Turkey has just taken bold new steps towards becoming a major power. It’s not so much because Erdogan and Turkey have a plan to become one, but because circumstances are forcing it upon them.
Pressures both inside and out of the country continue to mount. This is forcing Turkey to transform itself. The currency crisis is but one ugly result of a country trying to shed its old institutions as it transforms its power. Erdogan’s authoritarian rule is a result of the instability that Turkey is now facing.
What we are seeing are steps towards a more independent Turkey. That doesn’t necessarily make it look pretty. Erdogan’s seemingly unorthodox economic policies have not made Turkey a particularly sexy place to invest in nowadays. Turkey’s bickering with the United States over pastors and F-35 purchases are not nice but are merely finer points in a relationship of two NATO allies that spans over half a century. Turkey and the United States have had many public squabbles before. However, what makes this one different is that Turkey is now in a more powerful position.
The US needs Turkey as a stabilizing force in the Middle East. Both agree on many issues, such as the need to contain Iran, destroy the Islamic State and counter Assad. Turkey just doesn’t want to be held under Washington’s terms. Turkey’s growing power is instilling greater assertiveness on its part.
These moves toward a more independent Turkey are not just with the United States. Despite recent gestures, Turkey and Russia remain historical enemies. Their influences clash in the Caucasus and the Black Sea Basin. Russia supports Assad and Iran. Turkey opposes Assad and Iran. Their bonding is superficial at best. Really, what Turkey is doing is playing countries against each other, hoping to reap the benefits of both. The days when Turkey becomes an outright enemy and truly challenges the United States are indeed coming. But for the short to medium term future at least, the relationship between the two NATO allies will hold despite whatever minor points are bickered about.
Turkey is now facing instability similar to the early Ottomans, before they expanded into one of the world’s great empires. But modern Turkey is starting with a much larger base. Turkey has the second biggest military force in NATO, has indisputably the most powerful military in the region, and has a naval tradition that goes back centuries. Despite its recent economic troubles, it is a rapidly developing economy that is the thirteenth largest in the world (in terms of PPP). The Ottomans began as just one of many competing Turkoman principalities on the Anatolian Peninsula, sporting little more than cavalry with bows and arrows as a military force. The key to their success was in geography, the same geography that Turkey now shares. Turkey’s geographical advantage stems from it being at the crossroads of two continents. It’s an advantage that few other countries possess.
The lira falls; Turkey shifts its economic policies. A coup attempt rattles the country; Erdogan consolidates power. Violence from war-torn Syria and Iraq spills into its borders; Turkey moves in. Turkey faces growing problems; it steps up.
So what happens next to Turkey?