Fierce rhetoric, strategic disconnect from West among the red flags in newly Islamist Turkey

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Global Information System correspondents

The Turkish Government of Prime Minister Reçep Tayyip Erdogan has demonstrated that it becomes more politically and verbally aggressive — to the point where it generates incredulity among non-Turkish analysts — when it faces, or prepares to face, major challenges.

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking on Sept. 22. / AFP

It also tends to state arguments which reflect the opposite of reality on these occasions. The escalation of rhetoric from Ankara in the second half of 2011 indicates the fact that Mr. Erdogan and his AKP Government feel themselves to be presently in the middle of a titanic, even existential, battle.

The constant Turkish rhetoric has disguised the reality in Turkey, and the region, and has to a large degree minimized a true understanding of the extent to which the danger that instability within Turkey and in the Eastern Mediterranean could easily, and accidentally, move from political into kinetic warfare.

Indeed, domestically, Turkey is already facing a substantially revived war with much of its Kurdish population. Turkey is ill-equipped, however, for the eventuality of major inter- state warfare — whether with Israel, Greece, or even Cyprus (which would automatically engage both Greece and Israel) — and those affected by such an occurrence would suffer considerably.

Having said that, Turkish bellicosity — some of its played out as physical theater with military deployments — is very real and important, despite being a strangely antique style of brinkmanship. The Turkish moves, including its international rhetoric, are designed to:

Bolster the internal control which the AKP has over political life in Turkey, in particular vis-àvis the Turkish Armed Forces (and while the Armed Forces are presently in disarray, to increase the dependency on, and authority of, the General Gendarmerie Command and the Special Operations units of the National Police Department to suppress dissidence);

Reverse the present obeisance which Ankara must pay to Moscow, and, ideally, attempt to force Moscow to be dependent on Ankara;Gain a measure of Turkish control over some energy assets not under Moscow’s control; 

Gain domination of the political process in Syria — replacing the Alawite leadership with Sunni leadership — as part of a regional strategy which eliminates the prospect of Iran dominating the Eastern Mediterranean (and therefore Turkey’s southern littoral);

End any semblance of European Union (EU) interference in the AKP’s control of its domestic and regional situation in such a fashion that it does not look like Turkey was rejected by the EU, but rather the reverse;

Gain control over Kurdish and other dissident groups — particularly the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the organization believed to be controlling or politically orchestrating the PKK and affiliated groups — even if this means cooperating in some respects with Iran on mutual sweeps against Kurdish groups. [Significantly, the need to temporarily sideline the military — because it has been effectively neutered by the Prime Minister, has led to a rise in rivalry between the Gendarmerie and the National Police.]

Within this framework, the AKP — despite earlier indications that it would take a more diplomatic line on a settlement of the Cyprus issue — cannot, in its own terms of reference, allow itself to be seen to have lost the strategic advantage on Cyprus. Indeed, as with the historic Turkish approach, the time to be most intractible is when the situation is untenable. Significantly, Ankara, because of its apparent wish to become part of the EU, was gaining traction for de facto recognition of the Turkish-occupied “state” of Northern Cyprus, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). The U.S. government, because of its own creation and recognition of an independent Kosovo, carved through fiat out of an unwilling Serbia, had been disinclined to punish Turkey for not withdrawing its 40,000 or so troops from northern Cyprus, even 37 years after their invasion and occupation.

But that is changing. Turkey is now losing U.S. political support at a rapid rate, even as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has attempted to keep the auld alliance patched together. Turkey, indeed, remains important to the U.S. as it represents one of the few links which the U.S. retains into the energy business of Central Asia, the Caspian, and the Greater Black Sea Basin (GBSB).

The fiction that the Nabucco pipeline could remain a viable, U.S.-dominated investment continues to color U.S. judgment on the region. The new oil and gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean — offshore Israel and Cyprus, as well as offshore Greek islands and Egypt — may well, ultimately, render Nabucco even more unappealing than it already is. Indeed, these energy sources may feed into Europe at the expense of the South Stream pipelines, and transform the economies of Cyprus and Greece in the process.

Meanwhile, Russia has not stood idly by, waiting for Turkey to devise a way to escape Moscow’s embrace. Russia had made sure, by October 2011, that the Turkmenistan gas envisaged as a key product component of the 2,050-mile, $11.4-billion Nabucco pipeline, would not be provided to that network.

The U.S. and European Union would happily retain links to Turkey if Nabucco could be made to work, helping to reduce the EU’s dependency on Russia for gas. Russia currently, through Gazprom, provides 40 percent of the EU’s imports. EU gas consumption is projected to increase by as much as 61 percent from its current level of 502-billion cubic meters (bcm) to 815-bcm by 2030.

On Oct. 14, Russian Federation President Dmitri Medvedev gave notice that Russia would veto a proposed pipeline from Turkmenistan across the Caspian Sea to Baku. This would have provided the input of Turkemenistani gas to Nabucco. Essentially, apart from some gas flow from Azerbaijani fields near Baku, Nabucco would be without content. This not only drives a stake through heart of Nabucco — as said — it also drives a stake through the heart of Turkish hopes for strategic independence from Moscow. And without that, Turkey’s role as the EU’s and the U.S.’s conduit into the major markets and resources of Central Asia is minimized.

Meanwhile, also causing concern to Ankara, is that it is even feasible that the new energy fields of the Eastern Mediterranean could be seen as the longer-term guarantor of the economic revival of Greece, and — if the eurozone can hold on — the euro itself. None of this necessarily pleases Turkey or Russia, or even Iran.

Meanwhile, reports are circulating in Turkey — aided by some U.S. speculation — that Turkish intelligence on the PKK is benefitting from “quality cooperation” with the U.S., and that Turkish-Israeli intelligence links have merely “gone underground”. Moreover, Turkey has been pressing NATO member states to ensure that NATO intelligence (including that from the U.S.) would not be provided to Israel.

The reality is that whatever Israel-Turkey intelligence links which survive do so through the military, which is now nursing its wounds after being politically decapitated by the AKP Government. Moreover, the recently-commenced (beginning in October 2011) reorganization of the Turkish intelligence community (IC) led by the Prime Minister’s chosen and loyal new director of the National Intelligence Organization (Milli Istihbarat Teskilati, MIT), Hakan Fidan, has been designed to reduce still further the military’s influence in the IC. And Fidan is a highly political, trusted supporter of Prime Minister Erdogan, and a confirmed anti-Israeli Islamist.

A report in the Hürriyet Daily News, of Turkey, on Sept. 28, said: “According to the statements made by the U.S. Administration, [the] U.S. shares all its intelligence on PKK with Turkey. However, when Turkey’s complaints are examined, one can easily see that the intelligence provided by the USA is far from meeting the needs of the Turkish side. Therefore, the government is trying to solve this problem by purchasing UAVs.”

The reality is that the PKK is not a key collection target of any U.S. intelligence agency, whereas it was of significance to the Israeli intelligence community, which has now ceased providing that intelligence to Turkey. Moreover, Turkey is concerned that Israel’s strategic cooperation with at least two major EU members, Cyprus and Greece (and Greece as a member of NATO as well as a signatory to a new security cooperation pact with Israel), means that there is a direct reduction in Turkey’s regional intelligence confidence level.

Another key factor for the AKP Government to consider is the reality that the Turkish economy is far from resilient, despite government claims that it is flourishing. Indeed, while foreign direct investment increased in the first part of 2011 over 2010, it is difficult to get real indications as to the capital outflow from Turkey.

There are strong unofficial indications that this is the measure of some instability in domestic — as opposed to foreign — investor confidence levels.

At the same time, Turkey is attempting to boost the pace of its investment in nuclear power, to compensate for the threats to its access to hydrocarbon imports. This, in turn, has highlighted the fact that the AKP Government has distinct concerns that it will not long remain under the nuclear umbrella of the U.S. and NATO, and is also working to build its capability to develop its own nuclear weapons.

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