Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Turkish Bridge: East meets West & Security meets Economics

Turkey is in a pivotal position on the United Nations Security Council – the United States, the United Kingdom, and France are looking to impose sanction on Iran, and they may need Turkey’s vote. But Turkey is looking to avoid the sanction option – and they’re opposed to military action against Iran.

For decades, Turkey was in the hip pocket of the West, no? The country had been trying to get into the European Union since at least the late 1980s – doing just about anything to please the West. Europe took this country for granted and kept slamming the door in Turkey’s face. But times they are a-changin’ in this multi-polar world of ours, and Turkey may now see its destiny with Asia, not Europe.

How did we get this far? I’d like to share just two observations that tie this international security issue to international economic issues.

(1) After decades of loyalty to the West, Turkey got into major financial trouble at the turn of this new century. The government entered into an International Monetary Fund (IMF) arrangement in December 1999. Conditionality was harsh. In return for IMF loans, the government was required to impose austerity on the Turkish people. Turkey – at that moment in history – was not looking so important to the Western powers, and the IMF deal was not sweet. It left many in Turkey bitter towards the West.

(2) Flash forward to the fall of 2008… the annual elections for the United Nations Security Council. Western Europe was taking turns filling the seat. And who’s turn was it? Why, Iceland, of course! Well, if you think back to the fall of 2008, it was not exactly the finest moment in Icelandic history.

Usually, regions decide who gets to be their regional representative on the Security Council. Europe had picked Iceland. But, technically, any country can nominate itself and run for election. And the winner must garner two-thirds of the votes of the United Nations General Assembly.

Guess which country believed it could beat Iceland! That’s right, Turkey – spurned by Europe over and again – decided to run for the Western European seat on the Security Council. And up against Iceland at that moment in history, well, it won decisively. It was a watershed moment in history that went unnoticed my most. (I caught it.)

1999: A financial crisis leads to an IMF arrangement that leaves Turkey bitter with the West.

2008: Another financial crisis enables Turkey to catch a seat on the Security Council in a veritable coup.

Financial crises taketh away… and they giveth back.

How can we win Turkey back? Well, the first thing the West needs to realize is that it should never have taken Turkey for granted. Interestingly, the previous times Turkey had been elected to the Security Council – back in the 1950s & 1960s – the country was elected to represent Asia. I think Turkey is the only country to have represented different regions – this special country is truly at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

Turkey is the bridge between the East and the West, and in a multi-polar world, Turkey will be a pivotal player. We ought to be consistently treating it like one.

It may, of course, be too late to win Turkey back. If you had to choose your destiny, and could hitch your wagon to either Europe or Asia, which would you choose right now? Asia has growing economic might. But the West has proven economic strength and the promise of democracy. So, the West should not give up on winning back countries it burned in the past. If, by chance, Turkey should happen to need a loan from the IMF, let’s be sweeter next time – kind treatment from the IMF has been known to buy the West votes on the Security Council before. International economics can be a bridge to international security.

1 comment:

  1. If the European (specially German) voters are not smart enough to understand that bailing Greece out is, in fact, saving their own banks (which actually means saving their retirement funds), how can we expect them to understand the strategic relevance of Turkey?