Keep them close: the way to reduce Turkish aggression
Over the past few years — and especially after the 2016 coup attempt, it has become apparent that Turkish President Erdogan is pursuing an aggressive and uncompromising policy — primarily toward his domestic political opponents, but also at the international level.
While the military moves in its southern (against Syria) and southeastern (against the Kurdish) borders can still be explained as a defense policy against aggression by armed groups and organizations — including towards Turkish military forces and civilian sites near the border, the moves in more distant circles — whether From the direct military involvement in Libya and Azerbaijan, the provocations in front of Greece and Cyprus around the gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, and up to direct diplomatic confrontations with Israel as part of the Turkish support for Hamas — all of these can be characterized as something completely different, as part of Erdogan’s growing ambitions to return Turkey to its historical status, far beyond its regional influence.
Based on the events of recent months, it seems that the Turkish policy in the more distant circles not only does not contributes to calming the area, in most cases it mostly fuels the fire, in a way that only makes it harder to resolve those conflicts.
The current Turkish policy at the international level is clearly derives from the lack of authoritative leadership in the international system, and from the lack of influence factors on Turkey, that will be sufficiently effective in dealing with its behavior.
Turkey today doesn’t have real allies or friends. Erdogan seems to have astonishingly managed to clash in recent years with almost every relevant regional and international force, including with forces that could have improved Turkey’s status.
A consequence of this is that Turkey today is a reactionary and agitating factor, a kind of “neighborhood bully”, which creates for the countries of the region and also to the world powers many new problems that they have to solve, problems that they would not surely have had to deal with without the Turkish policy.
The other “neighborhood bully” — Iran, has long been treated by “stick and carrot” policies, mainly by the world powers. Although the results of this policy are not clear, it can still be seen that Iran has somewhat curbed its policies in the far circles and today what mainly bothers its leadership is not the export of the Islamic Revolution, but dealing with economic and social crises, that produce internal threats.
We have to be fair and emphasize that Turkey is not Iran, and never was Iran. Although some kind of an Islamic revolution did took place in Turkey, albeit quiet and on a smaller scale, Turkey is still a member of the NATO alliance, remains connected to the global economy and trade, and under Erdogan’s belligerent rhetoric there are still constant trade relations with its rivals (including Israel).
Despite this, Turkey’s foreign policy under Erdogan is still a problem for the international system.
It is clear that Erdogan carries with him precipitations from his relations with the European Union, mainly insult and rejection, on the background of not accepting Turkey to the E.U., and also due to European criticism regarding the lack of civil, media and political freedom in the country. Erdogan sees these criticisms as hypocritic. The Russians have always aroused suspicion in Ankara and the U.S. under Trump in general is hard to trust. So, what then is the solution? Confrontation or containment?
From the characterization of Erdogan’s conduct in recent years it can be seen that he builds himself on the conflicts, he lives the belligerent rhetoric and for him pushing Turkey into a corner only strengthens him politically and encourages the continuation of aggressive foreign policy, in terms of “no one will tell Turkey what to do”.
Hence, a policy of containment, respect, rapprochement, and the creation of profit potential (economic and international) on the Turkish side, may produce to Erdogan a motive for cooperation. Erdogan should not be attacked — and the French policy (which may be a part of the French president’s way to achieve political gains), misses the point. Turkey needs to be embraced, respected, able to gain economic and military cooperation. Turkey needs new friends, which will not use the friendship in a Cynical way (in this context, Russia, China, and Iran are examples of less recommended friends).
The E.U. on its part must put at the forefront players that are more acceptable to Turkey (Germany for example). The U.S. on its part must increase the economic and military cooperation with Turkey, and generally speaking — return to be a leading factor (and mediator) in the region. A U.S. president’s visit to Ankara is not an indecent act either.
Erdogan’s Turkey, like a rejected and violent child, once he feels connected and secure again, he will no longer have to attract attention, and then will also slowly stop hitting and start talking and cooperating with his friends.