The Dwindling Eurocentric Perspective

The crisis over western diplomats' interference in Turkey's domestic affairs has been settled. Ankara's orientation on the EU is waning due to the EU's decline.

BERLIN/ANKARA (Own report) - The Turkish government stepped back from a threat to expel ten Western ambassadors, including the one from Germany. As President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan noted, the ambassadors have vowed to comply with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and to "cease interference in Turkey's domestic affairs." Earlier, an appeal for the immediate release the jailed businessman and foundation activist Osman Kavala by the ten ambassadors had sparked a diplomatic crisis. Kavala has obviously been imprisoned on political grounds. Thus, his case offers western states an occasion to politically intervene with Ankara - in other words, to do something, they, themselves, would not tolerate, as, for example, in the case of jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Germany, in particular, is striving to mitigate conflicts with Turkey - for strategic reasons. Experts, however, expect disputes with Ankara to continue because it clearly perceives the West's decline and, has begun to reorient itself toward Asia.

Personae Non Gratae

The current conflict involving the ambassadors of Germany and nine other western states had been provoked early last week, when the diplomats issued a joint statement calling for the release of the jailed businessman and foundation activist Osman Kavala. Kavala has obviously been arbitrarily in detention for four years without a verdict and on varying charges. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had already demanded his release in 2019 and, in September, the Council of Europe announced it would take punitive measures against Ankara if Kavala is still imprisoned in November.[1] In its reaction to the appeal, Ankara initially summoned the ambassadors, including Germany's, to the foreign ministry. In a next step, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that the ten diplomats would “be immediately declared persona non grata.” That would have entailed their immediate expulsions.[2] Western countries' hasty diplomatic activities finally succeeded early this week: Erdoğan backed off and the ambassadors' threatened expulsions were apparently averted.[3]

Turkey's Sovereignty

While there is little doubt that the prosecution of Kavala is indeed politically motivated, the conflict last week had also another reason: Whereas western states take it for granted that they can openly intervene in the internal affairs of recalcitrant or weaker nations at any time, they will not tolerate any interference into their own internal affairs. It is unconceivable that a German ambassador in Washington would demand that the US judiciary halt the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange or other US whistleblowers and immediately liberate them. Last week, Ankara demanded that also western ambassadors comply with all provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which explicitly stipulates non-interference in the domestic affairs of the host country. After the US Embassy - speaking also in the names of the others involved - announced that it will comply with all respective provisions, Erdoğan retracted the expulsion threat and declared that he believes "that these ambassadors" will now "respect Turkey's sovereignty and judiciary" and "not interfere in its internal affairs."[4]

Buffer State and Isthmus

The settlement of the conflict - at least for the time being - corresponds to Germany's interests. Berlin, for several reasons, is seeking to prevent an escalation of tensions with Ankara. It is particularly important to continue to use Turkey as a buffer state against the undesirable influx of refugees to Germany from war-torn and crisis-ridden regions of the Middle East. The economic cooperation with that country is also significant, as markets and investment sites for German enterprises - as well as to supply the Middle East. In addition, Turkey's "crucial" geostrategic "importance is due to its location to the south of Russia and as a bridge to the Middle East," explains the SWP's analysis.[5] For example, as SWP points out, NATO maintains "an indispensable radar station for its ballistic missile defense system in Central Anatolia (Kürecik)." The Bundeswehr used bases in Incirlik and Konya during the war against the Islamic State (IS). Besides, reminds SWP, "NATO's Landcom is located in Aegean's Izmir, coordinating joint allied ground missions."

Seeking to Protect

The considerable German interest in maintaining close cooperation with Turkey is reliably ensuring that, within the EU, Germany will advocate protective handling of Ankara. As the SWP recounts, the German government has "considerably contributed to the EU not reacting with severe sanctions to Turkey's Eastern Mediterranean expansion strategy and the accompanying military threats against EU-members Greece and the Republic of Cyprus.[6] Moreover, this past March, The EU adopted its "Positive Agenda" with Turkey "under Germany's significant influence," recalls SWP. The German government has even approved the continued delivery of German submarines to the Turkish Navy, even though these would alter the "balance of power in the Eastern Mediterranean in Turkey's favor, due to the more highly developed propulsion technology." Nevertheless, SWP assumes that "it is unlikely that the EU's current strategy will work." The member states' interests are "too divergent" to be consolidated into a common policy toward Turkey. "Ankara will, therefore continue," predicts the SWP, "to test the EU's resolve."

Europe at the Periphery

Last but not least, this prediction can be derived from the fact that the West’s decline - including that of the EU [7] - is obvious clearly perceived in Ankara. In Turkey, it has “long been an established conviction ... that the West is in inevitable decline," SWP reports. Therefore, the predominating view is that there is no need in fulfilling the West or the EU's "expectations (any longer), and instead reorient oneself toward Asia for the intermediate and long term."[8] At an event hosted jointly by the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung journal, early last week, a similar observation was expressed. At the event, Thomas de Maizière (CDU), Germany's former Minister of Defense and Minister of the Interior, related that, once, during his visit to his Turkish counterpart, he had noticed how "on a map, Ankara was depicted as the center of the world and Europe was, at best, shown at the margins."[9] De Maizière explained, "the Eurocentric perspective is dwindling." And with it, Germany and the EU's accustomed power to determine the course of developments elswhere.


[1] Türkei lädt deutschen Botschafter vor. 19.10.2021.

[2] Erdogan erklärt Botschafter zu unerwünschten Personen. 23.10.2021.

[3], [4] Filiz Kükrekol: Botschafter-Eklat vorerst abgewendet. 26.10.2021.

[5], [6] Günter Seufert: Die Türkeipolitik der künftigen Bundesregierung: Konfliktlinien und Kooperationsfelder. SWP-Aktuell Nr. 65. Berlin, Oktober 2021.

[7] See also The Incipient Decline of the West and Abstiegskämpfe.

[8] Günter Seufert: Die Türkeipolitik der künftigen Bundesregierung: Konfliktlinien und Kooperationsfelder. SWP-Aktuell Nr. 65. Berlin, Oktober 2021.

[9] Wo bleibt Europa? Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 20.10.2021.