The New Partners in Ankara (II)

ANKARA/BERLIN | | tuerkei

ANKARA/BERLIN (Own report) - Berlin wants to continue to use Turkey as the "bridge" to Central Asia and the Middle East. This was emphasized by the German President, Christian Wulff, during his visit to that country, which ends today. In its role as a "bridge between the Occident and the Orient," according to Wulff, it is "an asset to Europe." This is why Germany continues to be "particularly interested in the ties between Turkey and the European Union." Wulff's declaration reflects the irritation, being heard since some time in the West, over the growing independence Ankara is demonstrating in its foreign policy. While continuing to maintain its close cooperation with the EU, the government that came to office in Turkey in 2002 is following another doctrine aimed at reinforcing Turkey's influence in the former regions of the Ottoman Empire. According to advisors in Berlin, the West could use this to strengthen its own position in the Middle East, but must be on guard to remain in a position of control. Conflicts loom in German-Turkish foreign policy in regions of Southeast Europe, where Ankara seeks to reinforce its influence among the Muslim sectors of the populations.

"Strategic Depth" Concept

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Adullah Gül's foreign policy doctrine was the underlying theme of German President Wulff's foreign policy discussions in Ankara this week. The prime minister and president are from the "Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi" (AKP), which came to power in 2002. The doctrine had been developed at the end of the 1990s by the Ahmet Davutoglu, at the time, professor for international relations at the Beykent University in Istanbul. Immediately following inauguration of the AKP government, Davutoglu, who comes from the Central Anatolian city of Konya and is considered a member of the new Turkish traditionalist, Islamic orientated elite, (german-foreign-policy.com reported [1]) put this concept into effect, first as Erdogan's main foreign policy advisor and subsequently, since May 2009, as Turkey's foreign minister. The concept, known as "strategic depth" has, since some time, been thoroughly discussed in western think tanks and has been receiving much attention in Berlin.

Neo-Ottomanism

Davutoglu's "strategic depth" concept [2] represents a rupture with the foreign policy of the Kemalist elites, to the extent that Turkey is not exclusively oriented toward ties to Western alliances. While still pursuing the objective of Turkey's becoming a member of the EU, it is also intending to win new influence in all nations bordering on Turkey, a region that had once been part of the Ottoman Empire, which is why the AKP doctrine is also referred to as "neo-Ottomanism". Ankara is seeking to expand its political, economic and cultural influence to all of its neighboring countries. It is particularly focusing on the North African and Middle Eastern Arab countries. Islam is a very useful means for reinforcing these contacts. Since 2005 Ankara has had permanent observer status at the African Union, and, since 2006, the Turkish prime minister has been regularly invited to the Arab League summit meetings. The AKP government is also using the old pan-Turkism to expand its sphere of influence toward the Caucasus and Central Asia. In mid-September, the Turkish government founded a "Cooperation Council of Turkish-Speaking Nations" with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to strengthen its standing in the East.

Concordant Interests

Particularly Ankara's efforts to strengthen its influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia are in Berlin's interests. Germany needs Turkey also as a land bridge for trade with the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. According to Berlin's plans, especially Caspian Basin oil and natural gas supplies should, to a growing extent, be transited through Anatolia to reduce dependence on Russian pipelines. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3]) The AKP government's efforts to achieve reconciliation with Armenia are also in Germany's interests. A successful convergence of these two countries would allow Berlin and the EU to establish stronger ties binding the Southern Caucasus to the West, while, in the long run, weakening the region's ties to Russia.[4] In addition, a pan-Turkish, in some aspects, also Islamic based policy, is convenient for stirring up Islamic secessionism in Western China ("East Turkistan"). For decades, the Federal Republic of Germany has been holding such options open in its own policy arsenal.[5]

Disputed

There is a dispute in Berlin over how much the German government will be able to benefit from Ankara's growing cooperation with Arab countries and Iran. Examples are the AKP government's efforts to help resolve the nuclear conflict with Iran and to establish contact to Hamas. Transatlantic oriented forces reject these Turkish efforts - and advise Ankara, to devote again more attention to Israel. Those forces, seeking to see Germany's importance in the Middle East grow in comparison to that of the United States, plead, on the other hand, for reinforcing ties to Turkey, to be able to enhance Germany's relations to Islamic countries. "The community of interests must be stressed and the opportunities for seeking regional cooperation between the EU and Turkey explored," proposes the Director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Volker Perthes.[6]

Golden Era

The prospect of German-Turkish conflicts, particularly in Southeast Europe, is beginning to become apparent, in particular among the Muslim segments of the populations in Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia. But Ankara is also systematically extending its influence to other countries by means of Turkish radio and television programs, building Turkish schools and cultural centers, opening branches of Turkish banks and with the construction of super highways leading toward Turkey. Ankara is simultaneously developing "a growing number of independent initiatives that are not conceived as extensions to Brussels' initiatives", warns the SWP, and points to a conference held in October 2009 in Sarajevo, on the theme "The Ottoman Heritage and Today's Muslim Communities in the Balkans", where Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu gave the opening address.[7] "The only historical era, in which the Balkans were free from victimization" said Davutoglu according to SWP, had been during the centuries of the Ottoman Empire - "for the Balkans that was the 'golden era'," that Ankara would now like to revive. This could lead to serious conflicts with the European hegemonic power.

Possible Conflicts

In general, the SWP proposes that the new Turkish neo-Ottomanist foreign policy "should be examined very carefully" - in spite of all of Ankara's willingness to cooperate with the EU. At the same time, the domestic development of the country must be taken into consideration, especially the changes in public opinion toward the West. Until now, Berlin has benefited from the AKP's becoming stronger as well as from the political Islam, it represents, which had also counteracted the old Kemalist elites' opposition to taking over the EU's regulatory framework, harvesting applause from Germany. That this approbation can switch to rejection at the drop of a hat, can be gleaned from an indication furnished by SWP, according to which "the new policy (in Ankara - gfp) - together with the surge of religious-conservative sentiment in domestic and social questions - have clearly led to the growth of the latent anti-Western sentiments in Turkish public opinion."[8] In the case that the AKP government does not comprehensively orient its policies on German-European interests - as is already happening in Southeast Europe -serious conflicts could arise.

[1] see also Die neuen Partner in Ankara (I)
[2] Heinz Kramer: Die neue Außenpolitik-Konzeption der Türkei. Mögliche Konsequenzen für den EU-Beitrittsprozess, SWP-Aktuell 25, März 2010
[3] see also Nabucco, Southern Corridor and Eine Dreiecksbeziehung
[4] see also Revolutionäre Wirkungen and Transitgebiet
[5] see also Strategies of Attrition (IV) and The Future of "East-Turkestan"
[6] Volker Perthes: Turkey's Role in the Middle East: An Outsider's Perspective; Presentation at the Transatlantic Academy Conference in Ankara, June 10, 2010
[7] Dušan Reljić: Die Türkei weckt alte Lieben und Feindschaften im Westbalkan; SWP-Aktuell 69, September 2010
[8] Heinz Kramer: Die neue Außenpolitik-Konzeption der Türkei. Mögliche Konsequenzen für den EU-Beitrittsprozess, SWP-Aktuell 25, März 2010