Friday, 19 October 2007

The Sick Old Man Of Europe Gets Well Again

Ever since joining NATO in 1952, Turkey has been the southern cornerstone of the Atlantic alliance. First, as a bulwark against Soviet expansion in the Black sea, and then as a beacon of what a Westernised Islamic democracy could be, Turkey has been held in special regard for a number of decades. This settled position is now starting to change.

Relations between Turkey and the EU have blown hot and cold over the years. Many in the EU see the importance of Turkey in terms of geopolitics and many look enviously at the demographics of the country. Turkey, in some quarters within the EU, is seen as a potential bulwark against the spread of a fundamentalist variety of Islam and as a potential source of millions of young workers. However, not everyone in the EU sees it in this way. The potential influx of millions of Turkish workers into the EU is seen by many as a threat rather than an opportunity, whilst one EU state – Cyprus – has declared that it will veto Turkish membership to the EU.

While the EU blows hot and cold over Turkish membership, the Turks have always been able to rely on the support of the US. This element is changing. Relations between the US and Turkey have cooled noticeably in recent weeks. In an interesting article in The Economist (see article), the recent Congressional vote on the Armenian massacres in 1915 is seen as a backwards step. The Turks now feel that, as they do not have the goodwill of the US, they need not be so restrained in using the military option to deal with Kurdish terrorism originating in northern Iraq.

In an interesting paper for the Centre for European Reform (see paper), Charles Grant considers the options for Turkey. Spurned by the EU, alienated by the US, Turkey is too small a nation to be able to function without friends. It would be natural for the Turks to be pushed into the arms of the Russians, whose diplomacy is less likely to alienate the Turks than that of the EU and the US. This is a theme that The Economist dealt with a few weeks back (see article), which suggests that a new alignment between Russia, Turkey, and Iran is developing.

This is in accordance with much of our research. Our studies suggest that, if Turkey does not join the EU, then further geographical expansion of the EU eastwards would be very difficult to achieve and the EU would be overly dependent upon Russian energy for the next fifteen years or so. Equally, our studies suggest that the solution to the American impasse in Iraq lies in Tehran. If the US does not find an accommodation with Iran, then extrication from Iraq will be fraught with unfortunate consequences.

For those interested in the geopolitics of the near future, if Turkey does realign away from the EU and the US and towards Russia and Iran, then we shall see a significant shift in the global balance of power. This is possibly more evidence of the relative decline of the US and the resurgence of Russia.

Perhaps we are getting closer to oil at $200 a barrel?


Alison Booth said...

Really interesting. My sister-in-law lives in Turkey and I spent a number of years working nearby in Armenia.

Enterprises are currently looking for offshore locations nearer to home as alternatives to India. What impact is this likely to have on which locations they will see as their priorities?

Stephen Aguilar-Millan said...

Dear Alison,

We are already seeing this trenbd emerging - it's called 'Nearshoring'. At present the main beneficiaries of Nearshoring are Rumania and Bugaria - two nations within the EU and with unit labour costs only marginally higher than in India and China (according to The Economist). If Turkey were to join the EU, then the process of Nearshoring is likely to have an even further boost - to the expense of the Indian and Chinese economies.

Perhaps that's an argument for Turkey coming in?

Best wishes,