By Ahmed Necip YILDIRIM
People who are worried after American strike in Syria ask me: Is this the start of World War III?
There are two other questions I am being asked recently: “What is going on in the world these days” and “Where you think Turkey should stand amid all these significant events happening in the world”.
WW I had began following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the WW II began when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Small incidents turned into world wars.
I think that the post-Cold War global system has not yet been fully established. Especially the spheres of influence between USA, UK, (Continental) Europe, Russia and China have not yet been clearly defined. Brexit, War in Ukraine and Arap Spring, Conflict in Syria, harsh economic competition in other parts of the world can be given as most outstanding examples.
Global balance of power is subject to dramatic change.
After the collapse of Soviet Union, Francis Fukuyama announced “the End of History”. Western liberal democracies had won the Cold War. Democracies wouldn’t go to war with one another. The main clash, as Samuel P. Huntington had claimed, was supposed take place between civilizations; i.e. between democratic West and non-democratic (mostly Islamic) nations.
Globalization era had begun. Joseph Nye of Harvard had alleged that preferences of states could be shaped not only by hard military power but also by culture, democratic political values, persuasion, economic instruments and other soft foreign policy means.
Integration in European Union was deepening and expanding.
The entire world was supposed to be happy under unilateral American hegemony. Bipolar stability of Cold War period was replaced by unipolar hegemonic stability under American leadership.
Why this dream did not work?
The fundamental reason is the division in Western World. If all Western countries were united around one single ideal and if they were sharing same interests; things would be different in international relations today. Conflicts in Middle East, Brexit, Crisis in Europe, War in Ukraine… and all other major international problems arise from this basic fact.
The biggest war, conflict, rivalry, competition, struggle… in the world today, is not between Russia and America or China and America. The biggest conflict is between continental Europe and America. British have explicitly chosen their side by Brexit. Germany and France are standard-bearers of continental Europe.
The West, of course, will cooperate when non-Western actors are in case. However, they will also be competing with one another.
EU will be much stronger after Brexit. EU will become even stronger with Ukraine’s potential membership. Germany and France will never take Turkey as a full member in EU, unless Turkey reconsiders strategic partnership with America.
We cannot say that there are clear-cut lines like in Cold War days. When you look from this perspective, however, you can list hundreds of major and minor points of conflict between these powers.
China and Russia are not real opponents of American global hegemony. Unlike Germany and France, Russia and China lack the necessary social and political background for such a rivalry.
There will be, of course, problems between the West and the rest of the world. Yet this does not nullify the deep division inside the West.
I believe the new global balance of power in the West will be shaped according to the groupings around America-Britain and Germany-France.
War in Ukraine, Arab Spring, refugee politics and fierce economic competition and security related issues (NATO are only some of conflict fields between these polars.
What Turkey should do amid all this?
China is not engaging in direct antagonistic and conflictual relationship with any of its adversaries. This is primarily so because China is rising and it desperately needs stability in its regional and global relations. The engine of Chinese development is economic growth. Any problem endangering the economic growth will be hazardous for economic growth of China.
Turkey is rising too. The driving element in Turkey’s advancement is economic growth. Turkey must be in good relationship with its neighbours. No country can advance economically if it is engulfed by instability and turmoil. Peace and stability is imperative for Turkish decision makers.
This approach was actually formulated under the brand name “Zero Problem with neighbours” especially when Ahmet Davutoğlu was active in the government, as an advisor, foreign minister and prime minister.
Conflict, war, terrorism, separatism and turmoil, uprising and everything that causes instability and turmoil especially in the Caucasus and the Middle East spoils up Turkish growth and development plans. The higher the violence will be in the region, the slower growth and development in Turkey. Stability contributes to Turkey’s rise as a strong regional (and global) actor, while regional instability satisfies those who never wish to see a strong Turkey.
Peace does not mean neglecting, isolationism and entirely withdraw into its shell. Since, when we look into the region from this perspective, I believe that instability will not ease in the region. Relatively, Turkey should plan and act pre-emptively towards any potential instability in the region. As it is impossible to eliminate conflicts in the region, Turkey must make sure to turn any possible tide towards its own interests.
It will be highly speculative to claim that all sorts of regional problems have caused to stop Turkish influence in region. We can also confidently say that all sorts of unrest and instability in the region have perfectly served those who do not wish to see Turkey as a strong power.
Turkey must keep the balance between rival and divided West as well as West and the non-Western actors.
Importance of Turkish – Russian Cooperation under the speculations of a World War III
Relations between Turkey and Russia should not be evaluated under the light of short term, daily and conjunctural events.
The export based Turkish economy is in need of diverse and multiple markets. In this case, Russian Federation and other former republics of the Soviet Union (who are under Russian influence) are among the prominent markets for Turkish manufacturers and exporters.
The population of Russian Federation is nearly equal to half of the population in Arab countries. The sum of the GDP in all Arab countries hardly reaches that of Russian Federation alone.
I have been in Russia for more than ten times and I had a chance to visit several cities in this country. There are many products that can be exported to Russia. Economically, Turkish Foreign Policy should take Russia seriously. It must be kept in mind that negative relations with Russia will have negative implication over Turkey’s relationship with (some of the) other ex-Soviet countries, who are under the influence of Russian Foreign Policy.
Clash of interest in minor, regional and local problems should not hinder the overall good relations approach towards Russia. Both Russia and Turkey should not risk their mutual relations.
Turkey has strong relations with Western countries and it is quite obvious and understandable that Turkey cannot follow antagonistic relations with the Western countries. Moreover, Westernization (or Westernism) has been one of the most important elements of Turkish Foreign Policy for the last 90 years. However, this reality does not necessarily have to force Turkey ignore “multidimensional foreign policy”.
Currently, there are some procedural difficulties in exportation of Turkish goods to Russia. Eliminating these obstacles will develop economic ties further and Turkish exports to Russia will boom. It can easily be claimed that in tourism, construction, textile, furniture, machinery, energy, services, and many others sectors Turkish exports to Russia is not even in the beginning stage. The economic potential that Russia is offering Turkey is beyond comprehension.
Russian Federation constitutes an important market for Turkey that has to be taken under a serious consideration.
In the last decade, Turkey has been increasing its international popularity by pursuing an active foreign policy. The shape, depth and type of policy between Turkey and Russian will not only have significant implications for regional and international balances, but also to the direction of Turkish foreign policy. In spite of the fact that Turkey and Russia have different standings on certain fields, they both tend to prevent the crisis affect other fields in mutual relationship.
It has been traditionally been said that Turkey’s direction is the “West”. Turkey’s modernization endeavors and Cold War dynamics played important role on this discourse. In today’s conditions, however, this one-dimensional approach has lost its validity. Turkey’s relative power has changed. Regional and global dynamics are not the same.
Should Turkey join the Eurasian Customs Union, founded between Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia?
Does rapprochement between Turkey and Russia necessarily mean a divergence from the West in general and USA in particular for Turkey?
What effect Turkey’s close ties with Russia will have on its relations with Europe?
What about Turkey’s relations with other Turks; both in Russia and other Turkish Republics? Cooperation or rivalry (and collision) will best serve Turkey’s cause towards improving its relations with other Turks in Asia?
With its vast mass of land, young population, big economy, rich natural resources… etc. Russian market constitutes a great opportunity for Turkey. Is there any serious reason for not improving our relations with Russia?
What should be the scope of mutual relationship?
The 2023 Vision declared by Justice and Development Party of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan requires Turkey to come up with brand new approaches in foreign policy. The instability and fluctuations in Middle East and the persisting economic crisis in Europe have explicitly demonstrated that Turkey should establish close relations with the former Soviet Union region. In the same way, cooperation with Turkey will have contributive results in Russian Federation’s economic, political and social development.
So; Turkish and Russian intellectuals, diplomats and politicians should elaborate possibilities of Turkish – Russian cooperation that will be for the benefit of these two nations and the region.
Will World War III?
We do not need certain labels to define global
The globe has always been a battlefield. I think that the war has never stopped on this planet in the course of human history. Only the labels have varied: Diplomatic war, economic war, regional war, ideological war, religious war, Cold War, World War…etc.
Whether American strike in Syria will drag more states into direct conflict or not? Let’s hope and pray that it will not happen. There are no winners in war.
By Ahmed Necip YILDIRIM
(Originally published in Turkey Tribune)