Germany's Geopolitical Interests

BERLIN/ANKARA | | tuerkei

BERLIN/ANKARA (Own report) - In spite of the Turkish government's recent provocations, Berlin is steadfastly maintaining its cooperation with Ankara. Over the past few days, members of the Turkish government have affronted several EU countries as "fascist," thereby again provoking sharp protests. For some time, human rights organizations and other critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have been up in arms over Ankara's brutal violations of human and civil rights, its attempt to establish a presidential dictatorship and its arbitrary incarceration of citizens of foreign countries. Last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that her objective was to prevent Turkey from "becoming even more alienated from us," which is why we must persist in our cooperation. Since some time, government advisors in Germany's capital have been warning that Ankara is seriously considering joining the Chinese-Russian Alliance (the Shanghai Cooperation Organization - SCO), and that, within the Turkish establishment, voices calling for Turkey to leave NATO are growing louder. That would be a serious setback for Berlin's ambitions to become a world power, which for geostrategic reasons, is dependent on its cooperation with Ankara.

Hub Turkey

Berlin has various reasons for its remarkable indulgence towards Ankara. Economic considerations play a certain role. Turkey is among the 15 top customers of German exports. German companies have direct investments in that country valued at 13.3 billion euros and, to a growing extent, are using that country as a hub for their business with other Middle East and Central Asian countries. However, since some time, trade has become sluggish. Last year German exports to Turkey had fallen to almost their 2013 level, below Germany's exports to Hungary. Besides, the recent mass arrests have included employees and, in some cases, even owners of German companies. Nevertheless, economic interests remain of considerable importance due to the manifold risks confronting the export-oriented German industry - the euro crisis, Brexit, Russian sanctions as well as the threat of customs tariffs in the USA - are all taking their toll. In addition, the fact that Ankara could cancel the refugee agreement at any time is enormous leverage for applying pressure on Berlin and the EU. Finally, Germany's establishment is still considering Turkey as the country of transit for Middle Eastern energy resources - from Iran or from the Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq.[1]

The Alliance Issue

Most important, however, is that Ankara, to a growing degree, is turning its back on the EU and NATO - and turning more toward Russia. Advisors of the government in Berlin have been observing this process since some time with great apprehension. ( reported.[2]) In fact, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has led his country - after several erratic foreign policy somersaults - over to Russia's side, with success. Ankara is one of the three guarantor powers, alongside Moscow and Teheran, for the latest Syrian ceasefire. It is now negotiating with Moscow on the delivery of ultra-modern S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, which are incompatible with NATO standards. Moreover, as was reported by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), "Ankara and Moscow intend to introduce a joint framework for military and intelligence cooperation."[3] Since the attempted putsch on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government has also fired or arrested numerous pro-western officers. Since then, the complaint has been that "the [NATO] alliance is lacking correspondents in the Turkish military."[4] Some in Ankara's ruling circles are even raising the issue of the alliance, notes the SWP. "Turkish think tanks are weighing the pros and cons for remaining in NATO, with some having clearly opted for the exit."[5]

Alarm Signals

The Federal College for Security Studies (BAKS) is now also taking up the question of whether Turkey can give up its traditional membership in NATO to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The SCO, which is still largely unknown here, is an alliance with China and Russia at its core,[6] which so far has been mainly concentrating on border protection and fighting terrorism. Meanwhile, the SCO has also begun to carry out joint military exercises. Russian-Chinese maneuvers have been held in the Mediterranean. For the coming year, SCO is preparing its first major round of expansion. India and Pakistan want to become members. Russia supports Iran's candidature. Turkey became one of the alliance's "dialogue partners" back in 2012. In November 2013, President Erdoğan reiterated his intention of seeking full membership. BAKS warns that "in light of Turkey's charm offensive toward the SCO, the alarm signals should be shrilly ringing in the EU and the USA."[7] There are many indications that the People's Republic of China would refuse Turkey's membership. However, it is risky to rely on this possibility. That country is "strategically much too valuable" to the West.

Loss of Power

Turkey's changing alliances would, in fact, be a serious blow for Berlin, not only because of the loss of the strategically very significant land bridge [8] to the Middle East. The West would also be seriously weakened at the Black Sea - with NATO countries and their allies along most of its coastline today. Should Turkey eventually join the SCO, an alliance with a non-European focus - aside from Russia - would, for the first time, be present on the European continent. That would be disastrous for the German establishment with its ambitions of becoming a world power.

Free Hand for Ankara

Berlin is maneuvering accordingly - leaving Ankara a free hand with any form of excess. Human rights organizations have been accusing the Turkish armed forces of having committed serious crimes in their war against sectors of the Kurdish-speaking minority. Under Erdoğan's rule, Ankara had supported jihadi terrorist organizations for a long time.[9] The new constitution, Ankara has prepared and hopes to have passed by referendum in mid-April, tends, in fact, toward the establishment of a presidential dictatorship. According to the website "Turkey Purge," during the post July 15, 2016 purge, 128,625 employees have been fired, 94,224 people arrested and 46,875 incarcerated. 149 media outlets have been shut down, 162 journalists imprisoned. At least six German citizens have been affected,[10] including the German journalist Deniz Yücel. Berlin has more or less resigned itself to their imprisonment, and complied with Ankara's demands. As has now been made known, pictures of the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan have been banned from being displayed publicly, a demand repeatedly made over the years by the Turkish government.

"No Emotions!"

In her government statement, last week, Chancellor Merkel had explicitly confirmed Berlin's course of action. "That Turkey - after all, a NATO partner - would become increasingly alienated from us, cannot be in our foreign, security, and geopolitical interests."[11] Media commentators are expressing a similar view. "Even if a country should evolve at Europe's southeastern borders, where members of the opposition are persistently and systematically tortured and human rights are violated, it would still be necessary to remain in dialogue with that NATO partner," according to a main editorial of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) already last November.[12] " NATO did not throw Turkey out following its putsches in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1998," noted the foreign policy Berlin correspondent of the weekly, "Die Zeit." "[NATO] should not panic now because of Erdoğan."[13] Instead, one should "calmly" negotiate with Ankara, and the relationship will return to normal, simply because the emotions have dissipated." Otherwise, one runs the risk of damaging an apparently overriding objective: "NATO's cohesion."

[1] See Operationsstützpunkt Türkei.
[2] See Folter? Kein Hinderungsgrund!.
[3] Günter Seufert: Noch mehr Distanz zum Westen. SWP-Aktuell 6, Januar 2017.
[4] Michael Thumann: Abschied von Europa. In: Internationale Politik März/April 2017. S. 71-75.
[5] Günter Seufert: Noch mehr Distanz zum Westen. SWP-Aktuell 6, Januar 2017.
[6] SCO members alongside China and Russia are the four Central Asian nations: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
[7] Jan Gaspers, Mikko Huotari, Thomas Eder: Kann die Türkei die Shanghai-Karte spielen? Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik: Arbeitspapier Sicherheitspolitik Nr. 6/2017.
[8] See Come to Us, Friends!.
[9] See Das Spiel mit dem Terror.
[10] Rainer Hermann: Sechs deutsche in türkischer Haft. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 02.03.2017.
[11] Regierungserklärung von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel in Berlin vor dem Deutschen Bundestag. 09.03.2017.
[12] Michael Martens: Mit Erdogan verhandeln. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 08.11.2016. See Folter? Kein Hinderungsgrund!.
[13] Michael Thumann: Abschied von Europa. In: Internationale Politik März/April 2017. S. 71-75.