Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Transatlantic Drift

Simon Tisdall has an interesting piece up on the Guardian website look at how Washington's effort to create a NATO-led missile defense program in Europe is, "bringing longstanding tensions over European security into the open, to the potential advantage of Russia and Turkey, the maverick guardians of the EU's eastern flank." The full column can be found here.

Also of interest is a new study by the European Council on Foreign Relations that Tisdall links to, titled "The Spectre of a Multipolar Europe." From the report's summary:

The findings:

  • The post-Cold War order is unravelling. Rather than uniting under a single system, Europe’s big powers are moving apart. Tensions between them have made security systems dysfunctional: they failed to prevent war in Kosovo and Georgia, instability in Kyrgyzstan, disruption to Europe’s gas supplies, and solve frozen conflicts.
  • The EU has spent much of the last decade defending a European order that no longer functions. Russia and Turkey may complain more, but the EU has the most to lose from the current peaceful disorder.
  • A frustrated Turkey still wants to join the EU, but it is increasingly pursuing an independent foreign policy and looking for a larger role as a regional power. In the words of foreign minister Davutoglu, Turkey is now an ‘actor not an issue’. Its accession negotiations to the EU should be speeded up, and it must also be engaged as an important regional power.
  • Russia never accepted the post-Cold War order. Moscow is now strong enough to openly challenge it, but its Westpolitik strategy also means that it is open to engagement – that is why Dmitri Medvedev suggested a new European security treaty a couple of years ago.
  • Obama’s non-appearance at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was the latest sign that the US is no longer focused on Europe’s internal security. Washington has its hands full dealing with Afghanistan, Iran and China and is no longer a European power.

The Recommendations:

  • An informal ‘trialogue’ involving the EU, Turkey and Russia should be established, allowing cooperation over security to build from the ground up.
  • In order to strengthen Turkey’s European identity, Ankara should be given a top-table seat at the trialogue, in parallel with enhanced EU accession negotiations. New chapters should be opened on CSDP and energy.
  • The EU should be represented by the foreign affairs high representative, Catherine Ashton, institutionalising the EU as a security actor.
  • A European security identity should be fostered by encouraging the involvement of Russia in projects like missile defence that focus on external threats to Europe.
  • Russian resolve should be tested by a commitment to dealing with frozen conflicts and instability in the wider European area.
The Full report can be found here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Unguided Missiles

As James Traub points out in his most recent Foreign Policy column, Turkey currently aspires to be many things, some of which may ultimately contradict each other. Can one have rapidly warming political and trade ties with Iran while at the same time playing host to a new NATO-sponsored missile defense system that is squarely aimed at countering an Iranian threat? That appears to be the fix Ankara is currently in.

With NATO and Washington pushing for a new missile defense system, one that would make extensive use of Turkey's strategic geographic location, Ankara is now looking for ways to neither offend its neighbor to the east nor its allies in the West. In a column in Today's Zaman, analyst Lale Kemal takes a look at what appears to be Turkey's solution to the conundrum it is facing, which is to only agree to join the missile defense program if it doesn't name any specific targets. Is Tehran assuaged that easily? Perhaps.

Not joining the missile shield program is, of course, also an option for Turkey, but it would certainly only give only more ammunition to those making the case that the country is "drifting east," with more articles like this one certain to come. All in all, the missile defense decision appears to be one that crystalizes the difficult balancing act Turkey is trying to maintain while both hanging on to its traditional role as a reliable NATO member and developing its new role as a more independent and unconventional regional player.

More background on the missile defense debate in Turkey can be found in previous posts, here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On "Public Opinion"

In the previous post, I wrote about the tricky nature of "public opinion" in Turkey. In a new piece for the German Marshall Fund, Bilgi University's Ilter Turan tackles the same issue, looking at a the results of a few recent public opinion polls taken in Turkey and trying to figure out what they say. His interesting analysis can be found here(pdf).

Friday, October 8, 2010

"Zero Problems, Maximum Trade": Chinese Edition

In July of 2009, after dozens of Uighurs were killed or went missing in the wake of ethnic riots in western China's Xinjiang province, Turkish merchants were setting fire to Chinese-made products, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed a "genocide" had been committed and a diplomatic crisis between Ankara and Beijing appeared to be brewing. (For more details, take a look at these previous posts.)

Cut to today, with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao coming to Turkey on an official visit and announcing with Erdogan that the two countries are establishing a "strategic partnership" and plan to triple their trade in the next five years. This comes on the heels of reports that Turkish and Chinese military jets trained together, as part of the annual Anatolian Eagle exercises that Ankara last year controversially banned Israel from participating in (on the grounds that the Turkish public wouldn't accept the presence of the same military that attacked Gaza on Turkish soil). Uighurs? "Genocide?" Let bygones be bygones. Clearly Turkey and China have bigger fish to fry these days.

It's fairly obvious to say that when it wants to be, the Erdogan government can be exceedingly pragmatic, especially when the issue is expanding trade. But I think the interaction with China also says a lot about "public opinion" in Turkey and how it can be shaped by official attitudes. Since the "genocide" remark in July of 2009, Erdogan and other officials have said very little about the situation in Xinjiang and have refrained from criticizing China. The result? Where one would expect at least some reaction on the behalf of the Turkish public on behalf of their Uighur kin during the Chinese leader's visit, there has been silence.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sowing the Seeds of Paranoia

The start of the academic year is always a good time to instill some wisdom and knowledge in the minds of young and impressionable students, which is just what Yusuf Ziya Ozcan, head of Turkey's Higher Board of Education (YOK), tried to do in a recent talk in front of students at Central Turkey's Nevsehir University.

The subject of the talk given by Ozcan (pictured above) -- Turkey's highest-level academic, essentially -- was the importance of Turkey's universities ramping up their own research capabilities. To support his argument, Ozcan brought up the subject of tomato seeds, most of which he claimed are being imported from the United States and Israel, with dire consequences for Turkish eaters.

Here's a translation of what he had to say on the subject:
The seeds of the tomatoes and wheat we grow in Turkey mostly come from abroad, because we don't have enough seeds of our own. They come from the US and Israel. As a Turkish intellectual, sometimes I feel very little.

I mean, can't we produce our tomato seeds here in our country?.... And we don't know the consequences either. You're buying these tomato seeds. There is something called 'genetic programming.' They can implant a genetic mechanism into the tomatoes and we can eat it without even knowing. We can be infected with some diseases that we don't know anything about. In the meantime, you can destroy a whole nation. They can implant such things that people who eat these seeds die in the meantime. There are things like that and it is very dangerous. Therefore our universities need to help us in that matter.
More details (in Turkish) here.

Beyond the disturbing thought of the head of Turkey's highest academic body selling a group of students a conspiracy theory built on bad science, it turns out that Ozcan's basic data is also wrong. Forced to respond to Ozcan's allegations, Turkey's Minister of Agriculture said that the country, in fact, imports only about 6 percent of its seeds from Israel. More here.

More than tomato seeds imported from Israel, perhaps the greatest challenge facing Turkey is the quality of its educational system, from the primary level all the way to the top (for a very interesting take on that issue, read this great blog post by Aengus Collins). Ozcan's Nevsehir talk may be an indication of how far Turkey has to go in dealing with that challenge.