Turkey and geostrategy - again


Recent events have added yet again a small piece of confirmation for this: Turkey has turned away from good neighbourhood policy with Syria's government towards good neighbourhood policy with the apparent majority of Syria's people.
The recent intercept and forced landing of an aircraft en route from Russia to Syria was more than a petty intercept of some military supplies: It was also a confirmation of the fact that due to Turkey's central role (including control of the Bosporus) Turkey is the decisive brick in the wall that separates the great power Russia almost entirely from its protégé, the Syrian government.

The only access Russia still has to Syria is a long trip through the Strait of Gibraltar, either with a very long range military aircraft or with a warship, for all other kinds of vehicles could be intercepted without too much of an éclat.

This is a reverse replay of the U.S. predicament during the South Ossetia War, when the U.S. was geographically too far away to intervene with anything meaningful but long-range bombers (while Turkey had its rather large military right next door). It chose not to intervene with (little) force, just to send a paramilitary ship with IIRC "humanitarian supplies" as a mere gesture.

We can take this as a reminder about Turkey's central geostrategic situation in European and Mid East affairs, but we could also take this as a reminder about the importance of geostrategy in general. Both might be done in great power capitals and the former version may be preferred in Ankara. 

In the end, such reminders may lead to more effort spent on geostrategic great power gaming. This, of course, is unlikely to be good news, for effort spent on such government pastimes does not tend to benefit the represented people much.



  1. A piece of research was done by a large retailer in the UK.
    Impress a customer, and they will tell two people.
    Annoy a customer, and they will tell ten people.

    If we bodge this to Turkey, it is currently at -8 with both the US and Russia.
    Having pleased them both once, and annoyed them both once.

    Is Turkey setting itself up to be a power house everyone has to bribe? Or are its neighboring states going to have a crack at partitioning it?

    Given Turkeys pretty shakey relationship with Greece, and therefore the EU, and even NATO, I dont think their position is that strong.

    One could argue, that feeding Turkey to Russia, provides a visceral lesson to the rest of Russias neighbors that US support is conditional.

    But costs the US nothing.
    The Aegean can be closed almost easily at Crete / Rhodes / Mainland Greece, or even just at Limnos.

    If the US (or puppet) joins in with the partition of Turkey, the Dardenelles could easily be blocked from the European side.
    Not saying would, but could.

  2. TrT, seriously. You should look inside yourself about how you came up with the thought of partition at all.
    Save for Turkey's South-East corner with the Kurdish minority there's no-one questioning its territorial integrity.

  3. Turkey is a nation of 74 million inhabitants with $1.29 trillion GDP (PPP) and medium one digit growth rates. Russia has 145 million and $2.38 trillion with similar per capita PPP like Turkey.
    The USA has 315 million legal inhabitants and $15 trillion GDP (PPP), so they are a whole different league in comparison to both, Russia and Turkey as these are roughly equals if you take the power projection issue into account.
    Russia has an old power nexus from Soviet times, but it's been twenty years and these things get dated.

    Russia needs to use their limited access through Ukrainian leased harbours for any fleet activity that stops at the Bosporus Strait. Opening this route or closing rights of passage has always been a major issue for Turkey to defend. Thus grounding an aircraft on limited legal grounds is a strong psychological can-do signal with a wider meaning and appeal to historic conflicts and defeats.
    You have to see Turkey in the wider context of their great power re-aspirations and former imperial re-ambition games throughout WWI. As of today, the fall of the Soviet Union freed their access to Turkish brethren in Central Asia for whom Turkey wants to be a mighty champion, as well as many small Turkmen settlements in the former Ottoman Empire and the Caucasus. It seems likely that Turkey does combine theirs and the US ambitions while striving for great power status. This will be increasingly justified by their economic growth that within 15-20 years makes them the GDP PPP equals of France or the UK. Add their militaristic attitude that after AKP's powerplay needs new glory for their arms to create satisfaction among the military elite and you have the ingredients of a very useful regional power. Part of being a regional power will always be to show the global power that they need to listen to you in your backyard or have a hard time. Turkey needs to play hardball with everyone from time to time in order to highlight their negotiation status.

    If something gets divided it's most likely Syria with a small coastal Alevite state or autonomous region that contains the Russian naval base. The other traditional Syrian center, Damascus, can align with most of Syria under a pro-American leadership as highlighted by Brzezinsky long ago. For Russia the Tartus base is quite an important option in negotion capabilities for other bases and they will likely pay dear for it.

    There's the BRIC-S alliance with South Africa and Turkey, the Turkish champion in the US-camp. I think both of them are part of a contest for the tenth permanent UN-security council seat as an official recognition with much increased diplomatic influence. To understand the Syrian situation, it will help to look at Turkish aspirations beyond all these conflicts and at what Turkey wants to create. Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia are the most powerful Muslim nations and despite the nukes, I'd count Turkey as ahead of the rest because of a sound economy. That's their other card to play for a representative position, not only for Turks, but in their old role as leading Muslim power that for quite long was dormant, but is still remembered in the region.
    Other than that, Pakistan is a swing state with closer alignment with China than the US and driven to costly internal conflicts. Indonesia has too little per capita disposeable income to become significant anytime soon while Thailand and Singapore-Brunei have occupied the major ASEAN power niche.


  4. Turkey has shrunk to where is is mostly just in the way of Russia, rather than being in the way of everyone.

    They are relatively homogeneous because they kicked out all the Greeks in the 1920s (with the favor returned by the Greeks).

  5. Yeah, that whole Cyprus thing was just in my imagination.
    And of course, they never ever invade each others airspace.
    Under no circumstances did Greece shoot down a Turkish F16.......

    Things change, allies turn on each other.

    But hey, its not like Russia and Turkey have ever been at war, especially not over Orthodox Greece......

    Next someone will say the UK undermined France and armed Japan in the 20's and 30's.....

    1. What do you want to express? That Turkey likes to use military force just like their Greek brethren in all but religion? Both were longtime ruled by military juntas and violence was a way of justification for clinging to power. That's not unlike Pakistan for example or the Gulf Cooperation Council (with a military Keynesianism that shames the US).

      If you look at the economic data and new connections, Turkey operates now in a different framework from the former defence of Ottoman Empire remnants. That the Greeks and Turks are so hostile towards each other is similar to Croats and Serbs or Bosnians. They have so very little not in common that a conflict of differences needs extremes and will be hard to reconcile as long as both sides vigorously search for any difference in between them.

      So what's your contribution regarding Turkey? That they are trigger happy and want conflict if it serves Turkmen interests? That they are of minor importance globally because they only stand in the way of Russia?


  6. Turkey seems to be preparing for a land conflict with Syria, basically on the grounds that they want to join in the local power games and thus must support Sunnis.

    It's very proper of the Turks to do something about international arms smuggling, but alas: I fear they might not be entirely honest in "just" discovering this questionable transaction as I imagine the Saudis will want to send weapons in through the north as well. Also this business with the Syrians shooting grenades at the Turks seems very strange, surely the Syrian army can at least stop shooting in a day or so once they figure out it was the wrong direction?

    For a extensive background on Turkeys current governmen see: http://newleftreview.org/II/76/cihan-tugal-democratic-janissaries where one can also learn such interesting details as Russia being the primary gas source and altogether a bigger trade partner than the rest of the arab world (EU is a still bigger trade partner though )

  7. Aren't all the recent upheavals in the Middle East basically financed by bored Saudis, who have nothing better to do with their money?

    WRT Russia and Tartus... Russia closed down these without batting an eyelid:

    1. You mean palace intrigues and hookers were too boring? The Saudi elite is in financial terms a small fish in comparison to the elites of the developed countries and most certainly could not move so daring on their own.


  8. "with the apparent majority of Syria's people"

    How is that "apparent"? How could the Syrian government have survived this onslaught without having the majority of its people behind it?

    Turkey depends on gas from Russia and Iran to about 80% of its need.

    If Turkey seriously pisses of Russia it will have to content with a cold and dark winter. That would be the end of Erdogan's economic success and career

    1. Uhmm, by having intelligence service, police, army and the minority elite?

  9. In less than forty years time Turkey will have an economy bigger than Italy, and verging on that of france germany and britain, with a GDP/capita approaching that of china and italy.

    Given its geography and its economic potential, it is certainly the most interesting country in europe/ME.

    1. Fourty days is an awfully long term, I wouldn't make any predictions about that. Besides, GDP may become an increasingly useless indicator if the technology and society trends progress as I expect them to do (consumption being ever more about physical well-being and services than about actual hardware needs).