Sir Stewart Eldon
Turkey: A Strategic Appreciation
Sir Stewart Eldon KCMG OBE
Turkey is a growing conundrum. Its geo-political importance is self-evident. It combines East and West
in its own special way, separate from, say, the Russian cultural melting-pot. It has NATO's secondlargest
army and one of the few navies in the world capable of building its own warships (albeit small
ones). It has the potential to become a significant regional defence supplier with wider reach.
Economically, Turkey's performance over the last decade has been impressive (and significantly better
than many EU members). It leads the world in some areas, including the construction of modern
airports in earthquake zones. Visiting Istanbul in 2014 I could not fail to be impressed with the sense of
drive, determination and activity.
So Turkey is by any standards a force to be reckoned with. We should think carefully about where it sits
on the political stage and how that affects our interests.
Internally, the AKP government has pursued its own distinctive programme, partly based on its own
beliefs and partly on President Erdogan's agenda. There are clear implications for the structure of the
secular state carefully constructed by Ataturk and for the fundamental (if restrictive) freedoms it
enshrined. Erdogan's long-running confrontation with the military - ended in his favour by July's
abortive coup - is the most obvious manifestation of this. Serious concerns about human rights, press
freedom and the Kurdish question are ongoing; we should not expect the Turkish approach to the Kurds
to coincide with our own. But it is worth remembering that the AKP does not represent a
fundamentalist strand of Islam and that IS is as much Turkey's enemy as ours. The sweeping scale of
the purge undertaken since the failed coup has given rise to concerns about the protection of individual
rights. But it reflects also the depth of the shock created by the attempt, and there is no doubt that it
has considerable popular support across the Turkish political spectrum.
Externally, the AKP decided some time ago that it was better to build up Turkey's position as a major
regional power than to suffer the continual agony of unproductive EU accession negotiations. Who can
blame them. The Turkish/Brazilian Iran nuclear initiative was one early manifestation of this policy and
profoundly uncomfortable for the P5 + 1 (not to mention Israel).
Since then the strategic nexus has sharpened. Events in Syria both threaten Turkey and give it new
leverage, which it will exploit. The Russian bid to secure use of the NATO airbase at Incirlik need not be
taken seriously but President Putin's wider intrigues most certainly should. Through inadequate
diplomacy and remedial action the EU has given the Turks a determinate role in the handling of the
current refugee crisis. A major price has already been exacted and more will be asked.
Where does that leave the UK? For many years we have been a supporter of Turkey within the EU -
though quite rightly a not uncritical one. Our NATO links matter. Brexit will give us new freedoms to
build our relationship with a powerful Eurasian partner that is, and is likely to remain, outside EU
structures. There will be economic, political and trade-related gains and a chance to make sure
fundamental freedoms in Turkey are not irrevocably damaged. In our own self-interest we should not
shy away from the challenge.
For further information please contact:
Caroline de Lisle
Business Development Manager
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