Turkey's drift away from the West

By Sumantra Maitra
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, August 20, 2018
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What's creating this downward pressure of the Turkish Lira? Apparently, Turkey's central bank is taking every step to ensure macro stability in a country where the currency is in a freefall.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech at the congress of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara, Turkey, on Aug. 18, 2018. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday his country would challenge those playing "games" on the economy, a day after two rating agencies downgraded Turkey's rating amid a currency turmoil. [Photo/Xinhua]

The bank is seeking to ensure liquidity and normal cash flows, as the signs that were all too familiar in the Greek financial crisis, and a cash crunch looms large on the horizon. Inflation hasn't reached an alarming level rate yet, although not exactly comfortable, but the country's leadership remains defiant, and hostile to the idea there might be an inherent structural problem.

Turkey is now verging on an antagonistic positioning, as the Interior Ministry cracks down on social media, accusing the posts on it of helping spread rumors leading to market volatility. Yet, even before the current crisis, the Lira was in freefall, dropping over 50 percent against the dollar.

At the time of writing, the BBC reported that President Erdogan had decided to raise the tariffs on American cars to 120 percent, on alcohol to 140 percent and tobacco 60 percent in part of an ongoing spat with the United States, where President Donald Trump doubled tariffs already imposed after an American Christian pastor was arrested and imprisoned in Turkey for allegedly being a spy.

When Erdogan ignored strident American demands to free the pastor, Trump imposed the killing tariffs, the Turkish Lira plunged and then Trump doubled the tariffs again. Turkey is defiant and determined to not let the American pastor go, with President Erdogan insisting Turkey cannot be brought to its knees.

Turkey has even linked the issue with Turkish preacher Fateullah Gulen, based in the U.S., whom it accuses of being the mastermind of last year's coup against Erdogan.

No matter what analysts might say, this crisis isn't just a Trump-Erdogan spat. It goes far beyond that to a Turkish drift away from the West amid growing and shifting interests.

Turkey was an essential part of the Western coalition against the Soviet Union. When the Ottoman empire crumbled after the First World War, Turkey emerged as a secular westernized republic, and then, after the Second World War, a geopolitical block essential for the West in the cold war era.

However, that geopolitical scenario has changed over time. Turkey is neither secular, nor is there a Sovietthreat anymore that justifies Turkey being a part of NATO.

Added to this is the regional dynamic. When Erdogan first came to power, he decided to follow a policy of good-neighborly relations. However, with the start of Arab Spring, Turkey became keen to pursue its own foreign policy interests, setting up protectorates and allies in the complicated chessboard of the Middle East.

Often times it was antagonistic to Western interests. Take for example, American support for the Kurds against ISIS in Syria, a red line for Ankara that faces its own Kurdish insurgency seeking independence.

Turkey's own Incirlik military base, which holds NATO nuclear weapons, was a launchpad to bomb ISIS and jihadists opposed to Assad in Syria, some of whom were supported by Turkey. That led to Turkish and Kurdish street fights in European capitals, and even in Washington DC. As a result, there's also huge pressure on Erdogan to close the NATO base.

Finally, an axis is being formed in Middle East, with Russia and Iran on the sidelines. Turkish relations with Russia are improving amid sales of Russian weapons; however, Turkish relations with Israel are getting worse, due to Israeli opposition to Iran, another Russian ally in Syria.

It's extremely complicated; however, Turkey is being weaned away from the West, as its interests align with other powers. Will Turkey really go through with this change? Hard to say. Geopolitics evolves through a mix of long term events and short-term crises; there haven't yet been any of the latter, but they might still occur.

What is important is that Turkey is drifting away from the West, and that is irreversible. The biggest variable of geopolitics, is time…which changes everything. 

Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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