Can Turkey Serve as Europe’s Bridge to the Muslim World?


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The question of whether to integrate Turkey into the European Union requires a balancing of costs and benefits across Europe’s entire portfolio of political, economic, and security interests. Expanding the Union to include a state that would be among its largest, poorest, and furthest to the East would clearly have a wide range of consequences. In this post, I will argue that Turkey’s inclusion in the EU is unlikely to make it a model of Islamic democracy for the Arab world to emulate nor will it necessarily help Europe to achieve its foreign policy objectives in the Middle East.
Last week, former German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Joschka Fischer spoke at the New America Foundation/Middle East Task Force’s event at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. While commenting on the challenge of repairing relations with the Muslim world that the next President will face, Fischer made this case for Turkey’s membership in the European Union.

I think that Europe has the strongest leverage in its hand – it’s Turkey. If Turkey were to be firmly bound to the West, it would be the key battle in the fight against Islamic radicalism and terrorism, because it would demonstrate that Islamic culture and tradition is not in contradiction with the rule of law, with the market economy, with the modern society…That Islam fits into the modern reality in the 21st century – hence, that state is Turkey. Secondly, look to the map…I’m talking only about security. Turkey is key to the European security and the security of the region.

Fischer’s assertion that Turkey’s membership in the European Union would allow Turkey to serve as a model for its Arab neighbors is speculative. Turkey has been modernizing its institutions since its founding in 1923 (and the Ottoman Empire began to look West decades before that). Arab countries have not followed a similar path during that period. It remains to be seen whether the increased role of religion in Turkish public life and its recently improved relations with its Arab neighbors will increase Turkey’s attractiveness as a model of the compatibility of Islam, democracy, and open markets.
On the security issue, Fischer is undoubtedly correct that Turkey’s geographic position and professional military make it an important ally for both the United States and Europe. Turkey’s contributions in both Georgia and Afghanistan are only the most recent indicators of Turkey’s strategic importance. It is unclear however, how EU membership would influence Turkey’s posture toward its Arab and Persian neighbors.
Turkey’s current role as a mediator between its NATO allies to the West and its Muslim neighbors to the East stems precisely from the fact that it is not too closely bound to the West.
For example, if Turkey were a member of the European Union, it would be impossible for Iran to invite Turkey to facilitate negotiations with the EU over its nuclear program. Instead, Turkey would (correctly) be viewed as a partial defender of European interests. The same holds true for Syria, for whom Turkey has recently brokered peace talks with Israel.
None of this is to say that Turkey’s membership in the EU is undesirable – that is a much more complicated question that involves balancing many costs and benefits. The point is that becoming a member of the EU would alter Turkey’s uniquely flexible position as a bridge between the EU and the Arab world, and may paradoxically make it more difficult for Turkey to help Europe achieve some of its foreign policy objectives in the Middle East.
–Ben Katcher


17 comments on “Can Turkey Serve as Europe’s Bridge to the Muslim World?

  1. steve gropas says:

    indefinately turkey doent belong to europe for manny manny reasons.hey europe!! dont let that happen!!!!!


  2. Mr.Murder says:

    Our military tasked items in accordance with the Russian Navy on waters that Iraq shares with the former republics to their north.
    The Russian Navy also helped detail some security items on the Gulf.
    Putin could plausibly reach those items now and make it look like someone else.


  3. JohnH says:

    The Financial Times ran a good analysis of European- Russian relations.
    Now you might ask, what role does the United States have to play in all of this? The answer is, “it’s dubious.” But one of the Empire’s greatest fears is that it will become irrelevant. If Russia and Europe could find a way to work cooperatively, like German, France, Britain and Italy did after WWII, then the United States would have no role. The Empire would have a serious economic rival.
    So Washington must divide to conquer. It must sow the seeds of discord as often as possible to prove that Russia is not and can never be a reliable partner. However, the US strategy is not in the best interests of Europe. Europe needs Russian natural gas, and Russia needs European products to modernize its society and economy. Long term, Russia needs foreign technology to unlock the vast Siberian natural gas fields so that they can continue to supply Europe. Russia’s European fields are declining.
    By driving a wedge between Russia and Europe, Washington is potentially harming Europe’s long term security by jeopardizing its supply of energy and natural, profitable commerical relationships.
    Meanwhile, the American taxpayer gets stuck holding the bill for Washington’s imperial dreams and its policy of interfering foreign relationships where it really does not belong.
    It would be interesting for some foreign policy expert to tackle the question of how this makes Americans more secure or better off. Instead, they’re all too busy producing propaganda for imperial ambitions.


  4. Ajaz says:

    Indeed Turkey will serve as a bridge to the Muslim world. Its entry into EU is being blocked on various flimsy excuses, its entry into EU would send a positive message to the Muslim world that West is ready to do business with 1.6 billion Muslims.
    Denying Turkey and granting entry to Serbia (being coaxed by various EU countries) which annihilated nearly one million Muslims in Bosnia would send a totally wrong message that West doesn’t give a damn about human rights as long as the wrongs are committed by a Christian country. Sensible heads in EU need to think this through otherwise an irreparable harm could be done to Christian Muslim relations.


  5. JohnH says:

    In terms of energy, Ukraine is not a significant player. Sure, it’s a convenient transit route, but Russia has alternatives. It’s more like Ukraine serves as an important forward base for the Empire, and its main role is to threaten Russia on its very doorstep.
    What I find interesting is that the more the Empire threatens Russia on its doorstep, the more likely it becomes that Russia will return the favor in the West’s vast, soft underbelly. Turns out, Russia supplied Hezbollah in response to Israel’s supplying Georgia. There are plenty of opportunities in major oil producing countries with discontented populaces living in squalor while a tiny elite wallows in the windfall oil revenues. More opportunities if you count pipeline corridors (eg. Kurds blew up the BTC pipeline last month).
    There must be significant numbers of influential people in Russia just chomping at the bit to return the favor for the Soviet’s Afghanistan debacle. But Russia has been very restrained. They’re helping the NATO supply Afghanistan. Few, if any. Russian weapons have shown up in Iraq.
    Just how hard do the warmongers think they can push Russia before she responds in ways we don’t want to contemplate?


  6. Kathleen says:

    Forgeries…typos are the order of the day.


  7. Kathleen says:

    JohnH..why forget Ukraine??? During the Demz’ convention Darth slithered into Georgia, the Ukraine and Italy…guess he had to plick a new batch of foregies….


  8. JohnH says:

    Here’s your map, Carroll. (It’s at the end of the EIA’s country analysis of Kazhstan)
    As you can see. ALL the proposed pipelines to Europe go through Turkey or Russia, except for one under the Black Sea to the Ukraine. Guess Cheney can forget about that one now.
    Two other interesting points. 1) Notice the proposed pipelines through Afghanistan, the ONLY way to get Caspian energy to the Indian Ocean, if you want to avoid Iran. 2) Somehow EIA managed to omit the proposed Ceyhan-Eilat pipeline under the Mediterranean, carrying Caspian oil to Israel, where it would be refined and shipped via the Red Sea for sale in Asia. Quite a roundabout route, when you think that it would be much more economical to simply pipe the oil across Iran. But it might explain some of Israel’s belligerence toward Iran–Israel wants to cut itself into the oil business. And Israel does NOT want Iran as a lower cost competitor. But is it worth starting WWIII?
    US foreign policy experts (propagandists?) routinely fail to mention these facts as part of their “analyses.” Though not by any means the only consideration in the politics of the region, they represent and important part of the dynamics, perhaps the most important part.
    And it’s a large part of what keeps me posting–to portray a bigger picture than the propagandists want you to know about.


  9. pauline says:

    Carroll wrote:
    “Somewhere there is bound to be a map of the world that shows…”
    try cheney’s left side inner suit pocket
    “How long do you suppose it will take for the US…”
    longer than Poop John LXXII’s lifetime, longer than Cindy’s bankroll will last, longer than it will take Israel to peacefully acknowledge a Palestinian state, longer I guess than forever
    “exactly what problems is Islam causing. . .”
    those believers won’t bow down in total servitude to Saint Sarah’s idea of god. . .damnit hand me a gun


  10. Carroll says:

    Anyone got a map that shows all the pipelines and how they pertain to the US security? Somewhere there is bound to be a map of the world that shows the oil connections.
    And just for long do you suppose it will take for the US to make all Islamic countries “democratic”…8 more years?…50?.. a century?… 2 centuries?…what?
    And exactly what problems is Islam causing the US that we didn’t set up ourselves. No kidding, I really want to know.


  11. Katherine says:

    Ben, how do you reckon the recent postponement of the Israel/Syria peace talks affects your argument, if at all?


  12. Mr.Murder says:

    If they wait too long, Iraq will connect with the caucus pipelines through Kurdistan and flow them west through Lebanon like the trans Iraqi and trans Arabian pipelines do already.
    Triangulation time.
    Turkey is the only land with population size big enough to challenge Iran from the West.
    They either hook the caucus pipelines up and join the EU or watch the Kurds take on even greater share of money and influence in the region.


  13. rich says:

    Line one above: scratch ‘is unlikely to’.


  14. rich says:

    Can “Turkey’s inclusion in the EU is unlikely to make it a model of Islamic democracy for the Arab world to emulate?”
    Ever talk to a Turkish national about democracy? “We are European!” Already European, I am told, before they bother to discover what I think, as though it matters where they are from, as though I care.
    With that attitude, there’s no way Arab nations will be looking up to Turkey. And the bizarre presumption that Turkey or Arab nations should look up to Europe as a model really displays a bigoted view of progress and culture both.
    Turkey can let Europe come to them. Excellent post, Ben, I agree totally that Turkey’s pivotal role turns on not being in or out of the EU. And if they remain out, they’ll get more from Europe in the bargain.
    Let’s get two things straight, though.
    When Joschka Fischer says—“look to the map…I’m talking only about security. Turkey is key to the European security and the security of the region”—he’s talking about oil.
    Second, Fischer says Turkey can “demonstrate that Islamic culture and tradition is not in contradiction with the rule of law, with the market economy, with the modern society”—-I’ve got some bad news: Turkey is already a modern society, as are the Muslim nations he patronizes. Turkey and Morocco have high speed rail—but America doesn’t. Who’s more modern?
    Further, each of these nations already has demonstrated that Islamic culture is not in contradiction with the rule of law and the market economy. But it is the lawful obligation and plain right of every nation to strike that balance. If George Bush or Dick Cheney doesn’t like that balance, it’s hardly reflects poorly on sovereign nations who rightly control market access and legitimately determine what happens to their national resources.
    Sure: many Arab nations could improve their record on civil liberties and electoral process. But that hardly differentiates them from America, which routinely forgets the choicest provisions of the Constition and can’t bring itself to count votes in Florida and Ohio. But that’s the least of it. We just don’t walk the walk. We’ll get further when we recognize we or the EU simply aren’t the pinnacle of social, national, and cultural evolution. Other nations don’t aspire to be us, they have their own row to hoe, and we’ll continue to earn enmity in proportion to our arrogance.
    It’s not that they don’t partake of what Europe and American have to offer. They do—they’re just so much further ahead of us in getting that done, that American analysts can’t keep up with the process. Think about that. It’s a cognitive problem. America & the EU will have to offer something, to get something. The EU membership—“Hey, you get to be like us!”—doesn’t really wash, does it? It’s cheap and paltry, and it comes across that way. I’m guessing that if the EU and America wants Eurasian oil, or access to Turkey’s bridge, we’re gonna have to become a lot more like them, in the short run.


  15. JohnH says:

    It doesn’t really matter how much energy Turkey needs. Because of its location, it will get all it needs. And it may well realize that it can use its location to get the terms it wants from Europe, including accession. But Turkey may decide it will be in a better negotiating position over pipelines in the future if it’s not tied down by EU legal strictures.
    But the question is: does Turkey need Europe and all the aggravations that accession entails? Turkey may realize that it does not need Europe as much as Europe needs Turkey, precisely to expedite development of pipeline corridors.


  16. Sweetness says:

    “So the EU had better get its act together and include Turkey, or
    Turkey may decide that it can develop markets on its own,
    targeting the wealthy oil producers, some of whom–Kazakhs,
    Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Azerbaijani, Turkmen–have Turkic roots,
    customs and languages.”
    John, I confess this makes no sense to me. The MARKET, where
    people need to BUY energy, is in the West. The places you
    mention are producers, no? In any event, they are hardly buyers
    on the scale of the West.
    “Turkey would trade manufactured goods and agricultural
    products for energy. To me membership in the EU looks like an
    offer Turkey could well refuse.”
    How much energy does TURKEY need?


  17. JohnH says:

    It’s truly amazing to me how foreign policy experts consistently talk around the elephant in the room. It certainly casts doubt on their expertise or their candor–you pick.
    The reason Turkey’s position is important to Europe is not because of the map that Katcher linked to. Turkey has significant leverage with Europe because of–you guessed it–ENERGY! (Why couldn’t Katcher say that?)
    Turkey’s position makes it one of only two nations that Persian Gulf and Caspian natural gas pipelines must cross on its way to Europe. The other country is of course Russia.
    Europe has a vital security interest in diversifying its sources of energy away from Russia. Turkey is THE critical piece to solving that puzzle.
    So the EU had better get its act together and include Turkey, or Turkey may decide that it can develop markets on its own, targeting the wealthy oil producers, some of whom–Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Azerbaijani, Turkmen–have Turkic roots, customs and languages.
    Turkey would trade manufactured goods and agricultural products for energy. To me membership in the EU looks like an offer Turkey could well refuse.


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