Several events followed each other in which Türkiye did not receive the attention it feels it deserves. Some observers have wondered whether there is a deliberate attempt to omit Turkey from future formations in the global system. To begin, Turkey was not admitted to the BRICS club. Then came the G-20 meeting where Erdoğan had hoped to meet the American President but only exchanged a few remarks. Finally, the US put forth a grand plan to link up parts of Asia and the Middle East to Europe through rail and maritime links. Türkiye received no mention. As a country that perceives itself as being strategically located and indispensable for any plan regarding the future of the various regions of which it is a part, these developments constitute a cold shower. Mr. Erdoğan, indicating his displeasure at the developments, commented that Türkiye, a natural link between Asia and Europe, could not be bypassed.
It may be useful to look at these developments and see if Türkiye should be concerned. BRICS is a grouping of countries that challenge the domination of the global economic system by institutions developed after the Second World War to cater to a global economic order in which American interests prevail. The group has expanded recently for the first time. Although not all members are favorably disposed toward Chinese and Russian interests, it is clear that China perceives it as an instrument to challenge the American domination of the global economic system. Two factors may have figured in not taking Turkey in as a member. First, while Turkey has complained about the current system, it is in many ways a part of it. Most of its external trade is with Europe and its trade with the US is growing. It looks as if Türkiye does not want to stay out of any grouping but, given its economic ties, it would not be able to commit itself fully to the goals of the grouping. Türkiye may be suffering from a credibility problem tied to the “having your cake and eat it too” approach it has been following in its foreign policy. Second, some members including some who joined this time, may not have been excited by the idea of Türkiye’s membership. One wonders whether the Egyptians and Iranians would be excited by such a possibility.
Turning to the G-20 meeting, some observers have noted that this is a rival organization to BRICS. Although it is the case that its members include some of those that are also BRICS members, it should be noted that Chinese and Russian leaders avoided attending it, indicating where their priority lies. Also, that the meeting was held in India may have discouraged the Chinese leader from attending since India is not only a de facto rival of China in BRICS and elsewhere but also because it follows a policy that tries to avoid too deep a commitment both to the US and China. The Turkish President who sees the world in terms of “leader to leader” talks had hoped that he might have a private meeting with President Biden. That hope did not materialize. When they ran into each other, Mr. Erdoğan used the opportunity to remind Mr. Biden that he hoped to get a positive message on the sale of F-16s to Türkiye. POTUS retorted by reminding him that Sweden was still waiting for Turkish approval to join NATO. The
Turkish President, clearly upset, indicated that he did not see the connection between the two, proceeding to explain that Sweden had to do more to allay Turkish concerns if it expected the Turkish parliament to approve of its NATO membership. I suspect that Turkey fears that if Swedish membership is approved without other parties delivering on their commitments, they might renege on them. The broader problem is that there is a complete lack of trust between Turkey and its presumed allies. No party takes a step before the other takes a step first. The situation is locked.
What about the rival transport route that bypasses Turkey. This is a new and not well thought through project. How much India is interested in it and commit itself to its realization is unknown. It is not clear that Arab countries approve Israel’s Haifa as the Asian terminal point. Apparently, there is considerable opposition to the idea in Israel itself. Apart from politics, it is known that one of the major cost items in transport is changing means of transport, that is implementing numerous unloading-loading operations. The project may not even be feasible. The critical aspect of the discussion, however, is excluding Türkiye from the project, indicating that it is not found to be a reliable partner not only by the US but also by some other countries along the proposed route.
Is Turkey being isolated? Despite President Erdoğan’s arguments about Türkiye’s indispensability in both global and regional projects, these developments invite a reexamination and possibly a rethink of Turkish foreign policy, making adjustments to address emerging new realities.