President-elect Biden and Turkey-US relations
Kazi Fahim Ahmed || risingbd.com
Kazi Fahim Ahmed
Continuing strained relations between the two largest NATO allies have not only jeopardized their historical understanding but also risked a complete hostile circumstance between them. Recently, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Istanbul while he didn’t meet with any Turkish official which has sent a vibrant negative message to Ankara.
Historically, the Turkey-US relationship has remained a matter of mutual strategic advantage. Turkey’s strategic geography with its economic and military strength in the region has always secured the interest of the West. And Turkey has also gained a lot from its western allies by achieving its economic and military goals while also securing itself from regional threats.
As President-elect Joe Biden will join the white house soon, experts are calculating the changes in the US foreign policy. In the last decades, the US has a major emphasis on its Middle-East foreign policy. And there, it has always supported its allies with tremendous resources and diplomacy. Turkey has been always a good strategic location to maintain the US hegemony over key Middle-Eastern countries.
But this priority of policy may change soon. Because the world is no longer under unilateral US leadership and the US has robust competitors now. China and Russia together have challenged the US hegemony in almost everywhere. Though President Donald Trump has tried to contain China and Russia, he has failed to do so. If one thing Donald Trump has done well, that is, he has somehow managed to recognize that China has already challenged the US hegemony. So, under President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, it is likely to change the prime focus of foreign policy. More resources are likely to shift in Asia to deal with the new rival China.
Russia is also in an advanced position in the Middle East. It has won the war in Syria and has successfully saved the Assad regime. As a result, it is also high time to change the US foreign policy towards the Middle East.
If such a shift happens in the US policy of the Middle East, it will make Turkey a more important player in the region as Turkey has the largest GDP in the region of around $750 billion.
US administration is deliberately shifting its focus from terrorism or other actors to emphasize on great power politics with Russia and China. Because the coronavirus crisis has made it vibrant to Washington that a transformation in the global order is on its way.
In recent years, Turkey has exposed its regional influences by using hard power in several events. It has also ignored the impediments from its allies. As Turkey is the strategic bridge between Asia and Europe, it is the gateway for China’s BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) towards Europe.
And it is also the only way out for Russian influence through the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. Such an important strategic location of Turkey can help its ally with the potential to contain Russia and China in great power politics.
This kind of strategic importance has also made Turkey an imperative companion in the eye of Russia and China. Undeniably, for any foreign competitor, mutual understanding with Turkey would implicitly advance its capacity to fulfil the goal in the whole region.
The recent scenario is pretty much complex. In the absence of US engagement in several events, Turkey has taken some initiative that has risked its mutual understanding with its western allies. Despite being the second-largest member of NATO, Turkey has bought and recently tested the Russian S-400 air defense system.
According to other NATO members, it has risked the whole defense system of NATO across the region. Turkey has also engaged in verbal or face-to-face clashes with other US allies in the region such as Greece, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
And all of these have significant consequences. President Donald Trump has saved Turkey from any sanctions as US foreign policy under him was not engaged in many events. But as the new President-elect Joe Biden is to take the office soon, experts are saying that Turkey could face several sanctions under him.
For Turkey, cooperation with Russia and China can’t be a long-term reliable strategy, because, it has historical enmity with Russia in several events. Turkey has always faced a challenge from Russian expansion southward. In recent years, their relationship was at odds over several issues such as Libya, Syria, and also in recent Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
On the other hand, depending on China for economic advantage is nothing but a vague strategy for Turkey, because less than 1 percent of foreign investment in Turkey is from China which is a vibrant example that their relationship is far away from being a reliable partnership.
So, Turkey does not benefit much from relying upon Russia or China. However, Turkey’s self-interest is well served by its affiliation with the western allies.
Going back to the full cooperation between Turkey and the US will not be an easy process, because many things have been changed in the last decades. But the economic situation of Turkey and the great power politics of the US in the region could make both parties realize that their interest is best served by cooperation rather than hostility.
With a new President arriving in the white house soon, the whole world is waiting to see US foreign policies across the world. In the last four years, the US has lost its global image for many reasons and it is time for the re-establishment of it. And for doing so, the US needs its allies together because without them it will be impossible for the US to counter the transformation of the new world order.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should also consider the economic condition of his country for rebuilding the Turkey-US alliance because Turkey alone can’t survive upcoming challenges.
On the other hand, President-elect Joe Biden is a man with experiences to deal with such situations. So, he should not miscalculate that an unstable Turkey is also against the US interest in the entire region. For a successful strategy to overcome the challenges, collaboration and compromises from both leaders of the United States and Turkey are nothing but inevitable.
Kazi Fahim Ahmed studies International Relations at the University of Dhaka