One of the challenges of building a world defined by peace and international law is the rise of right-wing populism in different forms.
We've seen its rise in countries with democratic forms of government. Turkey, under the leadership of Recep Erdogan, represents one such country. For several years Turkey was known as a pro-Western democracy located in the volatile Middle East and as a United States ally in the Cold War. However, it's gone down the road to authoritarian democracy under Erdogan. Foreign-policy thinker Samuel Huntington addressed Turkey in his 1993 "Foreign Affairs" essay "The Clash of Civilizations." He stated the country would leave its pro-Western leanings with the end of the Cold War and head in the direction of Islamism. Huntington was right, as the rise of an Islamist like Erdogan proves the point.
Writer Ali Aydintasbas covers Turkey's current politics in his story "Turkey Will Not Return to the Western Fold": "Turkey distrusts the United States for supporting Syrian Kurdish forces in Syria and for harboring the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara has identified as the mastermind of a failed coup in 2016. Turkey's relations with Europe have been no better. European leaders have grown weary of Turkey's increasing illiberalism and eagerness to flex its military muscle in the eastern Mediterranean."
Turkey is still a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance. However, it's also a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with China and Russia. The country seems to want to balance the power of Russia through membership in NATO and balance the power of Western powers through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It no longer wants to play by internationalist rules, and this was seen in the country's invasion of Syria. However, and as stated by Avdintasbas, there is no way the West can keep Turkey from developing its own foreign policy.
Modern Turkey arose after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I. Kemal Ataturk, the country's first leader, sought to separate the country's predominant religion, Islam, from the state in true Western style. However, there were always opponents of this trend, and it was reversed by Erdogan and the Law and Justice Party. The party tends to glorify the country's Ottoman past, further evidence that Turkey wants to project power beyond its borders - evidenced by military excursions into the Ottoman lands of Iraq, Syria, Libya, and the Caucasus.
Avdintasbas pointed out Erdogan's skill in playing Russia and the U.S. against each other. To inject a bit of change into the situation, if current political trends continue, Erdogan's days are numbered. Turkey faces high unemployment, inflation, a decline in its currency, and a balance of payments crises. In polls, only 30 percent of Turks would support Erdogan's Law and Justice Party if elections were to be held quickly. On a dim note, many voters share Erdogan's suspicion of the West. However, most voters don't want to alienate the West if it threatens their economy. Citizens are also wary of the way Erdogan's foreign policy has alienated allies and made some of the same mistakes as the old Ottoman Empire.
Erdogan's authoritarianism has shown in domestic politics in the jailing of Kurdish politicians and other forms of government repression. However, these tactics don't guarantee him a victory in 2023. A solid challenger will challenge Erdogan's foreign policy and be more internationalist in outlook. Avidintasbas presents a scenario: "it could mend ties with NATO, normalize relations with regional foes including Egypt and the UAE, or resuscitate Turkey's membership talks with the EU (European Union) even if the effort is futile."
There is a positive role our country could play. What if Turkey saw some benefit in President Joe Biden's attempts to revive a U.S.-led order? It would be a strong point in moving Turkey back to regular international norms. However, this depends on a smooth international order and Biden's success. If some form of right-wing populism gains force in our country in future elections, Turkey might continue to follow its current path.
Regardless of what happens in Turkey's 2023 election, Turkey will demand a certain amount of independence in the foreign-policy realm. Can both U.S. and Turkey agree to certain internationalist principles and maintain or downsize the size of their arsenals? Only time will tell.
Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project