‘What Do the Turks Want?’. Is Turkey a Serious Power?

“Turkey can be strangulated by the US and the West if Erdogan pushes the line too much”; “I consider him Muslim Modi”

Strategic Analyst and author of the book ‘The Next Hundred Years‘, George Friedman, mentioned back in 2014 a Turkish rise to power in the Middle-East.

He had pegged his views on this key observation: “Whenever the Islamic world in the past thousand years has had a unification it has been under a Turkic power and for 500 years it was under the Ottoman rule, and when it was under the Ottoman rule, the Arabs took a subordinate position and the Turks created an order.

“Fairly true”, says a renowned analyst, professor of defense and strategic studies based in Malaysia –the analyst has authored several books including on US-China relations and South Asia.

“Friedman’s talk highlights Turkey’s past glory as the center of a Muslim empire, one we know as the Caliphate, which collapsed during the First World War as Anglo-French detractors joined hands with others to split Anatolia from its Arab and European subjects abroad while Mustafa Kemal transformed the former Muslim imperial edifice into a secular, modern, West-facing proto-European state.”

But Turkey for the past hundred years has been in a very strange position that it was never been before, Friedman highlighted. “Because it was surrounded by first Europeans and then the Russians and the Americans.”

Fast forward 2020 and “The Americans are leaving, the Russians are not coming back and the British are busy doing other things and suddenly Turkey is unfolding its wings”, Friedman had said then, and “there’s no one in the region when you talk to who doesn’t in every discussion on politics does in the second session, what do the Turks want”.

According to the analyst and author of US-China Strategic Competition: Towards a New Power Equilibrium, “Turkey shows signs of both the will and capacity to pursue its interests as identified by its ruling elite”s, “as the interviewee posits”, he adds.

“So, it certainly is a major power”.

Is it a ‘great power’ in the way we historically described the secondary members of the UNSC – i.e., Britain, France and China?

“Militarily, possibly yes”, the author says, “but the foundations of power lie in the economy, science & technology, and socio-political cohesion”, he adds.

“On those counts, Turkey still depends on the West and Russia for advanced material and even diplomatic support. Externally, it remains vulnerable to pressure from its very own NATO allies, i.e., the USA foremost among them”.

The author points out Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 project as an example. “It still needs to procure advanced hardware from elsewhere”, and “at home, liberal Turks detest its Islamist pursuits”, he adds.

A Pakistani defense analyst weighs in the author’s insight. “Turkey’s increasing reliance on religion and history is and will produce more adversaries than friends”.

Mr Gulen, based in his US sanctuary, burdens Turkey in a way no foreign power can, the author points out. “So, domestic incoherence and external pressures reduce Turkey to a regional major power with both potential and aspirations”.

According to the Pakistani analyst, “Turkey may have acquired some material elements of a middle size power, deficient in diplomatic and soft power”.

It could, if things went its way – a big if – emerge as a regional great power, the author says. “It is trying to become a regional power house,” a Pakistani defense official based in the Middle East says.

Although it doesn’t have the wherewithal to be a regional power, he adds.

According to him, Erdogan is trying to show muscles and engaging Turkey in almost all the countries in its neighborhood starting from Qatar, Sudan, Libya, Iraq and Syria.

The main purpose is to extend his rule, says the official. “Domestically his public isn’t happy with him. So he is trying to rekindle Turkish nationalism. I consider him Muslim Modi”.

The Pakistani analyst points out that Turkey’s new-found confidence due to a healthy economy and growing defense industry is still in infancy. “It can be strangulated by the US and the West if Erdogan pushes the line too much”.

At the end of the day, according to the author, the rarefied ranks of Superpowers currently number just two – the USA and China. “Turkey is some distance off from that level of surplus power”.

“It (however) depends how one would conceptualize power, material, physical, cultural or ideational, says Islamabad-based analyst Dr. S.M. Ali.

Turkey was a superpower when it was a Caliphate . “Today Turkey is merely a nation-state revolving in an American orbit,” says another geopolitical analyst based in Islamabad.

The discussion continues, not just up north and across the Atlantic, but also south of the Tropic of Cancer: It is a topic of the region: “what do the Turks want”, to quote Friedman.