US president Obama’s most recent statement on his support of Turkey’s accession into the European Union is a clear enunciation of the value of Turkey in the medium and long term schema of US foreign policy.
“I’ve said publicly that I think Turkish membership in the EU would be important,” said Obama during a joint press conference with French president Sarkozy prior to their attending ceremonies for the 65h anniversary of World War II’s D-Day landings.
Sarkozy downplayed the difference between the two leaders, insisting that he would continue to resist Turkish membership yet was supportive of a partnership or friendship, understanding the importance of Turkey as a conduit for influence reaching beyond the European continent. “We want Turkey to be a bridge between the East and West.” Sarkozy said. “I told President Obama that it is very important for Europe to have borders. For me, Europe is a force of stability in the world and I cannot allow that force for stabilization to be destroyed.”
It’s quite plain, the US is currently a global hegemon, the first of this kind. It’s also clear that the global dynamic of power is, just that, dynamic and shifting. Some key countries are gaining increased regional influence: China, India, and a Russia that is still reeling from the Soviet breakup but not as quiescent as in the 1990s. A number of US intelligence, military, and policy reports by influential intellectuals indicate a realization of this unique opportunity of climactic power coupled with subordinated partnerships from some of the world’s top leading economic powers: Europe, Japan, Korea, etc. This period of global dominance can prove to be an opportunity for the US to help establish a multi-layered and interrelated series of regional and international networks that together promote longer term US influence even in regions where its military, economic, and political supremacy may be increasingly diluted – essentially the goal being that the US would maintain a voice in every regional affair no matter how distant from its shores.
Some might call this a soft landing, from clear hegemon to the prime power or voice in a multipolar world.
Here are some basic contemporary examples of this framework: US influence over and military presence within Japan, Korea, and the Philippines gives it a seat at the table at most significant regional decisions. Another example, the US has openly lobbied in favour of this or that country’s entry into the European Union; the deep engagement of an outside country into the internal affairs of states that are constituting the fundamentals of their very existence would normally be seen as interference, but it is quite natural and expected in this case.
The EU is tied to NATO. The NATO membership of the major nations that constitute the EU is a significant factor of American influence in that continent. The expansion of the EU organically enters new states into consideration for membership into the military alliance, and in the case of Turkey, NATO membership and its geographic position on the margins of Europe promotes its being considered as an EU member.
Turkey has a particularly important position in the geostrategic consideration of international or global power. The transit pipelines of energy from the Middle East and Central Asia to the voracious European markets must generally pass through either Russia or Turkey. This makes Turkey a vital ally in the contest for a Western-backed oil and gas corridor from energy suppliers.
A Turkey that is rejected by Europe on the basis of being too different will signal the conception of an unbridgeable gap: that Turkey’s ties to the West can only go so far. This could result in a Turkish disenchantment with Europe, as well as promote resentment. Such a clear identification of Turkey’s unbridgeable Eastern culture and ethnicity would leave that country little choice but to focus more to the south (the Middle East) and east (the Caucasus and Central Asia). Arguably, this process has already begun, with Turkey being asked to jump through a long series of hoops in a particularly long EU accession process, and the increasing realignment of national identity away from Western to a revival of Middle Eastern and Central Asian consciousness.
For the US, this is not an ideal situation. It could well cause Turkey to become an increasingly disgruntled NATO member, hobbling the transatlantic alliance. Furthermore, if Turkey was to become an EU member, then the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) would fall within the immediate sphere of EU/NATO influence.
Azerbaijan and Georgia are currently the two key countries of that region hosting the only Western-backed (non-Russian) energy pipeline leading to Europe. If the EU was to include Turkey, the Caucasus would automatically feel the immense gravity of a combined EU-NATO body pull at them, and the situation would legitimate more direct intervention by these bodies, under the leadership of the US.
Azerbaijan is especially important. Just look at a map, any energy from Central Asia to Europe would have to pass through Russia, Iran, or Azerbaijan. The first two are off the books, which leaves Azerbaijan as the desired passage of a new pro-West energy highway crossing the Caspian sea.
Considering these circumstances, it is therefore not so surprising that successive US presidents would choose to promote the inclusion of Turkey into an enlarged EU.
In 2004 US president Bush opposed French president Chirac on the same issue now expressed by Obama, and said to the Turks that “I will remind the people of this good country that you ought to be given a date by the EU for your eventual acceptance into the EU.”
(First published at Rabble.ca)
A growing network of energy pipelines are criss-crossing Eurasia, giving form to the political instability, military tension, and wars erupting in the large expanse of territory touching eastern Europe to eastern regions of Asia. The war in Afghanistan, the brewing civil war in Pakistan, and international intervention in these and neighbouring countries are increasingly being viewed as outbursts and maneuvers in what is called the New Great Game over the existing and developing arteries — oil and natural gas pipelines — that will transit much of the world’s energy.
The largest players in this battle have been the USA, with its Western allies increasingly under the instrument of NATO, and a China-Russia entente primarily under the auspice of an economic and increasingly security cooperative called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Iran and India are also emerging as significant players in this Great Game that has very concrete material, economic, and security implications for Eurasia and for the globe in terms of the alignment of political powers and destination of economic wealth determined by the flow of the great part of the world’s energy reserves.
The existing and proposed pipelines will tap into the vast energy reserves in Central Asia, Iran, and Iraq. Their destination will be the major consumers and distributors in India, Europe, Turkey, China, Russia, and Pakistan. The cheapest pipelines cost billions of US dollars to construct, the sometimes ad-hoc network as a whole costs hundreds of billions simply to construct along sometimes competing pipelines and short sea routes with varying capacity, each tied to a general NATO or SCO alliance of interests.
The point is not simply to deliver energy to an end point, but rather by a dominant political alliance to directly control or at least overwhelming influence the access to energy. This determination will provide economic advantage to the carriers, permit them to exert political pressure by controlling access to energy and even threatening to or actually cutting off supply.
Prior to the late 1990s, the US had become supportive of cooperation with the Taliban because Afghanistan had almost entirely been united under that group’s rule, bringing harsh rule and some level of security stability to the country. In that period, those regions of Afghanistan under Taliban control were under a unified control that made it possible for the US to examine the potential for an energy pipeline running through Afghanistan into Pakistan. The US actively negotiated with the Taliban in order to make this a reality and was keen to apply political players to push out other countries’ corporate energy conglomerates. Of course, the plan did not succeed, the Taliban did not deliver a pipeline to the US energy interest, the civil war in Afghanistan kept re-erupting, and hostilities between the US and the Taliban grew until full war broke out between them.
Recently, there has been increasing talk of the possibility that the US may bomb the Baluchistan region of Pakistan in the south west. Attacks of this sort are conducted by drone planes within Pakistan. This is presented as an extension of the War on Terror, aka the Long War, aka the AfPak (Afghanistan-Pakistan) war conducted by the US and its NATO allies.
Pakistani Baluchistan is mainly cooperating with Pakistan’s central government and has not been the hotbed of Islamist militancy that has swept across much of that country’s north west. True, Baluchistan has at various points in Pakistan’s history revolted, but their resistance has nothing to do with a pan-national Islamic movement. They seek better economic conditions, and are pressing for a nationalist movement that articulates their region’s ethnic and cultural difference and marginalisation from the dominant people within the Pakistani state. So, it doesn’t seem to make sense for the US to bomb this region.
A bombing campaign would almost certainly add to long-standing tensions between Baluchistan and the central government, may lead to political instability in the region, and calls for non-cooperation with the government. The worst case would be for the nationalist movement to be reinvigorated and for Pakistan to lose control of yet another province. Instability in Baluchistan would essentially result in all of Pakistan’s western wing breaking away from direct control and turning to open rebellion.
So why would the US consider bombing Baluchistan when there are little to no major Islamist assets in the region and risk further disempowering Pakistan’s government?
Baluchistan is a necessary passage for a proposed pipeline running from Iran, through Pakistan, to India, with a possible splinter carrying oil to China. This Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline has already seen much difficulty. With the deepening strategic alliance between India and the US, India has been pressured to disinvest from the project. Despite this, the project keeps rearing its head. India depends on energy imports, and will become increasingly vulnerable to energy supplies as it industrialises at a rapid pace. Furthermore, nearly all of India’s energy supplies are delivered via sea lanes, leaving it open to disruption, explaining much of India’s interest in heading off pirate attacks in north east Africa as well as its increasing monitoring operations there. India feels it needs not only a greater supply of oil but also to diversify points of access.
The permanent infrastructure of an IPI pipelines would require cooperation between Iran, Pakistan, and India. This may well demand some rapprochement between India and Iran, and would offset some of the US ability to isolate the Islamic Republic of Iran. Furthermore, a splinter into China would extend China’s reach and influence into the intensifying New Great Game over energy supplies.
Just as the Russia-Georgia war disrupted the only pro-Western energy supply line from Central Asia to Europe for a short period and risks to undermine its development by scaring investors and government away, the bombing of Baluchistan could well bury the IPI pipeline before it can become a reality.
For more information on the New Great Game read the following:
Liquid war: Welcome to Pipelineistan, by Pepe Escobar.
From Great Game to Grand Bargain, by Barnett R. Rubin and Ahmed Rashid.
Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia, by Ahmed Rashid.
A high profile and potentially politically transformative court case is taking place in Turkey at the moment. The plot is fit for the most sensational conspiracy film yet the theatre of action is in Turkey’s judicial system.
The government, under the Justice and Development Party (AKP), has accused 86 suspects of plotting to overthrow the Turkish state through a series of assassinations and economic turmoil leading to a military coup. The group of alleged conspirators is called Ergenekon. The gaggle of 86 suspects have appeared in 11 hearings together and stand trial for terror charges for actions over a period of two decades. The first day of the court case descended into chaos. Ebru News states that only twenty gendarmes, all traffic patrolmen, were present to keep order, and that spectators were allowed into the court without adequate security checks.
It’s hard to imagine how the government could not have predicted that thousands of emotionally charged people both for and against the accused would not press toward the jail house turned temporary court in this case. The situation could very well have sparked wider action and even violence, though it did not.
The accused include retired senior generals, journalists, lawyers, and politicians. It appears that the majority of these individuals, if not all, were critical of the current government: criticism of course a prerequisite to any plot.
It’s alleged that the final stage of the plot would have resulted in a military coup capped by the installment of two civilians as the president and prime minister of a realigned country.
A move to ban the governing party
Turkey’s courts and people have seen months of volatile hearings. Prior to the Ergenekon case, the governing party, the AK Party, faced the Constitutional Court. The court ruled that prime minister Recep Tayyip Ergodan was involved in anti-secular activities.
According to the Constitutional Court, religious issues were “turned into central issues in politics at a scale leading to social divisions.” Financial restrictions were slapped onto the governing party though the ruling came short of banning the AKP because it was deemed to have only used non-violent means to inject religion into Turkish society and politics.
The AKP will now receive only half of the usual state funds earmarked to it for this year.
This case was widely believed to have been a battle for the future of Turkey’s social and political direction, between secular military elites empowered under the modern state’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and Islamic resurgence led by the AKP.
The Ergenekon trial immediately follows the Constitutional Court case against the AKP, the timing suggesting a reprisal from the government. Turkey’s military power bloc has traditionally been seen as the guardian of secularism and of the modern state, resorting to brief coups in order to keep the civilian government in line with Ataturk’s particular brand of modernization and Westernization.
What does it all mean for Turkey and others?
That the prosecutor is charging Ergenekon for two decades of activity is an important point.
The AKP is new, entering politics only in August of 2001, though its members are certainly not new to politics. In November of 2002 it won general elections and formed the national government. This was accomplished in opposition to the efforts and will of the military elite, which resisted the rise to power of a modern party with a religious base.
The prosecutor’s rehashing of plots from as far back as two decades predates the current government and is in effect an attack on the very notion of the military’s activism in the form of coups or plots to change government and control the state. The military’s intervention has generally been accepted and expected as a core function of the broader political system established under the iconic Ataturk, following the foundation of modern Turkey after the First World War.
If the alleged Ergenekon members are found guilty, then the judiciary will have effectively criminalized some of the key tools to power that are invested in the military. A guilty verdict can very well establish a new Turkish republic, with a dominant civilian government, a politically reduced military, and an affirmation of religion in social and political life. In this scenario, Turkey may well serve as an example to other Muslim states who may seek an alternative to Western styles of modernization by following a path that may well recognize the cultural and religious significance of Islam in the foundation of government.
Western principals of modernization for the Middle East have most often depended on strong military or police action, such as in the Shah’s Iran. If this latest case results in a rejection of this model then yet another Muslim country would have turned its back on this system of government and yet another alternative will present itself for possible emulation.
A prosecution victory may well signal the waning power of Western ideals in Turkey and in the Muslim world in general, as country after country seeks to find an alternative to Western style democracy or modernization through an injection of Islamic culture into the political system. Various experiments, many radically different from each other, have been taking place throughout the Muslim world as secular and Western-backed Muslim states fail to meet the basic needs of their people and are replaced (the Shah’s Iran), are facing increased popular revolt (Mubarak’s Egypt), threatening to implode (Lebanon), or suffering from convulsions of an unpredictable transition period (Iraq). Afghanistan and Iraq may well serve as a warning of how difficult it has become to impose a Westernized political model backed by military force in the Muslim world today.
Turkey and the European Union
Turkey applied to join the European Union in 1987 and there has since been a rough ride for all parties involved in the accession process. Without going over the details of reforms required of and implemented by Turkey, and the sometimes heated debate within Europe, it’s enough to know that tensions have been increasing.
The tensions coming out of the EU accession process may well be the nail in the coffin of Ataturk’s brand of Westernization for Turkey. Not only have most partial emulations of Westernized governance in the Middle East (sometimes with a military or authoritarian bent) failed to retain power, maintain legitimacy, or meet people’s essential life needs, but the continued cat and mouse game of protracted accession negotiations between the EU and Turkey may well inflame Muslim perception that the West could also fail to accept as equal member a culture different from itself.
The Ergenekon trial should be closely watched since its outcome may well define the future of Turkey and have serious consequences for Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and NATO, which Turkey is a member of. Turkey could well shift its focus from west to east, and whatever state emerges from this could well serve as an example for the rest of the Muslim world.
The short war between Russia and Georgia has brought to the surface the vital role of Russian energy in international relations. Russia has a substantial domestic supply and is naturally positioned to act as an energy highway, via a series of pipelines, to tap into and transport massive Central Asian natural gas and oil deposits. The pipelines allow Russia to act as a conduit for a network of dependent countries from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Europe is dependent on energy provided by or through Russia, limiting the European Union’s response to the Georgian crisis or other issues of international concern.
, 2005, p. 3)
In January of 2006, Russia’s natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, decreased the gas supply to Ukraine after a protracted row between Moscow and Ukraine’s western-leaning government elected in the tail end of 2004. The cut in gas affected European countries down the pipe, that, as a consequence, had their supplies limited. This sent shock waves throughout Europe, now acutely concerned that Russian energy politics could at least temporarily batter their economies, especially during the cold winter months.
It did quickly become apparent that Russia was also dependent on European energy imports in order to maintain a healthy economy. Europe was drawn into the dispute between Russia and Ukraine in a high stakes game that hurt all parties involved. A key component of success in this test of will is to determine whether Russia or Europe has a relative advantage in disruptions to energy transfers: meaning who would be the bigger loser?
Certainly, Russia’s economic health is greatly affected by European energy purchases. Russia’s growth in the recent past has been in great part due to energy exports. According to the World Bank and IMF, it’s estimated that Russia’s oil and gas sector made up about 64% of export revenues in 2007, and were tied to 30% of all foreign direct investment (FDI). Also, according to Alfa Bank, the energy sector accounts for some 20.5% of the country’s GDP.
Europe, on the other hand, imported 42% of its oil and 43% of its natural gas from Russia in 2004. In some European countries, their energy imports from Russia can top 80 or 90 per cent.
Europe’s dependence on Russian energy explains why it is so intent on energy efficiency, while the pivotal role of energy in Russia’s economy and international influence explains why it would wish to improve its access to supplies in Central Asia while maintaining a near monopoly on the new silk road of pipelines going east to west.
Iran prepares to further its US ‘interests’. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is taking domestic heat over his participation in a regional Arab conference and his declarations of “victory” over the United States following its positive assessment of Tehran’s nuclear program. All the same, a window has now opened to explore what some influential Iranians call the “shared interests” between the US and Iran. (Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Asia Times)
China’s Decision to Deny U.S. Ships from Port of Hong Kong. Diplomatic friction between the United States and the People’s Republic of China has grown more palpable during the past week. A series of high profile events involving the port of Hong Kong have unfolded on the international stage, leaving observers, political analysts and military planners contemplating the significance of these incidents. (Richard Komaiko, Power and Interest News Report)
Japan as a Plutonium Superpower. For 60 years the world has faced no greater threat than nuclear weapons. Japan, as a nuclear victim country, with “three non-nuclear principles” (non-production, non-possession, and non-introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan) and its “Peace Constitution,” had unique credentials to play a positive role in helping the world find a solution, yet its record has been consistently pro-nuclear, that is to say, pro-nuclear energy, pro-the nuclear cycle, and, pro-nuclear weapons. This paper elaborates on Japan’s aspiration to become a nuclear state, arguing that attention should be paid to Rokkasho, Tsuruga, and Hamaoka, the places at the heart of Japan’s present and future nuclear plans, no less than to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose names represent the horror of its nuclear past. (Gavan McCormack, Japan Focus)
Power Shift? Australia and the Asia Pacific. The election of Kevin Rudd as Australian Prime Minister in a Labor Party sweep has led many to anticipate a major shift in Australia’s international relations and environmental policies, and possible realignments in Asia. We offer four brief assessments of the significance of the election for the region at a time when long-entrenched governments in England, Poland, and many parts of Latin America point to possible sea changes in international affairs. (The Asahi Shinbun, Ramesh Thakur & Richard Tanter, Japan Focus)
Kosovo Countdown: A Blueprint for Transition. Kosovo’s transition to the status of conditional, or supervised, independence has been greatly complicated by Russia’s firm support of Serbia’s refusal to accept that it has lost its one-time province. Recognition of conditional independence has broad international, and certainly European Union (EU) and American, support. Under threat of Moscow’s veto, the Security Council will not revoke its Resolution 1244 of 1999 that acknowledged Serbian sovereignty while setting up the UN Mission (UNMIK) to prepare Kosovo for self-government pending a political settlement on its future status. Nor will the Council be allowed to approve the plan for a conditionally independent Kosovo devised by the Secretary-General’s special representative, Martti Ahtisaari, earlier this year and authorise the EU-led missions meant to implement that plan. (International Crisis Group)