OK. I was wrong. I thought that the Israeli assault on the Turkish flotilla would have sunk the vote on sanctions against Iran. It did not. Whether these sanctions work or not, and I don’t believe that they will achieve the desired result, is not really the question. Israel is now more isolated than ever, as is Iran. The vote against the resolution by Turkey and Brazil was more about regional muscle-flexing and desire to play a larger role in their regions and the world, than their understandable anger over the snub of their nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran – which is not entirely dead depending on the next move by the US.
Turkey has faced the fact that the opposition by France, Germany and Austria to EU membership has killed the prospect regardless of previous commitments by Brussels to move forward. It has now turned to its old domains in the east and south to increase and solidify Turkish influence and power and it is succeeding.
Ankara may have genuinely believed in the uranium swap deal; but, regardless of the outcome, it has placed itself solidly in the regional power column, independent of the US while still remaining within NATO. Turkey principal competition is Iran. They are not allies and the Iranian brand of Islamic rule is not palatable in Turkey. The attack on the Turkish flotilla has elevated Turkey’s standing in the region as the pre-eminent political power. By voting “no” in the UN against sanctions and joining with Brazil in a nuclear fuel swap deal, its political capital in the Middle East leaped multiple levels. All these events come at Iran’s expense and make Turkey a leader in the region, wielding political and military clout that cannot be safely ignored. Even Russia knows this and has been careful to rapidly build closer economic ties to Turkey. Although Turkey is heavily dependent on Russia for energy, Moscow knows that Turkey can create serious problems for it in the Caucuses and less so in Central Asia.
Brazil, meanwhile, is rapidly asserting its independence and strength in South America and has shown that it can be a player of international scope. Brasilia has increased its trade relationships with China, Russia, West Africa and the Middle East, especially now Turkey. Clearly the leading political and economic power in South America (despite the pretensions of the Chavez regime), it is in a position to require the US to pay attention to its views. Joining with Turkey in the nuclear fuel swap agreement puts Brazil on the map outside of its region.
Russian agreement on the new sanctions also reflects an awareness that it will need to be more sensitive to a multi-polar world. Although it clearly may indulge in more aggressive behaviour in the Caucuses, any such further adventure will come at a steep price as it tries to build ties with Turkey. Turkey is in a position to make life easier for Russia in the Caucuses and may ultimately be instrumental in resolving the long-running confrontation between Yerevan and Baku. By asserting its independence from the US when its interests conflict with those of Washington, Turkey is leveraging its regional strength and becoming a trusted broker.
All the recent events are pointing toward a new balance of power where regional interests can trump traditional alliances. The US can no longer rely on Turkey or Brazil to tow any particular line if their national interests would be adversely affected. For that matter, neither can Russia or the EU. Each must deal with the regional powers in a different way. The now famous BRIC bloc is not really accurate. Drop the R and add a T. Welcome to the new world.