Discover more from The Wayward Rabbler
Erdogan Goes His Own Way
How Turkey is Showing Its Strength After Being Down So Long
“Livy could not have employed more lively words than saying: ‘The Campanians had brought a reputation rather than actual strength to protect their allies.’ In this regard, it should be noted that alliances concluded with princes who possess neither the ability to assist you because of their distance from you, nor the power to do so on account of their poor organization, or some other cause, offer more fame than real assistance to those who entrust themselves to them.”
- Niccolo Machiavelli [Discourses on Livy, II.11]
Introduction: A Sleeping Giant Breaks the Chain
While all eyes have been on Ukraine, Turkey has been finishing the process of waking from its slumber. When the once-mighty Ottoman Empire was finally disbanded following its loss in World War I, the new nation of Turkey was weak and had to follow a moderate course in world affairs, relying on the support of world powers. However, due to its strategic location, fertile land, and large population, Turkey was never going to be insignificant for long. Now, Turkey has flexed its muscles and bucked Western powers by maintaining near-neutrality on Russia-Ukraine and insisting that it must maintain good relations with both countries, especially in it role as the gate-keeper to the Black Sea. Further, this key NATO member appears set to block Finland and Sweden from joining the alliance, while planning a new, US-unapproved military operation in northwest Syria where it has maintained a sphere of influence for years. On top of that, Turkey’s historically hostile diplomatic relations with Greece are further deteriorating. I have long said that Turkey is one of the only NATO members which would be genuinely useful in a major conflict, but that it wasn’t obvious they would be on side. And indeed, their loyalty to NATO is doubtful than ever. Long-time Turkish leader Recep Erdogan is taking big risks, but if he succeeds we may see Turkey finally leave the West’s orbit and take its seat among the independent world powers. Any one of the things going on with Turkey right now would not portend any attempt to change Turkey’s status in world affairs, but taken together they signify much: Turkey is back.
The Background: Rock on Ancient Queen
To give an extremely short history of Turkey: the Turks were a nomadic people who conquered the ancient, fertile, and highly developed land of Anatolia [Asia Minor] starting in the 11th Century; over time assimilating the native majority Greek and Armenian population into their language, religion, and culture [here is a relatively less brief history, it’s all quite interesting.] Eventually, after years of expansion they captured Constantinople, the capitol of the Eastern Roman Empire, and changed its name to Istanbul. This gave them control of Hellespont and the Bosporus- now known as the Turkish Straits- and thus the revenues of the lucrative Black Sea trade in things such as grain, gold, cattle, and slaves [see Polybius IV.38 for a description of this location’s importance.] However, as with most empires, the Ottomans grew rigid, repressive, and tired over time, and long barely sputtered along known as “The Sick Man of Europe.” Most notably, Greece revolted, with Western support, after several centuries of Ottoman domination, winning her independence and continuing a pattern of permanent animosity between the Greeks and the Turks [unsurprisingly, in a typical Hellenic fashion, the Greek Declaration of Independence is amazing.] When that Sick Man of Europe died following the First World War, a nationalist leader known as Kemal Ataturk took power and created modern Turkey. Turkey maintained neutrality during the actual fighting of World War II but declared war at the end in order to be a charter member of the United Nations. Turkey joined NATO in 1952 fearing Stalin’s ambitions towards the Turkish Straits [at the time, the USSR controlled the entire Black Sea coast except Turkey’s portion.] This status quo began to change when the Cold War ended, and a Turkey well on its way to recovery no longer had any genuine need for Western protection due to the absence of major threats in its neighborhood.
During the United States’ “Global War on Terror” Turkey, under the leadership of Recep Erdogan beginning in 2003, has usually shown limited support for Western military actions in the Middle East for a variety of reasons. One straightforward reason is that as the only Muslim and Middle Eastern member of NATO, Turkey actually has to live amongst the internecine conflicts which NATO stokes in the region. Turkey is in a difficult position balancing its NATO membership with the competing demands in this complex region where it has neighbors of many different faiths and ethnicities.
Most importantly, and this is key to everything going on right now, Turkey is in a long term war with a Kurdish Marxist group known as the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] and its allied groups in the other three countries amongst which Kurdistan is split [Syria, Iraq, and Iran.] The Kurds are an ancient people [believed to be the descendants of the hostile mountain tribes in Xenophon’s Anabasis] whose rugged land has served as the border of empires throughout the centuries; they are often nominally or not at all controlled by the empires which claim their land. Already split between the Ottomans and the Persians, the Kurds were further separated in the post-WWI partition, and now these restive people are a consistent source of consternation for all four states they live under. Turkey, which holds the majority of Kurdistan, most of all.
The Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without their own state. This has made them sympathetic to many people, and also easy to use to counterbalance the regimes under which they live [the US has historically been hostile to the other three states containing Kurdistan.] Arming the Kurds is a popular position among the sort of people who claim flooding weapons into warzones is compassionate. It is also true that they have been effective allies against radical Islam and the West loves to fetishize their use of female fighters. However, supporting an independent Kurdistan is actually entirely unwise, as it would be a sort of Israel 2.0 ethno-state that is a Western dependency always at war with its neighbors. Thus far, understanding the geostrategic importance of Turkey, who [along with the US, at least nominally] calls the PKK terrorists has led to some moderation regarding the Kurds and their national aspirations, but we are under very unwise government so we should never rely on moderation to carry the day.
The importance of Turkey to NATO’s broader military goals cannot be overstated. As I’ve explained before, the alliance’s control of the Turkish Straits is key to controlling the Mediterranean [though I’ve grown more skeptical of my “Lake NATO” theory of foreign policy and increasingly suspect everything that has happened is because they’ve gone insane from the wages of corruption in Ukraine.] What’s more, Turkey is in a centralized location and has easy access to a large number of strategically important areas. However, most importantly, Turkey maintains a very large military. Trump was correct about NATO countries not contributing an adequate amount of military strength to the alliance, however, only in government-think is spending the measure of success. What matters is how many foot soldiers you can field and their courage, as infantry has always been the key to military success. As Machiavelli wrote:
“Wars first began to be waged by cavalry, because the institution of the infantry did not yet exist; but as these foot-soldiers were organized, it was immediately recognized that foot soldiers were more useful than cavalrymen…the foundation and the sinew of the army, and the type of troops that should be valued most, must be the infantry.” [Discourses, II.18]
Further, though by Machiavelli’s time people were already saying “in time, war will be fought only with artillery,” that never came true and never will, because “wherever a large body of men go with force, artillery cannot stop them. [II.17] Even then the court intellectuals imagined a future where something like Obama’s drone wars would solve all of their foreign policy problems. However, while the world has watched, the US’s overwhelmingly most expensive and technologically advanced military in the world face has faced humiliating defeat in brush wars. Turkey, on the other hand, has instead focused on its infantry. Turkey’s military 440,000 active duty members, 345,000 which are land forces, according to the CIA Factbook. This is absolutely enormous, and all for just under 2% of GDP, putting them at 87 in the world for military spending, while being ranked 11th in the world in military firepower. This combined with Turkey’s location means it is of extreme importance in any major conflict, while essentially being unconquerable, and all of that power backs Turkey’s control over access to the Black Sea.
For all of that, our incompetent leadership class has not seen the big picture and have gotten into frequent conflict with Turkey over relatively trivial matters, with the Brookings Institute publishing an article in 2021 titled, “US-Turkey Relations Will Remain Crisis-Ridden for Years to Come.” And indeed, Turkey’s recent string of actions constitute a crisis for US hegemony, and with our distance, military failures, and poor organization, Turkey no longer has any need of a Western alliance. All this from NATO’s second most powerful military which holds at least 50 US nuclear bombs that the Turks could seize at any time [though bypassing their various protections in order to use them would be quite difficult.] So what then, is Turkey up to, and what may the future hold?
The Russia-Ukraine War Shatters the World’s Illusions
I long said that in a major war with Russia, Turkey may close the Straits and call it neutrality. This is obviously a major advantage to Russia, the only other Black Sea naval power. It has long been recognized that the Montreaux Convention governing the straits is in conflict with Turkey’s NATO obligations. However, the Montreaux Convention predates Turkey’s NATO membership and NATO had a clear understanding of those treaty obligations when Turkey was acceded into the alliance. The normal conditions of the treaty require Turkish permission to move warships through the Straits, except for Black Sea nation ships whose homeport is on the Black Sea. And indeed that is exactly what happened when the post-WW2 peace ended: Turkey closed the Straits to warships. While this marginally harms Russia insofar as it cannot move other ships into the Black Sea, it keeps all other nations out of the sea, leaving Russia with overwhelming naval superiority [the incredible sinking of the Moskva notwithstanding.] Despite all of this, Britain is discussing plans to send ships to the Black Sea to protect grain exports, with seemingly no mention of the fact that they would not be allowed in.
But it isn’t just access to the Straits where Turkey is practicing a sort of empowered neutrality. Turkey is also refusing to sanction Russia. Russian mega-yachts have moved to Turkish waters for protection from the kleptomaniacal West, a strong symbol of not going with the program. Turkey is still working to acquire more Russian missiles, despite that even before the war Turkey was sanctioned for its purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles [such sanctions are also a sticking point with Sweden and Finland joining NATO.] However, in another move of perplexing ambivalence, Turkey is is still selling drones to Ukraine; the drones come from a private company, but one ran by Erdogan’s son-in-law. Turkey is openly talking about the value of maintaining warm ties with both countries, in stark contrast to the West where crazy things are happening like banning Russian players from Wimbledon. Turkey would be a huge winner if it is successful at hosting the peace talks it is so devoted to, especially as the West is pro-actively anti-peace, with, for example, the UK’s Boris Johnson pressuring Zelensky against making any kind of peace. If Turkey provides both countries with an off ramp to this war, against Western wishes, it will show Turkey to be a diplomatic powerhouse in the region. And this seems all the more likely, with Zelensky saying they need to “accept the reality” that this can only end through negotiation:
Were they denying reality before? He says the Russians won’t participate in good faith negotiations, but it’s still an interesting admission. It needs to be noted that the dam broke on Ukraine propaganda, and now the media is flooded with stories about the horrendous military situation for the Ukrainians and the humanitarian necessity of a negotiated peace:
It seems that Turkey may look much more wise to those who actually follow such things, as this has shown yet again that the Western narratives are completely fictitious and a negotiated settlement is in everyone’s interest- most of all Ukraine’s.
What is perhaps most interesting about all of this is that Russia and Turkey have a historically terrible relationship. That is somewhat true of Turkey and Europe in general, but with the Russians there is truly deep seated ethnic hatred similar to the Turks and the Greeks but for much different reasons. The Crimean Tatars depopulated Ukraine [when it was part of the Russian Empire] with slave raids for centuries, primarily to be sold at slave markets in Istanbul. It was so severe that a huge area of Ukraine came to be known as “Wild Fields” and the Ukrainians were managed as Cossacks because only a warrior race on horseback could survive there. Russia and Turkey also fought brutal wars at the borders of their empires for centuries, including over Crimea. On top of that, Russia was instrumental in the Ottoman’s losing the Balkan part of their empire, as Russians consider themselves the protectors of their southern Slavic brethren from domination by Muslims. All the nations in this region bear various grudges, but it’s notable that the two main powers with centuries of conflict between each other seem to see a mutual benefit in the other growing more powerful. However, with the collapse of the USSR, for the first time in centuries, neither Russia nor Turkey possesses an empire that presses against the other’s border, severely reducing cause for conflict. Even with the countries taking opposite sides in the Syria Civil War, neither power seemed to take it personally.
It could not honestly be said that Turkey supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, Turkey seems to support the premise that a global hegemon does not get to decide questions between neighbors in its region. It wants these questions to be decided by Black Sea states. What Turkey and Russia have in common is that the West is empowering their enemies in their immediate vicinity; that is one thing as far as Russia is concerned, but Turkey and the United States are in a mutual defense pact.
Finland and Sweden Put Their Kingdoms Up For Sale
Internationally recognized neutrality is a great deal if you can get it. Nervous at their proximity to a Russia they see as revanchist, Russia’s former possession Finland and former rival Sweden are making the reckless decision to abandon neutrality in favor of NATO’s questionable protection. No one earnestly thinks these countries will add significantly to NATO’s offensive power, and they could only possible serve as a pretext for the alliance declaring war. People liked to criticize Trump’s “transactional” approach to foreign policy, as if the point of alliances is not to be mutually beneficial with both countries providing meaningful military power [the US policy blob seems to think it is to collect dependencies.] On top of the dubious military benefits of adding these countries, the main conflict between Russia and the West relates to NATO- an alliance which exists to counter Russia- encircling Russia with new members. So of course, the first response to the Ukraine invasion was to desire to continue to expand NATO along Russia’s borders.
People are denying that the instability in Ukraine, growing Western influence, and the years’ long conflict in Donbass and Lugansk were actual problems for Russia. Say what you will about Putin’s decision to invade, but the situation on the Russia-Ukraine border absolutely constituted a serious national security concern for Russia. Ultra-stable Finland and Sweden previously provided no such pretext. Now, with their announced hostility, perhaps Finland could be the next state used to bleed the Russians, though I doubt the Russians desire a repeat of the disastrous “Winter War.”
However, this may all amount to nothing, since Erdogan is not having it. And he isn’t just saying its irresponsible to expand, he is accusing those states of supporting terrorism, over their “perceived” support for the PKK, arming the Syrian YPG [“People’s Protection Units”], and hosting of supporters of Futhellah Gulen, an exiled cleric Erdogan blames for 2016’s coup attempt. They are further angry about various arms sales restrictions imposed on Turkey by these countries. There doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of evidence behind Turkey’s charges besides a reluctance to extradite some Turkish residents, a lack of enthusiasm for cracking down on groups that present no threat to them, and general international sympathy for the Kurds. It is key to note that this is essentially a proxy diplomatic conflict with the US, as Turkey has these same grievances to a much greater degree with the United States [in fact, Gulen himself lives in the United States and the US government will not extradite him to Turkey.]
Our illustrious and demented President Biden, a strong supporter of expanding NATO, “brushed off” concerns about Turkey’s veto with the inspiring quote, “I’m not going to Turkey, but I think we’re gonna be okay,” [it’s unclear if he actually heard or understood the question, but that is rarely clear.] This is after Erdogan said Finland and Sweden should “Not bother coming to Turkey.” They did anyway, and little progress was made, only regarding the arms exports limits, with Sweden reportedly already having lifted restrictions [this appears to be a primarily diplomatic issue, as Turkey cannot possibly be reliant on Sweden or Finland for any substantial amount of military equipment.] Erdogan is presenting this all as an intractable problem:
It is possible that Turkey is simply using all of this as leverage and clout, but will ultimately fold and allow the countries to accede if it receives reasonable concessions. The West doesn’t have a lot of leverage over Turkey, especially with Biden’s weak leadership, our internal problems, and our greatly damaged prestige. The one piece of leverage they have is resuming fighter jet sales and bringing Turkey back into the F-35 project, which it was kicked out of after purchasing the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles mentioned above. Biden and Congress seem willing to upgrade and maintain Turkeys F-16 fleet, which would represent a reversal of some of the arms sanctions. The problem is that the US has shown repeatedly how much control it demands in exchange for such arms deals. Erdogan seems unwilling to leave Turkey in such a position, especially when arms sales from Russia or China involve massively less political pressure and hypocritical moralizing, and further both countries appear to be seeking a multipolar world which would also benefit a newly empowered Turkey. Regardless of if Finland and Sweden ultimately join NATO, Turkey has shown, again and more strongly than before, that it views itself as an equal partner in the alliance, and not an American satrap. One Erdogan ally, Nationalist Movement Party leader Devlet Bahceli going as far as to say:
“Turkey is not without options. Even leaving NATO should be put on the agenda as an alternative if the circumstances become inextricable. We did not exist because of NATO, we will not perish without NATO. How can we be tolerant of these states that still have terrorists roaming their streets? Sweden is the control room of the separatist terrorist group in Northern Europe. Is it reasonable to be together with the criminal countries that impose an arms embargo on Turkey? Turkey will not be a colonized country. No one should attempt to threaten Turkey.”
It’s not easy to come back from this type of rhetoric with pride. It appears Turkey will either block the membership, receive major concessions, or least likely actually leave the alliance. The rest of NATO needs to seriously consider what it is worth to them to have Turkey’s enormous army and strategic geography on their side, because as it stands, Turkey’s NATO membership is basically fictitious besides holding this veto.
The Kurdish Offensive: Turkey Thinks About Tomorrow
In the midst of global focus on Ukraine, Turkey launched a new military operation, titled “Claw-Lock” against the PKK in Northern Iraq. It appears there was a degree of cooperation with the Peshmerga, the official military of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. Erdogan has been trying to work with the Iraqi Kurdistan government on gas deals, and presumably intends to use this official government force as a counterbalance to the Marxist paramilitaries he accuses of terrorism. In and of itself nothing about the Iraq operation is that significant, as there has been conflict in this border area for a long time. Iraq condemned the incursions, but it doesn’t appear it is consequential.
However, as the Finland-Sweden dispute heated up, Turkey set its eyes on northwest Syria. Turkey has been operating in northwest Syria for years, since it intervened in the Syrian Civil War in 2016. Turkey’s role in the Syrian Civil War is too complex to fully explain here. They have also fought proxy battles against the United States; in short they’ve been one of the countries preventing Syria from recapturing its whole country, protecting the Islamist terrorist haven in majority-Arab Idlib while also in conflict with the US-backed Kurdish YPG. Turkey has been sponsoring Islamist militias as well as conducting its own military operations. In 2021 Erdogan declared that Idlib was in practice Turkish territory. This didn’t receive international backlash, as the US has a maniacal obsession with supporting jihadists in Idlib.
Now, though, it appears Turkey is making a play against Syrian Kurdistan. The presence of Syrian refugees in Turkey is increasingly unpopular, and there is an election in 2023. As is the case anywhere, it is alleged that Syrian refugees don’t pay taxes and receive premium healthcare and education. Further, there is a concern that Syrians will outnumber and replace Turks, an absurdity given as Turkey has roughly 5x the population of Syria. [Immigration debates are basically the same everywhere, America’s aren’t the product of some unique evil.] Erdogan seems to have combined his problems into one solution.
It appears that Erdogan’s plan is to use the Arab Syrians for a sort of ethnic cleansing. In short, by resettling Syrian Arabs in Turkish-built settlements in Kurdistan he can massively change the demographics and remove some areas from Kurdish control. Even without a genocide, if the Kurds end up in the minority in their own areas it will be difficult for them to maintain control of government. It is a grand irony that Turkey is responding to the perceived problem of Syrian refugees outnumbering and replacing Turks within Turkey by using them to outnumber and replace Kurds in Kurdistan.
The Biden Administration has condemned Turkey’s plans for a new Syrian invasion. However, they have stopped at that. On May 27 the Al-Monitor published an op-ed titled, “Biden Didn’t Go to Turkey, and Things Aren’t Okay With Erdogan.” The op-ed quotes two of their journalists as follows:
"Grabbing more Syrian territory from the Kurds to make room for the unwanted millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey, and pushing back 'Kurdish terrorists' in the process, will likely play well across ideological lines. A war against the Syrian Kurds will [also] force the opposition to rally around the flag and into reverting to the sort of hawkish rhetoric that will likely alienate Kurdish voters, another win for Erdogan, amid mounting speculation of snap polls in November."
It’s interesting to note that in the eyes of the media, when it comes to Turkey not only is the “Deep State” real, but also Justin Raimondo’s “Libertarian Realism”, whereby wars happen because of domestic political concerns, is also somehow mainstream. Whatever is going on, the Biden administration’s tepid response and lack of diplomacy seem to guarantee that Turkey will be able to do as it wishes with Syrian Kurdistan and the YPG; they certainly have the ground forces necessary to be successful. This would demonstrate two things: first, that Turkey can do as it pleases without fearing the West, at least within reason, and second, it will yet again show that the US will abandon allies it has supported for years as soon as it is distracted by whichever new crisis.
Greece Reminds Turkey What Its Had and What Its Lost
In the midst of all of this, Greece and Turkey have found time to worsen their ever-bad relationship [it should be noted that their archeologists seem to get along, and Turkey is actually a responsible and enthusiastic steward of the country’s ancient Greek heritage.] A great deal of hostility exists between these two peoples on a personal as well as government level. Ottoman rule over Greece was long and brutal, and not so long ago in this most ancient part of the world. Further, both countries experience intense nationalism about their history in the region, and there are many islands in the Aegean Sea which are in dispute. Though these are “frozen conflicts,” they could flare up at any time. It is accurate to say that for the most part the Turkish and Hellenic Navies exist primarily to counter each other.
The largest conflict between the countries is the frozen conflict over the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus. In short, after being possessed by many different empires throughout history, the British seized Cyprus from the Ottomans in the late 19th century. There were decades of ethnic violence amongst the Greek majority and Turkish minority, which culminated in the Greeks overthrowing the British and establishing an internationally recognized independent country. However, a movement to join Greece grew on the island, and Turkey invaded following a pro-Greece coup in 1974. The island was partitioned into the internationally recognized ethnic-Greek southern half and a northern half which is functionally a Turkish puppet state. This is an endless source of hatred between the two peoples, not that they needed any more.
The current flareup in Turkish-Greek relations yet again comes back to arms sales. The Greeks lobbied Congress to let them in the F-35 program [essentially replacing Turkey] and also against the sale of F-16s to Turkey. This is all especially key as there are current disputes over violations of airspace [“flyovers” of demilitarized islands.] As these countries’ militaries are primarily aimed at each other, it is of extreme importance which country gets which US aircraft. [For the purposes of this article, we’ll gloss over the fact that the F-35 program is a disaster, and its not clear why either side should want to be involved.] This could be the harbinger of Greece attaining true aerial superiority to Turkey, though aircraft are just fancy artillery, and Greece, with 1/8th the population of Turkey can never match their vast infantry power.
Erdogan reacted furiously to Greece meddling in Turkey’s relationship with the United States. Erdogan stated that they had agreed to not include third parties in their dispute, and further said of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis: “He no longer exists for me. I will never agree to meet with him. We will continue our way with honourable politicians.” If the President of Turkey now refuses to acknowledge the existence of the Greek Prime Minister, there is little ability to solve any disputes which arise, not to mention the ones that have already arisen. Turkey is already warning Greece against remilitarizing the Aegean Islands, something which they claim was already in progress by 2021. On top of that, there is both oil exploration and plans for oil pipelines in this region, and few things have more potential to cause disputes about maritime boundaries.
It seems highly unlikely that Turkey would attack the Greek mainland. It is a rugged country populated by fiercely nationalistic people, and they’ve done this before. Further, the cost from the “International Community” would be much more than it is worth- if you think people were maniacal about Russia attacking Ukraine imagine if the Turks tried to re-conquer Greece. Still, many Greek-owned islands are very near Turkey [10~ miles or less], and it would be nearly impossible for Greece to stop Turkey from transporting its massive ground forces to these islands off the Turkish coast, when Turkey has specialized anti-submarine ships and modern land-fired anti-ship cruise missiles which can prevent the Greek navy from operating in the region. Greece’s logistics for transporting troops to these islands are much, much worse. Some of these islands are small enough that Herodotus alleges the Persians did something called “netting” them, whereby they held hands across the length of the island than walked from one side to the other, offering no escape. [6.31] Though the Greeks can, and would, protect their mainland with brutal guerilla tactics, there is no hiding on these small islands close to Turkey, and in essence they would not stand a chance in their current form should Turkey choose to invade.
While the cost of trying to end Greece’s independence would be far too high in blood, treasure, and perhaps most of all, international response, there are a variety of plausible arguments for Turkey’s possession of the islands off its coast. They are largely Greece’s for no other reason than that Greece chose the winning side in the First World War [which they joined late and to which they contributed little] while the Ottoman Empire collapsed. A less punitive peace almost definitely would have left these islands in Turkish hands. None of that is to say that Turkey controlling them would somehow be more “fair”, Turkey simply has a clear case in this territorial dispute, and it would only seriously harm the “territorial integrity” of Greece insofar as people think we must have frozen borders drawn by the imperial powers.
But will Greece and Turkey escalate to war? Probably not by any great intention, but there are far too many triggers, and in a changing and unstable era anything could happen, including Turkey acquiring some lovely vacation properties in the Aegean.
Conclusion: Thunder Only Happens When Its Raining
As I said at the start, taken by itself, none of Turkey’s moves would be that surprising, though they have held out against a greater amount against the Western sanctions regime than I would have expected. However, Turkey making all of these moves at a time of severe geopolitical instability clearly signifies much. Most of all, it shows that Erdogan reckons that NATO needs Turkey more than Turkey needs NATO. He is showing that Turkey is to be respected, and won’t do what is expected by the so-called “International Community.”
We got here for a lot of reasons. The most important of which is the US’s clumsy and judgmental leadership which cares more about virtue signaling than military readiness. Turkey’s status within NATO is increasingly that of the odd man out as the US leadership class becomes ever less concerned with realism and more concerned with selling an obviously manufactured narrative. It is the normal course of empires to drown in hubris and in the forgetting of the value or power of their allies in favor of collecting dependencies. It’s also the normal course of empires to stray from the military institutions which made them strong and increasingly rely on technology and auxiliaries instead of a huge force of citizen-soldiers. If NATO ultimately trades Finland and Sweden for Turkey it will be a gross act of imperial mismanagement and of holding phony “values” above the ability to win wars. [I don’t mean to sound like a nihilist, just to say clearly the empire-managers don’t genuinely believe in anything noble.] Perhaps NATO’s power will be saved by the remililtarization of Germany. However, as is common in the West, they seem to be measuring success in dollars spent, and it seems most likely they will buy a huge amount of technology and artillery but come nowhere near matching Turkey’s massive infantry; an ultra-powerful Germany which doesn’t need NATO will also shake the alliance’s balance regardless. Further, Turkey’s location is second to none for access and control in a global conflict, the infantry is already there, and they can very easily entirely close the Black Sea.
I’ve been extremely critical of Erdogan in the past, most of all for his unnecessary and harmful intervention in the Syrian Civil War as well as Turkey’s growing Islamism and authoritarianism. [It’s actually fair, just unproductive, to call what has happened under Erdogan “democratic backsliding.”] However, I’m a firm believer in a multi-polar world, meaning that there are multiple regional powers instead of one global hegemon. This is the strongest value I hold in geopolitics, because its the only thing that can reduce the risk of massive world conflicts:
I don’t think Erdogan is a crazy revanchist whom we should all fear, but the moves he’s making now could easily change the West’s relationship with the Middle East and the entire Muslim world. I really don’t mind countries having border wars, it is the nature of frontiers. The premise that people would use nukes over border wars is only in our head because we are ruled by lunatics. In this new world the West would not dominate the Middle East through force of arms and permanent borders drawn by imperial powers- borders which were intended to keep each state weak in the first place. Instead, countries would simply solve their border disputes by whichever method worked for them.
If the US would have used diplomacy to avoid the Ukraine War perhaps Erdogan would have seen the US to be a valuable friend. But by provoking the Ukraine War and using the Ukrainians to bleed Russia, the US has shown that it may be an even worse friend than enemy. Erdogan may decide the cost of US goodwill is far too high for a country that can genuinely defend itself- even against the US Empire. Meanwhile, Erdogan will continue to try to build a reputation as a reliable regional power broker willing to work with both sides to solve area problems in the area- with his prestige backed up overwhelming force of arms.
Shortly after publishing time, The Economist published an Op-Ed by Erdogan. I had to register to read it, but he argues, in essence, that Turkey is a leader of NATO and is one of the only NATO countries to understand the changing world. He doesn’t seem like he will back down, though Finland and Sweden have no obvious reason to protect anyone associated with the PKK so they can easily cooperate. But it speaks volumes that it is Turkey being lobbied, not Finland and Sweden.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this content please subscribe and share. I am trying hard to write consistently, though my crazy toddler needs much attention. My work will always be free, but paid subscriptions help me a huge amount! [Payment in Turkish Lira preferred.] You can see my shitposting on Twitter @WaywardRabbler