Stand­ing alone

Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan’s speech at the UN high­lights just how iso­lated Turkey has be­come

Dünya Executive - - COVER PAGE - Il­ter TURAN Colum­nist IN­TER­VIEW: ADNAN R. KHAN

Last week, the an­nual rit­ual of world lead­ers com­ing to­gether in a spirit of diplo­macy and mu­tual re­spect played out once again at the United Na­tions. Well, not quite. The yearly gath­er­ing has over the years seen its fair share of ac­ri­mony and dis­con­tent. This year was no dif­fer­ent and it’s hard to say whether or not any­thing con­struc­tive emerged from the gath­er­ing. Nonethe­less, lead­ers made their way to the podium and de­liv­ered their yearly ad­dresses. Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan stuck to some time-hon­ored themes but also made a case for the is­sues clos­est to Turkey. What were some of the key high­lights?

►Adnan R. Khan: Can you give read­ers a brief re­cap of Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan’s speech?

Il­ter Turan: The speech con­sisted of two parts. One was the pres­i­dent’s gen­eral views on how the world sys­tem of gov­er­nance is op­er­at­ing and the el­e­ments of un­fair­ness and in­jus­tice that seem to be part of it. The sec­ond was di­rected at ques­tions that are of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to Turkey. We can per­haps sum up the first part by quot­ing Er­do­gan him­self: “The world is big­ger than five,” he said, re­fer­ring to the per­ma­nent mem­bers of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and the fact that it no longer rep­re­sents the global re­al­ity. It’s an ar­gu­ment that he has made be­fore but the prob­lem is of course that to try to change the sys­tem you have to work within the ex­ist­ing struc­ture, which in­cludes the veto power of the five. So there is a built-in prob­lem of bring­ing about change that would re­duce the power of the cur­rent per­ma­nent mem­bers of the Coun­cil.

The pres­i­dent also com­plained about the nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion sys­tem. His ar­gu­ment, again, was sound: The coun­tries that al­ready possess nu­clear weapons seek to main­tain per­ma­nently their mo­nop­oly on nu­clear power. That is not ac­cept­able to other coun­tries that are tar­gets of nu­clear-armed na­tions who feel their se­cu­rity may be bet­ter served by pos­sess­ing their own nu­clear de­ter­rent. Es­sen­tially, the Pres­i­dent sug­gested that the cur­rent sys­tem would be ac­cept­able only if those who al­ready possess nu­clear weapons give them up. That’s sound logic. But un­for­tu­nately, the world just doesn’t work on sound logic but on power po­si­tions.

►Adnan R. Khan: All of th­ese is­sues are peren­nial. They’ve come and gone over the decades. It’s noth­ing ground­break­ing.

Il­ter Turan: No. In fact, I think it has al­most be­come a rit­ual that Er­do­gan refers to th­ese points in his

UN speeches. The prob­lem is, if you are in­ter­ested in bring­ing about gen­uine change, mak­ing speeches at the UN must be backed by coali­tions of like-minded coun­tries. Only to­gether can you put up a chal­lenge. But there seems to be no in­di­ca­tion that there is a sys­tem­atic ef­fort of which Turkey is a part that is aim­ing to change the cur­rent sys­tem of in­ter­na­tional gov­er­nance.

►Adnan R. Khan: And Turkey’s ob­vi­ously put it­self in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion where it doesn’t re­ally have a lot of al­lies in the world it can turn to bring about th­ese changes. It’s be­come iso­lated.

Il­ter Turan: Yes. Not many coun­tries are will­ing to ac­cept Turkey as a leader th­ese days. That’s a short­com­ing of Turk­ish pol­icy. If you are in­ter­ested in lead­ing the world, then you should first de­velop good re­la­tions with a large group of coun­tries so that they’re will­ing to trust you and ac­cept your lead­er­ship.

►Adnan R. Khan: Be­yond the usual global is­sues, th­ese U.N. speeches are of­ten plat­forms from which lead­ers air their griev­ances about spe­cific is­sues that are im­por­tant to them. In that sense, Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan did go into some con­tro­ver­sial ter­ri­tory. Can you talk a bit about that?

Il­ter Turan: He talked about a num­ber of things but the most im­por­tant was the se­cu­rity zone that he wants es­tab­lished east of the Euphrates in Syria. He made the ar­gu­ment that this zone could be ex­panded and a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Syr­ian refugees in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries or in Europe could be re­set­tled there. Now, I’m not per­son­ally able to make judg­ments on what kind of pop­u­la­tion this par­tic­u­lar ter­ri­tory would be able to sup­port but prior to the Syr­ian war this was not where Syria’s pop­u­la­tion was mostly con­cen­trated. Th­ese are agri­cul­tural ar­eas, part of it is desert. If you bring Syr­i­ans back from other coun­tries, I don’t know what kind of liveli­hood they would be able to es­tab­lish there. There seems to be no ma­jor ur­ban cen­ters around that could ac­com­mo­date those kinds of num­bers.

►Adnan R. Khan: The main power­bro­ker in north­ern Syria, of course, is the U.S. The U.S. put pres­sure on the PYD/YPG to ac­cept the se­cu­rity zone in the first place. For Turkey to ex­pand that zone will re­quire the co­op­er­a­tion of the cur­rent Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion. But af­ter last week’s de­vel­op­ments, with Pres­i­dent Trump now the tar­get of an im­peach­ment in­quiry, will the U.S. be able to pay any at­ten­tion to Turkey’s needs?

Il­ter Turan: It is less about at­ten­tion in gen­eral and more about whose at­ten­tion. If the U.S. pres­i­dent fails to pro­vide di­rec­tion, then the agen­cies of govern­ment be­gin to pur­sue their own goals and im­ple­ment their own poli­cies. The U.S. has been mak­ing a con­scious ef­fort to get the Turks to ac­cept the idea that Amer­i­can sup­port of the YPG is okay pro­vided that some mea­sures are taken and Turkey is re­warded in other ways. Now the chances of this work­ing don’t look par­tic­u­larly good be­cause Turkey sees the YPG as an ex­is­ten­tial ques­tion whereas the Amer­i­cans see it as a pol­icy in­stru­ment. The mind­sets with which they ap­proach this prob­lem are very dif­fer­ent.

Now, with the im­peach­ment process in the U.S., Trump will in­evitably have to spend more of his en­er­gies in fight­ing off im­peach­ment. He will have less en­ergy to de­vote to lead­ing Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy. The Turk­ish govern­ment has based its re­la­tions with the U.S. on the as­sump­tion that the friendli­est el­e­ment in the Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion to Turkey’s view­points is Trump. But as the Pres­i­dent’s po­si­tion is un­der­mined and his abil­ity to of­fer lead­er­ship is chipped away, it will be more dif­fi­cult for him to im­ple­ment his Syria poli­cies. The Amer­i­can mil­i­tary has been adamant about its sup­port of the YPG and the State Depart­ment also has not been fa­vor­ably dis­posed to Turkey, nor the Con­gress. Turkey seems not to have many friends in the U.S. and the clos­est thing to a friend they had was Mr. Trump. And he is in trou­ble.

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