Turkey is the new regional power of the Middle East, largely thanks to the US war and occupation of Iraq, the Western support of Arab Spring uprisings that weakened most of the countries, including civil-war torn Syria. Israel and Iran are the only regional players that pose any kind of counterweight to Turkey, but owing to US-EU support for the Syrian rebels and the chronic anti-Iran campaign, Turkey is likely to become much stronger in the near and intermediate future. The question for Turkey is what does it want, what limitations is the West prepared to place upon it, what role will Russia, Iran and Israel play in containing its regional superpower role?
1. Does Turkey (Turkey's political, military, economic and social elites) wish to revive the once mighty role it enjoyed under the Ottoman Empire and have regional hegemony, as many analysts believe? If so, does this not conflict with the aim to conform to EU preconditions in order to qualify for membership?
2. Does Turkey wish to simply confine its role to become the next Brazil or India global economic success story under a neoliberal model (privatization of public enterprises and reliance on foreign investment) with a heavy dose of traditional crony capitalism politics that it has been pursuing? If so, is it willing to pay the price of inevitable social instability owing to the contradictions between economic growth and high poverty levels?
3. Does Turkey wish to have a military role commensurate to its economic power, thus challenging Israel and Iran? Is this why it has been spending heavily on defense? If so, will high defense spending undermine its economic growth prospects and its social programs required to keep peace among the masses?
4. Is Turkey interested in socioeconomic development, that is to say, reducing poverty that is about the same as in Brazil at about 22% and Turkey at 17% - those living slightly above poverty levels are estimated at 43%. Is Turkey interested in expanding the middle class by raising minimum wage to EU average levels, or does it want economic growth at the expense of uneven income distribution?
5. How do the lingering issues of the chronic conflict with the Kurdish minority, the divided Cyprus island with a Turkish minority, and not measuring up to Western standards on human rights at home become resolved? How does the government appease the rising radicalism among its own urban educated population that sees uneven income distribution and Islamic regime following neoliberal policies?
6. Does Turkey continue to fool its own population by having a government presenting itself as a defender of Muslims, especially Palestinians, while allowing the US and EU to use its soil as the base of operations in the Syrian civil war, a conflict in which well-know Islamist terrorists are on the same side as Turkey and the West?
A country of about 74 million people, Turkey ranks 17th in the world in terms of GDP, and economists believe it may become the next one trillion dollar economy, thus adding to the theory that Asia, of which Turkey is a part, will dominate the world economically in the 21st century, given India's and China's preeminent roles. Because China sees Turkey as one of the key Western Asian countries with a major geopolitical and economic role to play in the 21st century, it has invested heavily and it continue to expand its trade relations with Turkey.
In an effort to institutionalize the global war on terror and to use it as a pretext to integrate politically, militarily and economically as much of the Middle East and North Africa as possible, in lat 2003, the US introduced the Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI) from which emerged the Middle East Partnership Initiative as its political instrument to support US Middle Eastern policies during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US injected the GMEI into G8 and NATO and renamed it Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative at the Sea Island Summit of the G8 in June 2004.
Twenty-two Arab countries are involved in this initiative, including Turkey, with the aim to improving the economic, social and political situation in the Middle East, and to combat “extremism, terrorism, international crime and illegal migration”. Above all, the initiative stresses open markets and global economic integration, free elections, press liberty and human rights. In short, this US-led initiative was comprehensive, intended toward greater economic military and diplomatic cooptation amid the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a country with an Islamic regime under premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey would play a catalytic role because it presented itself as a defender of Muslims, especially Palestinians, while at the same time siding with the US and the West on all key policy issues.
The role that Turkey played and continues to play in helping to promote the US-NATO geopolitical agenda in the Middle East is invaluable, especially during the ongoing civil war in Syria. However, the falling out of Turkey and Israel placed enormous strain on the US Middle East initiative intended to use Turkey as the key country of operations to keep Iran contained, while trying to bring down ASSAD in Syria. The visit of US President Obama to Israel in March 2013, followed by US Secretary of State John Kerry visit to Turkey were intended to thaw relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv, especially after Turkey placed a multi-billion dollar defense contractor order in the US. US-Turkish trade reached $20 billion in 2011, and this is the reason that firms such as Bell Helicopter, Boeing, General Electric and Sikorsky arrived in Turkey on 3 December 2012 to secure contracts and partnerships; all backed the U.S. Commerce Department that regards Turkey a "priority market" in Europe.
US Government has been 'facilitating' US trade missions to Turkey, especially for defense contractors. However, in return for spending billions and pledge to spend billions more in the US, Turkey has demands of its own, demands that include a share of the natural gas in the Cypriot sea where exploration has started by the Greek-speaking Cypriot regime. Turkey also wants to have access to energy exploration rights in the Eastern Aegean in disputed territorial waters with Greece. The US-Turkey deal under the Framework for Strategic Economic and Commercial Cooperation facilitates US and Turkish company deals that compete with deals commercial agreements Turkey has signed with China, Russia and EU members.
For geopolitical, economic, military and economic reasons, the US needs Turkey to ameliorate relations with Israel, so that the Syrian regime will be brought down quickly, Iran weakened, if not becoming the next open target; given that it has been the covert target of US and Israeli hostilities. The US pressured Israel to apologize for nine Turks killed by Israeli forces in 2010, and it has also agreed that Israel must provide compensation, assuming exchange of ambassadors. These are measures that will then permit greater lobbying by the US in Brussels (EU) on behalf of Turkey. Above all, the US wants Turkish-Israeli energy cooperation estimated at $1 billion annually, something that would also result in numerous business deals between the two sides. Although Turkey-Israel trade is roughly ten percent of Turkey-US trade, diminishing further in the last two years, the hope of the US and Israel is to increase trade sharply. This would also mean Turkish-Israeli and Turkish-US and EU trade would reduce Turkey's already tense relations with Iran.
The financial/banking/economic crisis of Greece and Cyprus has opened new opportunities for Turkey to explore commercial expansion with its historic enemies. Greek-speaking Cyprus has no choice but to at least examine the possibility of unification with the Turkish-speaking north and with Ankara that is right next door and offers economic opportunities. Greece is already looking to expand relations with its neighbor to the East. Neither Cyprus nor Greece can possibly match the military might of Turkey, but that is a mute point because as a fellow NATO member in good standing with the US, Turkey would never make an adventurist military move unless it had Washington's approval. The Greek-Cypriot link is also the key to allowing Turkey to make some headway with EU membership. However, the catalyst for Turkey's relationship with Greece, Cyprus, and Israel is the US, much more than the EU. The benefits are immense to large corporations, from defense firms to energy for interested parties, above all the US.
1. Where is Turkey going with its current agenda of trying to revive its regional status under the aegis of the US, while also pursuing a multidimensional foreign and economic policy that extends from China to Russia?
My view is that there is euphoria about the current phenomenal growth and the weakness of the country's neighbors that simply make Turkey appear much stronger than it is in reality.
2. Is Turkey prepared for the next economic contracting cycle and the sociopolitical turmoil it will cause domestically, or do its political and economic elites believe that expansion has no limits? My view is that Turkey is wasting resources on defense, lured by deals linked to other issues that its trading partners are promising. The economic contraction of Turkey will drive it right back to the IMF and that will mean a crushing blow to its growth prospects.
3. Can Turkey avoid falling back into a mere satellite or economic dependency and emerging into the status of world power to the level of India? The jury is out on this issue. Given that Turkey has been following neoliberal policies, with the predictable state-backed crony-style capitalist strategies, and given that foreign investment has played a key role in the country's growth, Turkey will not escape remaining a semi-dependency of the Great Powers.
4. Will Turkey realize its dream of regional power? It is already a major player, and it has the potential of becoming even stronger, depending on how weaker its neighbors become in the future. Iran will remain a major rival, one that the US and EU are trying to weaken by strengthening Turkey in many respects.