Tag Archives: Russia

Stratfor Flashback: Turkey’s Geographical Ambition

Note: Originally published by Stratfor  May 1, 2013.
(Republished by Stratfor in light of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Aug. 10 election as Turkey’s new president.)

 

By Robert D. Kaplan and Reva Bhalla

At a time when Europe and other parts of the world are governed by forgettable mediocrities, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister for a decade now, seethes with ambition. Perhaps the only other leader of a major world nation who emanates such a dynamic force field around him is Russia’s Vladimir Putin, with whom the West is also supremely uncomfortable.

Erdogan and Putin are ambitious because they are men who unrepentantly grasp geopolitics. Putin knows that any responsible Russian leader ensures that Russia has buffer zones of some sort in places like Eastern Europe and the Caucasus; Erdogan knows that Turkey must become a substantial power in the Near East in order to give him leverage in Europe. Erdogan’s problem is that Turkey’s geography between East and West contains as many vulnerabilities as it does benefits. This makes Erdogan at times overreach. But there is a historical and geographical logic to his excesses.

The story begins after World War I.

Because Ottoman Turkey was on the losing side of that war (along with Wilhelmine Germany and Hapsburg Austria), the victorious allies in the Treaty of Sevres of 1920 carved up Turkey and its environs, giving territory and zones of influence to Greece, Armenia, Italy, Britain and France. Turkey’s reaction to this humiliation was Kemalism, the philosophy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (the surname “Ataturk” means “Father of the Turks”), the only undefeated Ottoman general, who would lead a military revolt against the new occupying powers and thus create a sovereign Turkish state throughout the Anatolian heartland. Kemalism willingly ceded away the non-Anatolian parts of the Ottoman Empire but compensated by demanding a uniethnic Turkish state within Anatolia itself. Gone were the “Kurds,” for example. They would henceforth be known as “Mountain Turks.” Gone, in fact, was the entire multicultural edifice of the Ottoman Empire.

Kemalism not only rejected minorities, it rejected the Arabic script of the Turkish language. Ataturk risked higher illiteracy rates to give the language a Latin script. He abolished the Muslim religious courts and discouraged women from wearing the veil and men from wearing fezzes. Ataturk further recast Turks as Europeans (without giving much thought to whether the Europeans would accept them as such), all in an attempt to reorient Turkey away from the now defunct Ottoman Empire in the Middle East and toward Europe.

Kemalism was a call to arms: the martial Turkish reaction to the Treaty of Sevres, to the same degree that Putin’s neo-czarism was the authoritarian reaction to Boris Yeltsin’s anarchy of 1990s Russia. For decades the reverence for Ataturk in Turkey went beyond a personality cult: He was more like a stern, benevolent and protective demigod, whose portrait looked down upon every public interior.

The problem was that Ataturk’s vision of orienting Turkey so firmly to the West clashed with Turkey’s geographic situation, one that straddled both West and East. An adjustment was in order. Turgut Ozal, a religious Turk with Sufi tendencies who was elected prime minister in 1983, provided it.

Ozal’s political skill enabled him to gradually wrest control of domestic policy and — to an impressive degree — foreign policy away from the staunchly Kemalist Turkish military. Whereas Ataturk and the generations of Turkish officers who followed him thought in terms of a Turkey that was an appendage of Europe, Ozal spoke of a Turkey whose influence stretched from the Aegean to the Great Wall of China. In Ozal’s mind, Turkey did not have to choose between East and West. It was geographically enshrined in both and should thus politically embody both worlds. Ozal made Islam publicly respected again in Turkey, even as he enthusiastically supported U.S. President Ronald Reagan during the last phase of the Cold War. By being so pro-American and so adroit in managing the Kemalist establishment, in the West at least Ozal — more than his predecessors — was able to get away with being so Islamic.

Ozal used the cultural language of Islam to open the door to an acceptance of the Kurds. Turkey’s alienation from Europe following the 1980 military coup d’etat enabled Ozal to develop economic linkages to Turkey’s east. He also gradually empowered the devout Muslims of inner Anatolia. Ozal, two decades before Erdogan, saw Turkey as a champion of moderate Islam throughout the Muslim world, defying Ataturk’s warning that such a Pan-Islamic policy would sap Turkey’s strength and expose the Turks to voracious foreign powers. The term neo-Ottomanism was, in fact, first used in Ozal’s last years in power.

Ozal died suddenly in 1993, ushering in a desultory decade of Turkish politics marked by increasing corruption and ineffectuality on the part of Turkey’s sleepy secular elite. The stage was set for Erdogan’s Islamic followers to win an outright parliamentary majority in 2002. Whereas Ozal came from the center-right Motherland Party, Erdogan came from the more openly Islamist-trending Justice and Development Party, though Erdogan himself and some of his advisers had moderated their views over the years. Of course, there were many permutations in Islamic political thought and politics in Turkey between Ozal and Erdogan, but one thing stands clear: Both Ozal and Erdogan were like two bookends of the period. In any case, unlike any leader today in Europe or the United States, Erdogan actually had a vision similar to Ozal’s, a vision that constituted a further distancing from Kemalism.

Rather than Ataturk’s emphasis on the military, Erdogan, like Ozal, has stressed the soft power of cultural and economic connections to recreate in a benign and subtle fashion a version of the Ottoman Empire from North Africa to the Iranian plateau and Central Asia. Remember that in the interpretation of one of the West’s greatest scholars of Islam, the late Marshall G.S. Hodgson of the University of Chicago, the Islamic faith was originally a merchants’ religion, which united followers from oasis to oasis, allowing for ethical dealing. In Islamic history, authentic religious connections across the Middle East and the Indian Ocean world could — and did — lead to wholesome business connections and political patronage. Thus is medievalism altogether relevant to the post-modern world.

Erdogan now realizes that projecting Turkey’s moderate Muslim power throughout the Middle East is fraught with frustrating complexities. Indeed, it is unclear that Turkey even has the political and military capacity to actualize such a vision. To wit, Turkey may be trying its best to increase trade with its eastern neighbors, but it still does not come close to Turkey’s large trade volumes with Europe, now mired in recession. In the Caucasus and Central Asia, Turkey demands influence based on geographic and linguistic affinity. Yet Putin’s Russia continues to exert significant influence in the Central Asian states and, through its invasion and subsequent political maneuverings in Georgia, has put Azerbaijan in an extremely uncomfortable position. In Mesopotamia, Turkey’s influence is simply unequal to that of far more proximate Iran. In Syria, Erdogan and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, thought — incorrectly, it turns out — that they could effectively mold a moderate Islamist Sunni opposition to replace President Bashar al Assad’s Alawite regime. And while Erdogan has gained points throughout the Islamic world for his rousing opposition to Israel, he has learned that this comes at a price: the warming of relations between Israel and both Greece and the Greek part of Cyprus, which now permits Turkey’s adversaries in the Eastern Mediterranean to cooperate in the hydrocarbon field.

The root of the problem is partly geographic. Turkey constitutes a bastion of mountains and plateau, inhabiting the half-island of the Anatolian land bridge between the Balkans and the Middle East. It is plainly not integral to a place like Iraq, for example, in the way that Iran is; and its Turkic language no longer enjoys the benefit of the Arabic script, which might give it more cultural leverage elsewhere in the Levant. But most important, Turkey is itself bedeviled by its own Kurdish population, complicating its attempts to exert leverage in neighboring Middle Eastern states.

Turkey’s southeast is demographically dominated by ethnic Kurds, who adjoin vast Kurdish regions in Syria, Iraq and Iran. The ongoing breakup of Syria potentially liberates Kurds there to join with radical Kurds in Anatolia in order to undermine Turkey. The de facto breakup of Iraq has forced Turkey to follow a policy of constructive containment with Iraq’s Kurdish north, but that has undermined Turkey’s leverage in the rest of Iraq — thus, in turn, undermining Turkey’s attempts to influence Iran. Turkey wants to influence the Middle East, but the problem is that it remains too much a part of the Middle East to extricate itself from the region’s complexities.

Erdogan knows that he must partially solve the Kurdish problem at home in order to gain further leverage in the region. He has even mentioned aloud the Arabic word, vilayet, associated with the Ottoman Empire. This word denotes a semi-autonomous province — a concept that might hold the key for an accommodation with local Kurds but could well reignite his own nationalist rivals within Turkey. Thus, his is a big symbolic step that seeks to fundamentally neutralize the very foundation of Kemalism (with its emphasis on a solidly Turkic Anatolia). But given how he has already emasculated the Turkish military — something few thought possible a decade ago — one should be careful about underestimating Erdogan. His sheer ambition is something to behold. While Western elites ineffectually sneer at Putin, Erdogan enthusiastically takes notes when the two of them meet.

Republished with the permission of Stratfor Glocal Intelligence
Original article: Turkey’s Geographical Ambition | Stratfor

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Reflections on an Unforgiving Day

Stratfor: Geopolitical Diary
Courtesy, Stratfor Global Intelligence

THURSDAY, JULY 17, 2014 – 21:17
 
We ate breakfast to the news that an airliner had crashed in Ukraine. We had lunch to the news that Israel had invaded Gaza. An airliner crashing is perhaps more impactful than an invasion. We have all wondered, when we hear of a crash, or even in quiet moments on board an aircraft ourselves, what living our final moments in a plane plunging to earth, knowing that we will die, would be like. An invasion is harder for some of us to empathize with. Most of us have never invaded a country nor been in a country while it was invaded. But it shares this much with a plane crash: Your life is in danger, and your fate is out of your hands.

We don’t even know for certain what happened to the plane or how far the invasion will go. But no reasonable person looking at today could argue that we are the masters of our fates. At one point in the afternoon, it was announced that the White House had been placed on lockdown, which meant that a significant security threat had been found. It turned out someone’s lost backpack caused the whole episode.

Our job is to find order in the apparent disorder, even if meaning is fleeting. There are two things we can point to. First — tragedy aside for the moment — the plane crash had to do with the struggle for Ukraine, between the right of Russia to be secure from the West, the right of the Ukrainians to determine their own fate, either as one country or two, and the right of Western powers to involve themselves in these affairs. Gaza is about the right of Israel to have a nation, the right of the Palestinians to have a nation and the right of Western countries to involve themselves in the matter.

Both issues are matters of competing national rights, not dissimilar from one and other. The Russians have historically experienced multiple invasions from the west, all of them devastating, some of them through Ukraine. Ukraine means “nation on the edge,” or what we could call a borderland. Usually under Russian domination, it is now independent. But for Russia, it is the buffer between the kind of armies that invaded Russia in 1941 when the Nazis came. The names of many of the cities that are spoken of now are the names of the cities in which the Soviet army fought. For the Russians, this is the borderland that can’t be given up. Yes, no one is planning to invade Russia now. But the Russians know how fast intentions and capabilities change, and they wonder why the Americans and others are so concerned with having a pro-Western government in Kiev.

For the Ukrainians, who have rarely experienced sovereignty, this is their opportunity to chart their own course. For them, the Russians’ need for a buffer is another way of saying Russian oppression of Ukraine. Of course, not all living in Ukraine see this as oppressive. They see the Ukrainian government as oppressing them, by tearing them away from their Russian roots. For western Ukrainians, these Russophiles are thugs trying to destroy the country. For the Russophiles, it is hypocrisy that Ukraine demands that its right to self-determination be honored, but it has no honor for the right to self-determination of the Russophiles.

It is a question of national self-determination, which is one of the foundations of modern Euro-American civilization and always becomes complex when competing nations all claim that right. Does Russia have the right to assure that it will never again have to live through an invasion? Does it have the right to do that at the expense of Ukrainian self-determination? To the extent that the West has involved itself, can it be said that Ukraine is truly free to determine its future?

And so an airliner was shot down and some 300 people died. It is hard to draw the connection between the abstract discussion of national rights and the debris and lives strewn around, but there is a connection. The plane would not have crashed if the question of national interest and national self-determination was not so important to so many people.

The same issue caused four children to be killed on a Gaza beach and a man to be blown apart by a mortar round in Israel. The Israeli Jews claimed a homeland in today’s Israel. They were occupiers, but there is not a single country in the world that wasn’t, in some way, founded by occupiers. Almost everywhere, there was someone there who was displaced or absorbed to make way for the current occupants. Every nation that exists was born out of some injustice. Consider the United States and Native Americans and slavery. Both were fundamental to America’s birth, but the right of the United States to remain intact is not questioned. Look at Europe and the way it was reshaped by armies. Perhaps that happened centuries ago, but is there an expiration date on injustice?

At the same time, there was someone there before Israel. They were not annihilated as in the case of some nations that disappeared with the arrival of newcomers. They are still there, in Israel, in the West Bank and certainly in Gaza. This is the borderland between Israel and the Arab world, and it is filled, particularly in Gaza, by people who are claiming their right to a state. Some who want the creation of that state to include the annihilation, expulsion or absorption of Israel.

There are others who want a two-state solution. They are not really as thoughtful and reasonable as they would like to believe. A state divided in half by Israel would be peculiar to say the least. Could Gaza, a small place packed with people, and a distant West Bank ever become economically viable? And could the Israelis ever trust the Palestinians not to open fire on Tel Aviv from the few miles that would separate it from a Palestinian state? The Arab state would be an economic impossibility. The Israeli state would be at risk. Westerners are filled with excellent advice as to what the Palestinians should do and what the Israelis should do. But as with Ukraine, the Westerners are playing with peripheral issues, things that don’t affect them personally and existentially. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is attempting to do good. But if he fails, his children won’t live with the consequences.

And therefore, an endless and pointless debate rages as to who is right and who started the war in an infinite regression that goes back to times before any living Jew or Palestinian. This is the same as in Ukraine. Ukraine’s history had been shaped by its relation to Russia. A debate can be held as to whether this was just. It really doesn’t matter. Russia is there and needs things, Ukraine is there and needs different things, and the West is there providing advice, which if it fails won’t directly affect it.

What ties Ukraine, Russia, Israel and Gaza together is that they are all fighting for their lives, or interests that are so fundamentally important to them that they cannot live without them. They are fighting for their nation and for that nation’s safety in a world where unspeakable things happen and where the only ones who will defend you are your family, friends and countrymen, and where all the well-wishers and advice-givers will quietly take their leave if dangers arise. There is nothing easier and cheaper than advising others to get along. These conflicts are rooted in fear, and fear is always a legitimate emotion.

Others would have approached today by saying that the Russians are evil or the Ukrainians really the oppressors, the Israelis killers or the Gazans monsters. We are sure we will hear from many condemning our moral equivalency, by which they will claim that the only truly moral position is theirs. But this is not a moral equivalency that argues that Ukrainians and Russians, Israelis and Palestinians should therefore sit down and recognize that they really haven’t got anything to fight over. This is a moral equivalency that says these people have a great deal to fight over, but that it is their fight, and that — as when the Romans began wiping out Europe’s Celts — it will be settled by steel and not by kindly advice or understanding. The problem between these people is not that they don’t understand each other. The problem is that they do.

And therefore an airline crashed and reportedly some 23 Americans, my countrymen, died. And yes, these are our countrymen and we grieve for them before others, much as Russians, Ukrainians, Israelis and Palestinians grieve for their own. We are no better. But we live in a stronger and safer country for which we are grateful. It allows us to give advice and means we don’t have to experience our misjudgments, even on a long sad day.
 
 
Reflections on an Unforgiving Day is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
 

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The Russian Veto

Syria to Russia: If Assad goes down, his state secrets (along with those of his father) will almost certainly become exposed; the degree to which this will compromise the variously held secrecies of Russia and other former Soviet states is unknown and probably unknowable.

Russia to China: Let’s work together to stop western adventurism in Eurasia.

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China advises against Iran sanctions

Excerpt from BBC story, “Russia ‘rethinks’ Iran sanctions“.

But the Chinese foreign ministry has said that increasing pressure on Iran would not be effective.

“Sanctions and exerting pressure are not the way to solve problems,” said spokeswoman Jiang Yu.

She said sanctions “are not conducive for the current diplomatic efforts on the Iran nuclear issue”.

Russian President Medvedev may be considering a more pliant position on Iranian sanctions, but the Chinese are cautioning restraint. While this would likely not entail a Chinese veto on any sanctions agreeable to Moscow, it will strengthen Russia’s position in arguing for weaker constraints on the Iranian military-industrial-financial complex during upcoming Security Council debates on Iran’s nuclear intransigence.

The Chinese foreign ministry is being somewhat disingenuous in its assertion that trade sanctions are not an effective means of dealing with rogue nuclear programs. They have no experience in the matter. Had they flexed any sort of financial fortitude during the run-up to North Korea’s nuclear weaponisation, then we might not be dealing concurrently with those consequences as well — not to mention that Iranian nuclear development would probably be at least five years behind where it is right now.

Can sanctions dissuade a country from developing nuclear weapons?

Ask Libyan leader-for-life, Moammar Gadhafi. He received the same “care” package from the A.Q. Khan network as both Iran and North Korea — but he turned his bundle over to the IAEA because he knew that the US and Europe meant business.

China was in a perfect position to influence North Korea with respect to its nuclear objectives, but they let their non-proliferation responsibilities slide.

What a crying shame.

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BRIC to Discuss New World Currency

Sampled from this Bloomberg article:

[snip]

Russian Proposal

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev may discuss his proposal to create a new world currency when he meets counterparts from Brazil, India and China this month, Natalya Timakova, a spokeswoman for the president, told reporters by phone today. Medvedev first proposed seeking alternatives to the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency in March.

[/snip]
 

Together, the four countries comprise 42% of the world’s population and hold the majority of US foreign debt. 

 

      Read more about this issue in our April 2, 2009
      blog entry, “
On the Current State of Currency”…
 
 

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Turbulence

Here are several stories about this week’s air traffic nightmares:

U.S. officials raise alarm about
new Venezuelan missiles

By Juan O. Tamayo | Miami Herald

Posted on Sunday, May 31, 2009

manpadVenezuela’s recent purchase of the most lethal shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles in the Russian arsenal is sharpening U.S. concerns that parts of President Hugo Chávez’s massive weapons buildup could wind up in the hands of terrorists or guerrillas in neighboring Colombia.

Washington’s unease is well-founded, U.S. government officials say, because of credible evidence that three top Venezuelan officials offered Colombia’s FARC rebels weapons, money and contacts to buy anti-aircraft missiles in 2007…

Continue reading…

AIR FRANCE DISASTER

And here’s a presumably unrelated story about an Air France jet (Flight 447 – an Airbus 330-200) that disappeared today somewhere in the vicinity of the Brazilian island archipelago of Fernando de Naronha en route to Paris from Rio. There were 228 souls aboard of various nationalities.

Shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles should generally not be a concern when traveling at altitudes of over 20,000 feet. Flight 447 was apparently flying at its intended “cruising altitude” of 35,000 feet.

I’m sure that authorities will have already checked the roster of small planes or jets that flew out of Naronha’s long-strip airfield yesterday. (At least, I hope they will have.)

UPDATE: June 1, 2009 – Plane wreckage found.

Missing and presumed dead in the crash are numerous business executives and Prince Pedro Luís de Orléans-Bragança, fourth in line to the Imperial Brazilian throne.

Just Last Week: Argentine Bomb Threat Against Air France.

Just five days before Flight 447 disappeared over the Atlantic during its Rio to Paris voyage, an Air France plane was delayed by a bomb threat as it waited to take off for Paris from Buenos Aires.

AND… Another presumably unrelated story about a plane over Texas that reported the lucky near-miss of a projectile at 13,000 feet.

Of course… there’s also the story about a possible attempt on the life of former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, who dropped out of the current presidential race to support Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

UPDATE: June 23, 2009 – Signals from Black Boxes Detected by Sub?

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DPRK: N-Test, Take X

The UN Security Council has unanimously condemned North Korea’s latest nuclear firing test, which everyone seems to be assuming is their second such detonation, though that might not be the case.

The precise yield of the explosion is difficult to gauge for the following reasons: 

  1. Given the DPRK’s proficiency at digging shafts, tunnels and underground facilities, they may be successfully shielding and shaping their blasts in order to minimise their seismic signatures. If different device placement configurations are used for each test, this will help to confound those attempting to ‘profile’ the device in question — and, over a series, it will tell the North Koreans which configurations work best.
  2. The seismic waves generated by the most recent test are distinctly different from their first known test on October 9, 2006, which could mean that a different device type may have been employed this time, in which case, the previous data will be somewhat less useful in determining the energy output of the test at hand.
  3. Russian seismographs have been off-line for quite some time, limiting the number of high quality data points when interpreting the test’s meaning and ultimate implications. The Chinese ones have been running off-and-on for a good part of the past few months, which has proved less than helpful to seismic monitoring efforts focused on that part of the world. 

INCN_24hr
As compared to the first test, the blast barely registered a blip at China’s QIZ seismograph located at Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, which responded quite emphatically to the October 9th test. (See last story this topic.)

QIZ_24hr
Russian sources estimate the test’s yield to be in the range of 10 to 20 kilotons — which are the same figures they proposed for the first test, which turned out only to have generated a blast force of less than one kiloton. It makes you wonder about the value of Russian contributions on these matters. 

I’m still digesting the news (and the data), but I’ll take a stab at guessing the yield on this newest test — which could be anything from the country’s second to tenth nuclear test.

Best guesstimate at this time: 5 – 10 kT.
 
Note: There is also a possibility that two tests could have been conducted in almost immediate sequence (about 15 minutes apart) — with the second test of the day yielding roughly double the energy of the first. In other words: two tests registering 5 kT and 10 kT, respectively. (I can’t find a quake to match up with that second, slightly larger, blip. Maybe you can.)

INCN_24hr_2 

Did North Korea score a 2-for-1 deal once again?

Now, I guess we just wait to see what happens next.

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