Monday, July 25, 2011

Crescent Rising - Part 1

Unofficial Turkish emblem (This is not the Tur...Image via Wikipedia
First, a thimbleful of background, as this is not meant to detail the complexities of the rise of the Turkish state but establish their parallax view.
Back in the not so distant past, Turkey towed the line.  As a subservient, reliable partner of the West during the Cold War, Turkey could be counted on to do and say whatever NATO and the US wanted.  Of course, the new nation, founded only in 1922 after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and subsequent revolution led by Kamal Ataturk, was less than 25 years old when the Cold War started.   Ataturk, of course, pulled Turkey abruptly into the West and moved its capital from imperial Constantinople to the somewhat desolate Ankara in the center of the Anatolian plateau.  In the process, he stripped away the old imperial trappings and mindset which had brought the Ottomans in on the wrong side of the war, albeit with the significant encouragement of Allied incompetence and, not to put too fine a point on it, British arrogance, adeptly exploited by Berlin.
After the end of the Second World War, during which the new nation of Turkey intelligently remained a neutral, the government – out of historical habit and national interests – moved even closer to the West and became the southern bulwark against the equally new Russian empire now called the Soviet Union.   Turkish foreign policy, dictated by its generals, became whatever NATO and hence US foreign policy, needed it to be.  That was the view from Ankara then.
I suspect one can look to the events of the early 1970s when this easy relationship began to go off the rails in Cyprus as far as Ankara was concerned.  Between 1960 and 1974, Cyprus was a unified republic composed of a Greek majority and Turkish minority, mostly located in the north.  When Greek nationalists began to agitate for annexation by Greece, and complemented their desires with attacks on the Turkish minority (who retaliated at times, but were significantly outnumbered), Ankara became understandably concerned.  Then came the military coup in Greece led by ultra-nationalists which, although a NATO member like Turkey, took a far more aggressive stance toward Cyprus that alarmed Ankara enough to occupy the northern part of Cyprus in 1974.  This was intended as a temporary occupation pending a solution to the crises.  In 1983 the now military rulers in Ankara created the Republic of Northern Cyprus.  The crisis is still pending almost 40 years’ later and temporary has hardened to permanent.
Turkish leadership through this period was anchored on the military which, regardless of the country, is genetically wired not to give up ground.  Ankara’s generals clearly viewed the Greeks with suspicion (a mutual perception), were entirely disinclined to cooperate with anyone over Cyprus (including the UN which wanted re-unification) and anyway, liked their new base in the Eastern Med.  
Turkish attitudes and interests changed dramatically with the election of the AKP in 2003 and the move toward integration with the EU which considered the division of Cyprus with some distaste.  As far as the AKP was concerned, they went above and beyond to please the EU.  Unfortunately, the EU  was, to say the least, unresponsive and Turkish attitudes have been formed by that lack of EU approval to Ankara’s efforts - in full – to support to the U.N. unification plan proposed by the then secretary general Kofi Annan.  Unsurprisingly, nationalists in both Ankara and Nicosia were infuriated with the idea that there might be some solution.  There was no reward for the efforts by the AKP and Turkey to accept the UN plan and when a referendum was held in Cyprus, which would have resulted in re-unification, the Turkish population voted overwhelmingly to support it while the Greeks rejected the plan.   Shortly thereafter, the EU welcomed the Greeks who voted “no” into the EU club proving to Ankara that, as far as they and Europe were concerned,  no good deed goes unpunished. 
Ankara’s growing, but still reversible assessment by 2005 was that if it followed the rules of the club it was trying to join, its reward would be rejection. Even by 2003 It was feeling far more confident politically and economically – a trend which began before the AKP took power and originated around the time of the abrupt collapse of the Soviet Union. Turkey viewed that particular event as an opportunity for itself – not NATO or the EU.  It rapidly increased its presence in the former Soviet colonies in Turkic Central Asia and Azerbaijan.  It ramped up trade and investment with both the Russian Federation and Ukraine and extended its diplomatic clout regionally.  Turkey was looking out for its interests first.  The Cyprus problem, largely a result in its view of broken promises by the EU, began the ascent to regional power.
This brings us to the recent past and the next post on the view from Ankara.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Putin's Enlightenment Award Vaporizes

Official portrait of Vladimir PutinImage via Wikipedia
The prize I referred to below that was bestowed on Vladimir Putin was withdrawn.  The Quadriga Prize, bestowed on the anniversary of German reunification on October 3, is a private award that recognizes "role models for enlightenment, dedication and the public good."

Awarding it to Putin was a travesty - now corrected.  Medvedev's mild rebuke for the revocation is telling.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thoughts for the Day

BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 21:  In this photo illu...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Before moving on to discussing the new, old world order two thoughts for the day:

1.  Is anyone - except right wing troglodytes - upset about what is happening to the troglodyte in chief Rupert and his mini-trog son?  Bring it on and bring him down.
2.  Germany's attitude toward Greece and the future of the Eurozone, not to mention the EU, is a direct example of my new, old world order.  But then, what do you expect from a country which just awarded Vladimir Putin a coveted prize by ignoring his destruction of the fledgeling Russian democracy?
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, July 18, 2011

New, Old World Order

I am, finally, returning to a thesis not widely supported but which I believe is rapidly taking shape: the world has returned to a pre-1939 political structure where regional powers are making more foreign policy decisions based on national interests rather than within alliances. Blocs like NATO, ASEAN and even Shanghai Cooperation Organization are have become largely clubs without transnational impact, except at times militarily like NATO, and even then are severely constrained by the conflicting international interests of their members.  This is also true of the European Union where the political (and perhaps fiscal) unraveling of the Eurozone is proceeding apace.
Some caveats.  First, this is not about the perceived decline of the United States because it is not a decline except in relative terms.  It is about the reality of multi-polarity and local dominance and not absolute decline and fall – something a vast number of Europeans and Americans simply are too reluctant or obtuse to understand. The United States is still the leading military power on a planet-wide basis in general.  Its navy with accompanying air power can go anywhere, anytime and push anyone out of the way. No one can project military power like the US and no one is going to be able to do so for a very long time. In the wrong hands, as we have seen, that has been a problem.  But, there is simply no competition.
Nevertheless, on land and in foreign affairs, it is a different matter. The ill-conceived war in Iraq and the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan have drained the power of the United States militarily, economically and politically.  The policies of the neo-cons and the far right in the US have destroyed the “city on the hill” image that Ronald Reagan tried to push both domestically and internationally. The eight year Bush administration buried the credibility, economy and good will felt toward the US with its astonishingly arrogant, incompetent (but unsurprising) foreign policy otherwise known as the ‘go-it-alone’, ‘with us or against us’ and ‘international agreements be damned’ posturing. 
Second, the European Union remains a creation with enormous potential; but the failure to push for more political integration is now fraying the edges of its economic foundation.  If it is able to resolve the fiscal issues of its member states fairly, then the opportunity to conduct a unified foreign policy will have a chance.  It is not, in my opinion, likely.  Which is why the EU is not included in my list as an entity – just a few member states.
Third, a seismic event could reverse the trend toward the nation-centric foreign policy of pre-1939. I believe in the improbable and dismiss facile bell curves, models and forecasts based on hindsight. It’s what you have dismissed as improbable that will hurt you – usually badly.  The fiscal crises which began in 2008 could have been such an event and should not have been unforeseen, but that moment has dissipated with the uneven recovery – some countries doing much better than others such as in the case of Germany which unfortunately, also proceeded to vocally relegate some member states –the southern tier and Greece in particular - to second citizen status with some distasteful,  nationalistic  remarks bordering on bigotry.   
So, on a region by region basis I believe we are looking at an old, new world order.  It may last a decade or fifty years.  My bet is that it will last longer than anyone expects.  Its structure is that of the realpolitik world of pre-1939 which largely came crashing to a bloody end in 1945 with the rise of the blocs. Some blocs are still around but in reality began a rapid disintegration with the collapse of the Soviet Union. 
Viewing the political map from this geo-political perspective, there are several clear, locally powerful players – China and India; Russia; Turkey; Germany and France; the Visegrad group; and, of course, the US.  Oh – and BRIC is not a bloc – it is a label of convenience mostly for economists who, like Linus and his blanket, need to pigeon-hole un-related countries into nice chewable morsels. 
I have not included Iran because, compared to the others and despite the hysterics of the galactically stupid right wing in the US, it simply doesn’t count.  Its economy is in shambles and it is politically unstable and cannot risk going to war or cutting off the Strait of Hormuz because that would invite retaliation of the most unpleasant sort by almost everyone.  It’s not near to building a single nuclear bomb and couldn’t afford to toss it in any direction even it did manage that amazingly difficult task because then it would be wiped out.
I did not include any African country because, well, if you can name one that is a regional power with enough influence both economically and militarily to do anything with significant impact except very locally, you win a cookie.  South Africa is the sub-Sahara elephant in the room– but its absurd attempts to play on the world stage as it has in Libya make it more of an annoying busybody than effective player.  The African Union in general is an old boys’ club intent on maintaining the status quo. Just look at the lack of effective condemnation of Mugabe’s reign by the AU. 
I also do not include any South American country despite my strong temptation to present Brazil as a player.  Maybe soon, but not now.
That’s my pre-amble.  Next time, and as a first choice, let’s look at Turkey or, more to the point, how Turkey looks at everyone else and their reaction.