Addressing the 10th Conference of (Turkish) Ambassadors in Ankara earlier this week, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told his listeners that
“Turkey’s traditional alliances are defined by our NATO membership and EU accession process,” and added “We will keep on going in this direction.”
These remarks may appear reassuring for some of those who believe Turkey should retain its traditional western orientation by deepening its ties with Europe, while maintaining strong ties with the United States.
The problem, however, is that the minister’s remarks are counterintuitive when weighed against actual developments, and the direction Ankara has been actively taking in foreign policy over the past few years.
Cavusoglu’s remarks are also out of keeping with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s active desire to seek new alliances that will reduce Turkey’s dependence on the West.
It was, after all, Erdogan himself who asked Russian President Vladimir Putin as far back as 2013 to help secure a place for Turkey in the “Shanghai Five,” which is officially known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and signaled that he would be prepared to dump Ankara’s EU bid in return.
Given that being part of the western alliance would not be possible with SCO membership, this ultimately meant that if Turkey was admitted to the “Shanghai Five,” it would also be prepared to quit NATO. You can’t have it both ways.
Erdogan’s request from Putin was spurred, of course, by the less than honest treatment key EU states were meting out to Turkey with regard to its desire to join the Union. Much can be said about European equivocations on this score, which have left Turks believing that the EU will never grant it full membership, even if it satisfied all the necessary criteria.
There is the other side of the coin though. Turkey has to share the blame for the state of affairs in its ties with Europe today. It started well initially after it gained the right to negotiate for EU membership but began to gradually slide back on democratic reforms.
While blaming Europe for behaving like a Christian club, Turkey’s own secular system started taking blows as a religious identity for the country was pushed to the fore. This did not bring it any closer to secular Europe, but distanced it from it.
The government may rationalize all this with arguments that convince enough people in Turkey to keep it in power. It may also claim, as it does, that Turkey’s democracy is on par with that of any western country, that human rights are fully respected, and the rule of law prevails free of executive meddling.
But, if one is allowed to reverse a known saying, “if it doesn’t look like a duck, swim like a duck or quack like a duck, then it isn’t a duck.”
Given the grave state of Ankara’s ties with the west today, Cavusoglu has to be more specific when he says that Turkey will continue going in the direction of its traditional alliances, which are defined by its NATO membership and EU accession process.
If he hopes to be convincing he has to explain what his government plans to do to remains on this course, given the clear impression that Turkey is headed in the opposite direction.
One cannot help but wonder how many of ambassadors he was addressing were convinced by his remarks.