A newly released policy report on Turkey by the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Academy in Washington caught my eye this week. The report was dubbed, “Getting to Zero: Turkey, Its Neighbors and the West,” and the brief’s analysis and policy recommendations unfortunately display a distinct pro-Turkish bias which fails to recognize that Ankara’s aggressive foreign and security policy posture is increasingly at odds with core U.S. and European interests.
Turkey has not only been working hard to prevent tougher sanctions on its close regional partner Iran – see the recent Turkey-Brazil nuclear deal with Tehran and its “no” vote at the UN Security Council – but has also purposely used last week’s flotilla incident to provoke Israel into military action, while simultaneously boosting its own standing in the Arab world. Turkish flags and portraits of Prime Minister Erdogan are now ubiquitous in the Gaza Strip, where Turkey is being hailed by Hamas and other Muslim extremist groups for daring to confront the Jewish state. Also, tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets across major Turkish cities in recent days, waving Hezbollah and Palestinian flags, while chanting “Allah is Great” and “Down with Israel."
The entire report seems to be based on the assumption that Turkey’s Islamist AKP government, at this moment, is already a constructive player in the Middle East, which helps promote “universal values” in the region. Well, for more information on the Islamist/terrorist connections of the Turkish IHH “charity” that organized the flotilla to break Israel’s Gaza blockade see here, here, and here.
Several of the report’s policy recommendations, especially those aimed at the EU and U.S., are also quite disconcerting. The EU partners, for example, are urged to “[c]onduct relations with Turkey according to the principle of pacta sunt servanda, a central pillar of the European integration project.” It is not necessary to remind the EU of the pacta sunt servanda (Latin for “agreements must be kept”) concept, which is of course a fundamental principle of international law. After all, Brussels seems fully committed to continuing its accession negotiations with Ankara (first started in 2005) at all cost, despite growing evidence that Turkey’s early, limited progress on the road toward closer European integration has been undone in recent years by the erratic and increasingly nationalist policies of Prime Minister Erdogan’s Islamist AKP government. To this day, Ankara refuses to recognize Cyprus, an existing EU member, as a sovereign state. If anything, pacta sunt servanda can only refer to the notion that the EU negotiations with Turkey should continue (as an open-ended process); it cannot and should not be used in an ill-advised attempt to force the EU to eventually accept Ankara regardless of the outcome of the accession talks. That commitment was never made to the Turks.
As for the U.S., the report recommends, inter alia, that Washington “[s]upport Turkey’s EU membership through quiet diplomacy by encouraging Turkey’s reform efforts and indicating to its European partners that the notion of ‘privileged partnership’ lacks credibility and undermines the letter and the spirit of the accession process.” For sure, if Washington wants to continue to press for Turkish EU membership, it is certainly well-advised to do so discreetly behind the scenes, not using the type of counter-productive megaphone diplomacy espoused by President Obama (and previous U.S. presidents for that matter). As key European leaders like French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel have repeatedly emphasized, the decision on Turkey’s potential EU accession will be taken by each of the 27-member states, not by any outside party.
The report also makes a mistake by dismissing outright the concept of a “privileged partnership.” While Turkey and the EU are continuing their accession talks, it is obviously far too early to tell what the endgame will be and whether Turkey will ever be ready – or still be willing – to join the EU in the future. It is therefore only prudent and honest to start defining the parameters of a “privileged partnership” (or whatever you want to call it) with countries such as Turkey as a viable, potential alternative to full EU membership. The concept could also be used to structure relations with other strategically important countries (Ukraine, Algeria, Morocco, etc.) that, for a variety of reasons, are either unable or unwilling to join the EU.
The executive summary of the Turkey report concludes with the following words: “As the policy recommendations … make clear, the report does not propose an uncritical appraisal of Turkish actions but one which recognizes that contributions to American and European goals may come in a new, and perhaps unfamiliar, guise.”
Reading these words, I do not know whether to laugh or cry.