbouring states could thwart Turkey’s expansion plans in the medium and long term and become a disaster. The permanent election campaign mood and the internal weakness among the country’s leaders are leading to an increasingly radical and above all undiplomatic rhetoric. The history of appeasement policy should be familiar to all regional and global players and a warning signal for the future. After all, internal European state security is not only to be found in Europe, it begins in the Middle East. Individual NATO and EU states would do well to support Greece, a reliable ally with close cultural and ideological ties, instead of tolerating Turkish power politics.