Turkey The New Regional Power?

                      by David Parmer / Tokyo

The face of Turkey today is the face of its leader and president, Recp Tayyip Erdogan. Mr. Erdogan is imposing his vision of the way things might be not just on his own country, but also on his region and indeed the world.

The once proud and powerful Ottoman Empire disappeared after WWI, but it seems to many that the president is determined to bring back the days of glory when the Ottoman Turks were both feared and respected. Mr. Erdogan, using a combination of soft power and military force, might just be the man to do it.

Under Mr. Erdogan Turkey has asserted and inserted itself around its region and beyond. In the not-too-distant past Turkey joined NATO as its only Islamic member and was looking toward possible EU membership. But then Turkey began to assert its own policy which while not anti-western was certainly pro-Turkey.

In home waters Turkey has had an ongoing dispute with the EU over drilling for energy resources off Cyprus. The dispute began in 2018 regarding the exclusive economic zone around Cyprus. Despite opposition and recommendations from the European Council in 2019 Turkey has continued with its exploration activities.

In 2016 the powerful Turkish military began an incursion into Syria to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS/ DAESH). A long and bloody conflict ensued which had its roots all the way back to 2011. During its involvement in the Syrian civil war Turkey has lost at least 300 personnel killed and had numerous aircraft and armored vehicles destroyed. Turkey conducted another major incursion into Syria in 2019 to protect its borders and remove pro-Kurdish forces.

In January 2020 Turkey entered the Libyan civil war on the side of the side of the GNA or Government of National Accord, the established government of Libya. Turkey has reportedly supplied intelligence support, air and naval support as well as introducing Syrian mercenary fighters in support of the government. Turkey’s support and the victory of its proxies would demonstrate to the region and o the world Turkey’s ability to project power and influence the outcome of regional conflicts. In 2020 Turkey has also backed Azerbaijan in its fight with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

And it is not just its neighbors and the Europeans with whom Turkey is asserting itself, now it is the United States. In what seems to be a “no winner” contest Turkey and the US are embroiled in a very unfriendly discussion over Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 “Triumf” missile system, and incredibly lethal air defense weapon that far surpasses the US Patriot missile system.

Turkey was on board to buy the Patriot system but the US refused the technology transfer that would enable it to be copied and built. The Turks retaliated by turning to Russia for the S-400 system and the US retaliated by excluding Turkey (a NATO partner) from its F35 fighter jet program. As of later 2020, Turkey is going ahead with its S-400 acquisition (including test firing) and the US is talking sanctions.

It seems that Mr. Erdogan is determined to make Turkey a real regional power going forward. The Turkish economy is predicted to make a healthy rebound in 2021 despite some contraction. Given that and the president’s popularity among the voters, there is a good chance that modern Turkey just might become the new Ottoman Empire, at least in spirit.

Photo: Pavel Vanka via flickr


Person of Interest: Tony Blinken, Biden Foreign Policy Advisor.

To get an idea of former Vice President Joe Biden’s foreign policy when he becomes president, the best person to listen to is his top advisor, Tony Blinken.

Blinken, a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia University has been around politics and policy since 1994 when he was on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council staff. From 2002-2008 he was Democratic Staff Director for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Blinken was Deputy Secretary of State from 2015-2017 and Deputy National Security Advisor. It is possible that he will be chosen to be National Security Advisor in a Biden administration.

In two interviews (links below) he outlines a possible direction for Biden foreign policy. It should come as no surprise that one of the first priorities will be mending relations with US allies who have been alienated by the substance and manner of Donald Trump’s policies toward allies, toward Europe and toward NATO.

The big question is relations with China. In the interviews Blinken suggests that the US is operating from a position of weakness regarding China and the first task is to reestablish good relations with US allies before dealing with China. He suggests that the US and China share many common interests internationally and that these are areas for cooperation. However, he stresses that the US must do this from a position of strength.

As for Iran, the US withdrawal from the JCPOA or “Iran Deal” did not force Iran back to the bargaining table as the Trump administration had planned, nor did the crippling sanctions create regime change in Teheran. It is possible that the US might even return to the JCPOA under a Biden administration. The Europeans have been keeping the deal on life support, and it might well get new life.

While it is possible that a Biden administration would have to look inward to repair the damage done to all areas of American politics and daily life brought about by 4 years of the Trump policies, the US would still have both its international commitments and interests, and those would be addressed by people of a like mind to Tony Blinken.

Dialogue on American Foreign Policy and World Affairs: A Conversation with Former Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (Hudson Institute)

Transcript: Joe Biden foreign policy adviser Anthony Blinken on COVID shortfalls, failures in Syria (CBS News)

Photo: US Department of State via flickr

Turkey’s Military Fully Capable Of Projecting Power.

                            by David Parmer / Tokyo

The Turks live in a rough neighborhood–their country borders Iran, Iraq, Syria, and just across the Black Sea is Russia. So for defense alone they have to have credible military power. Moreover challenges often lie across the border, and they must have the ability to project power cross-border to defend what they see as their national interests. An example of this cross-border power projection was their October 2019 incursion into northern Syria in the wake of US withdrawal.

The Kurdish insurgency has always been a stone in their shoe, and so when the Kurds lost their American shield, it was the perfect vacuum in which to cross the border and deal with the long-standing issue of the Kurdish threat. Turkey easily has the power to do that, and their strength is impressive.

Estimates are that Turkey has 3/4 of a million soldiers under arms with another 1/2 million in reserve. They also have 4200 tanks of all types and 10,000 assorted armored vehicles, 475 helicopters, 1300 self-propelled artillery pieces and 1500 towed artillery pieces. They have over 500 combat aircraft including 270 F16 fighters-the biggest fleet outside of the US military. Although not playing a role in the current cross-border situation, they have a robust but small naval force of 16 frigates and 14 type-209 submarines. They also possess cruise missiles with a range of more that 150 miles.

Kurdish forces were, and are, no match for Turkish might, particularly without their American “allies.” News reports suggest that in the vacuum left by the Americans, the Kurds turned to President Bashar al Assad’s regime and its Russian allies for help. The Russians are now co-patrolling northern Syria with the Turks. It is indeed a complicated situation, for Turkey is a staunch NATO ally, and NATO faces off mainly against Russia.

Turkey gets its military hardware mainly from the US and Germany, NATO allies of theirs. They also have their own defense industry to make equipment like armored vehicles of all types. A surprise for NATO was President Erdogan’s decision to buy the powerful and deadly Russian S-400 Triumph air defense missile system instead of comparable equipment from American or other non-Russian suppliers.

That being said, President Erdogan has to walk a thin line between Russian and the US, its main supplier of military equipment, its NATO partner and the tenant at his Inchlink airbase. However, it is fairly clear that Turkey will not only act in what it sees as its self-interest, but will use its massive military power as it sees fit and will be willing to face criticism or even harsh sanctions to do so.

It is a complicated situation for all parties concerned. What is your opinion on this matter?

Photo:BMC Turkey, https://www.bmc.com.tr/en/corporate/press-center