We often talk about the Biblical import of Turkey and have been warning about its rise for quite some time. George Friedman has an excellent piece that examines the geopolitics in the region generally, as well as Turkey’s strategy specifically.
Turkey is re-emerging as a significant regional power. In some sense, it is in the process of returning to its position prior to World War I when it was the seat of the Ottoman Empire. But while the Ottoman parallel has superficial value in understanding the situation, it fails to take into account changes in how the global system and the region work. Therefore, to understand Turkish strategy, we need to understand the circumstances it finds itself in today.
The end of World War I brought with it the end of the Ottoman Empire and the contraction of Turkish sovereignty to Asia Minor and a strip of land on the European side of the Bosporus. That contraction relieved Turkey of the overextended position it had tried to maintain as an empire stretching from the Arabian Peninsula to the Balkans. In a practical sense, defeat solved the problem of Turkey’s strategic interests having come to outstrip its power. After World War I, Turkey realigned its interests to its power. Though the country was much smaller, it was also much less vulnerable than the Ottoman Empire had been.
As long as the Cold War was smoldering, a U.S. / Turkey alliance was mutually beneficial against the Soviet Union. Though the fall of the Soviet Union was largely perceived by western civilization as a good thing – in many ways, it was – what’s filling the vacuum may be worse. In the years since, Turkey has transformed from a secular nation to a very powerful Islamist nation.
Friedman talks about this “Transitional Stage” in detail:
Turkey is emerging as a great power. It has not yet become one for a host of reasons, including limited institutions for managing regional affairs, a political base that is not yet prepared to view Turkey as a major power or support regional interventions, and a region that is not yet prepared to view Turkey as a beneficial, stabilizing force. Many steps are required for any power to emerge as a dominant regional force. Turkey is only beginning to take those steps.
At present, Turkish strategy is in a transitional stage. It is no longer locked into its Cold War posture as simply part of an alliance system, nor has it built the foundation of a mature regional policy. It cannot control the region and it cannot simply ignore what is happening. The Syrian case is instructive. Syria is Turkey’s neighbor, and instability in Syria can affect Turkey. There is no international coalition prepared to take steps to stabilize Syria. Therefore Ankara has taken a stance in which it refrains from overt action, but keeps its options open should matters become intolerable to Turkey.
Those familiar with our message know our views on Turkey’s rise. One of the things not mentioned in Friedman’s piece is how the ‘Arab Spring’ and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood is actually beneficial to Turkey’s transition to super power status. Remember, the Brotherhood was created to re-establish the Ottoman Empire Friedman talks about.
Turkey is extremely interested in seeing Bashar Al-Assad fall to the
Syrian rebels Muslim Brotherhood. Such a scenario would give Turkey a tremendous foothold in the region while strengthening its balance of power with Iran while simultaneously weakening Iran.