At the UN, Trump talks tough; Erdogan offers an olive branch.
What’s behind the shift?
Last week’s United Nations General Assembly meeting was a blunt reminder of how much the world has changed. Most striking were the speeches - delivered in succession - by U.S. President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Trump’s address, a 35-minute homage to renewed nationalism, set the tone for a stark vision of the world where nation states compete with each other in pursuit of their own narrow interests. Once Trump vacated the lectern, it was Erdoğan’s turn to deliver an antithetical message: the world, he said, needs to work together more closely than ever to tackle the unique problems it faces today. It was, by any measure, a monumental shift. The U.S., once the torchbearer of a cooperative world order, has now turned isolationist; Turkey, once inward-looking, has turned its gaze outward and, at least in rhetoric, embraced a globalist worldview. What’s behind this apparent ideological re-ordering?
►How do you nterpret th s role reversal?
The simplest explanation is also the most obvious: Trump. It seems that the U.S. under the Trump presidency and Turkey, as a response to that presidency, have switched roles. In the old days, you had an America that would be talking about a cooperative international system. Now, Mr. Trump is talking about America only. Turkey, which usually tried to defend its own causes, is approaching the UN with a universalist orientation and trying to discuss what sorts of changes are necessary to render the UN a more effective organization. This is a remarkable contrast to earlier times. It is clearly a function of Mr. Trump being in office. This administration has denounced the global role the U.S. has been playing in sustaining a system the U.S. itself was instrumental in building. The U.S. now sees the system from a narrowly defined nationalist perspective which it feels serves best the interests of its own people. It is not interested in tending to the problems the world faces. In sum, we have a highly transformed environment in the UN and the two speeches was a remarkable piece of evidence about how things have changed.
►Is th s sh ft or sw tch opportun st c or s there substance to t as well?
In the case of the U.S., there’s clearly a shift of policy because you have the Americans pulling out of international agreements they have signed. They are reducing the monetary support they have been extending to a number of international activities, as most recently manifest in the reduction of financial support to the Palestinians. The U.S. has also stopped international cooperative efforts with regards to trade deals like the TTIP and TPP; it is at odds with the WTO and it wants to re-introduce a system of customs duties for protective purposes which. Mr. Trump claims are “national security interests.” There is a general unwillingness on the part of the U.S. government to protect the international system of governance and an increasing desire to go on its own to protect its own narrowly defined interests.
►Why s t mportant for Turkey embrace a more global st system?
The new role Turkey has assumed is an interesting one. The Turkish president has discovered that internationalist messages with a humanitarian bent tend to generate favorable responses. The approach, however, suffers from two shortcomings: first, there seems to be no serious international effort to transform the global system of governance; and second, Turkey itself is not in a position to bring about change. It may engage in acts of generosity here and there - I was surprised to learn, for instance, that Turkey has even extended aid to Zimbabwe - but these are modest amounts. Turkey is not in a position to provide extensive support to other countries when Turkey itself needs more austerity these days to put its own economy in order.
►So t does sound l ke more of an asp rat onal speech.
It was more a statement of aspirations than a policy proposal. In fact, no specific reform proposal has been spelled out, and to the best of my knowledge, there is no organized effort to do something. But the Turkish president has voiced concerns that have been around for some time and have already been expressed, but perhaps not as strongly as he has expressed them.
►Cons der ng the troubles Turkey s fac ng, ts econom c problems and solat on on the nternat onal stage, do you see th s sh ft as an ol ve branch to the West?
That may be the intention but I’m not persuaded that it will achieve such an effect. More importantly, Erdoğan also complained a lot about the support the U.S. and European countries extend to movements that Turkey considers as terrorist. In that area, it is important to remind all actors that terrorism is a global problem and if you ignore some terrorist movements but fight others, it becomes very difficult to form a united front; rendering it likely that the entire struggle against terrorism will fail. I think the president reminded everyone of the problem.
►So Erdoğan has presented th s global st v s on of the world at a key nternat onal forum. He’s head ng to Germany now for a state v s t. Do you expect h m to cont nue th s push for more nternat onal sm to counter Trump’s protect on sm?
I don’t think most items that will come to the table in Germany will be closely connected to what he said at the UN, excepting terrorism. What he spoke about at the UN is not backed by any particular plan to bring together a large group of countries to develop and put forward specific demands as to how the UN should be reformed. It would also be unrealistic to exclude from this process the very countries that dominate the UN. In the end, five nations on the Security Council have veto power such that they can veto anything they don’t like. Reforms involve give and take and intense efforts at persuasion. It’s a very tedious process that requires long term patience. Unfortunately, Turkish policymakers at the moment are not noted for their patience and long-term thinking.
►Erdoğan also brought up the refugee ssue and spec f cally the payments Turkey has yet to rece ve from the EU. W ll that be on the table n Germany?
Turkey will probably remind our German partners of the problem and also ask them to remind the EU of it. Turkey is doing its utmost to stem the flow of refugees to the EU and taking care of those who are in the country. Large number of refugees initially made plans to go elsewhere but Turkey made a commitment not to let them go. Therefore, Turkey is justified in asking for greater financial support from Germany and other EU countries to be spent on refugees.