Turkey, West relations in age of Erdogan

Alwaght– The June 24 elections of Turkey were highly significant in the country’s contemporary history, both because of bringing to rule a president with full executive powers and potential influences on the home and foreign policy.

The elections marked a transition from the parliamentary to the presidential system of governance which was authorized on April 26 constitutional referendum during which people said yes to proposed changes. This means that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now can push with his domestic and foreign plans with little obstruction from his opponents.

One of the important cases of the foreign policy of Erdogan Turkey is the relations with the West. A set of cases are influencing this relation, including the economic partnership, refugee crisis, military cooperation, Syria crisis, post-ISIS Iraq, the Persian Gulf Arab states’ political row, and most importantly the Al-Quds (Jerusalem) annexation by the Israeli regime known as “deal of the century.”

With these in mind, in the next five years in which Erdogan leads the nation, Turkey is expected to experience friction with the West in a set of aspects.

Human rights issues, as in the past, are slated to continue hampering normal ties between the two. The Western governments will continue to question Erdogan’s crackdown on the political opponents, military campaigns against PKK militiamen in the Kurdish areas of the country, and a clampdown on the media freedom which followed failed military coup in 2016.

Erdogan plans to transform his country in the next five years into a power among the top 10 global economic powers, a global rank he wants to reach in 2023, the year the Republic of Turkey celebrates its centenary. Europe, in the meantime, is not optimistic about a shining record for the human rights situation in the country.

In the days that followed the elections, the German Foreign Minister Heiko Joseph Maas called on Turkey to end the state of emergency, in place since the unsuccessful power grab attempt two years ago. Foreign Minister Karin Kneissi of Austria, on the other side, criticized imprisonment of the opposition leaders, adding that despite the fact that Europe does not set much hope on democratic improvement in Turkey, it gives Erdogan another chance to seek democratic enhancement.

The Europeans’ discontentment sets up firm roadblocks ahead of long-held Turkish dream of joining the European Union. Although over the past decade Erdogan signaled that EU accession is no longer a priority for Ankara, a part of the Turkish society and political body remain committed to working towards the realization of this dream. Still, some experts suggest that the Turkish leader seeks to put together the 2023 vision puzzle by pushing for EU membership.

Politically, the analysts believe, Erdogan will highlight the disputes with the West to bolster a nationalistic spirit of the Turkish people. He won a little bit more than 50 percent of the votes, which means the other half of the Turkish society still opposes his political pathway. To address this challenge, the president will accentuate nationalism to get a majority of people around him. To this aim, he will work hard to present a picture of an independent Turkey with the power to make decisions not influenced by the Eastern and Western powers. He will also emphasize the security threats posed to the nation’s southern borders.

Erdogan will very likely continue military operations against the Kurdish militants in Iraq’s Qandi mountains and also in Syria’s north. The Kurds are making a point of dispute between Turkey and the US, a supporter of the Kurdish militias operating in northern Syria. Ankara views them as a threat to its national security but Washington takes advantage of them as an infantry serving its agenda in war-ravaged Syria. So, the upcoming months will possibly bear a more spirited rift between the two.

Russia, another power acting in Syria, is leaving Erdogan’s hands open in parts of northern Syria to attract Ankara to its side in a regional game of influence with the US. Moscow’s turning blind eye to Turkish military operations against the Syrian Kurds, on the one hand, and rows with the West, on the other hand, have dragged Turkey and Russia into a tactical alliance.

Turkey and the West will possibly clash over Ankara’s purchase of rival Russia’s S-400 air defense systems while being a NATO member. Warm ties with Ankara will allow Moscow’s free movement to Eastern Europe through Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, operated by Turkey. The West will possibly protest to Turkey as Russian ships’ passage through the straits will grant Moscow higher maneuvering power in the face of NATO.

Another important mission for Erdogan in the new period is to maintain a balance in relations with the Western countries, which are fellow members in NATO, and Russia, which is important for Ankara leader as a source of huge income to the Turkish tourism industry.

Another important point in relation to the West-Turkey ties is the military bonds under NATO partnership. Over the past decade, Erdogan has learned well how to play Washington. He now knows where he can inflame the rifts and where he can wrest privileges from the West. Ankara’s shift from a terrorist groups’ backer to an active peace player in Astana talks for Syria bears witness to its foreign policy flexibility.

In general, despite a tactical alliance with Russia, and challenges surrounding human rights issues with the Western governments, Turkey’s bonds with the West in security, economic, and political areas are expected to continue in the new period.