Much is said of the great prospects for Turkey – both economically and politically; most of which are indeed realistic and feasible. But what is Turkey’s future from a geopolitical perspective? What can we expect from Turkey in the next fifty years? Who is Turkey likely to ally herself to and who is she most likely to fight? This article is a summary of some of the key points relating to Turkey as discussed by George Friedman in his book “The Next 100 Years” (*). I’ll also make references to other literature for comparison.
Due to Friedman’s role as a “strategic consultant”, these insights are of great significance, since there is every likelihood that he is on the same wavelength as Washington diplomats.
We begin in the backyard …
Turkey and the Muslim World
The Muslim World has long been a ‘fault line’, that is, in the same way as with geology, where friction builds up is likely to cause an earthquake. Throughout history, Turkey has been the dominant power of the Muslim world.
Leaving Indonesia and Pakistan aside, there are three major countries with large muslim populations: Egypt, Iran and Turkey.
Turkey’s economy is currently double that of Iran’s and over four times the size of Egypt’s, despite having a smaller population. Turkey is also experiencing strong economic growth which looks, according to most reports, set to continue.
Politically, Iran is attempting to assert itself on the regional and world stage and consequently it does receive considerable antagonisation from the United States.
Turkey in the short-term: strong economy, soft power?
Turkey has a strong economy and, geographically, an ideal central positioning for trade. Crucially, unlike Iran, Turkey isn’t bogged down by endless conflicts nor constantly confronted by the US. As a result, Turkey has room to manoeuvre and can focus on further improving its economy, its infrastructure and trade links as well as establishing a sphere of influence.
Friedman believes that Turkey will soon revert to its traditional role which is the dominant force in the region.
In the short-term, Turkey’s power will not yet be strong enough to worry the United States who will be more preoccupied with China and Russia.
Other reports indicate that Turkey is currently effective with its “soft power”, particularly in the Muslim World. Soft power, according Harvard Political Analyst, Joseph Nye, is the ability of a state to “inspire other nations”, attract and co-opt them rather than coerce, use force or give money as a means of persuasion.
Although frustrated that they could not use this soft power recently in Syria, Turkey still remains an inspiration to other Muslim countries in the region. According to Nye, “Turkey is the first Muslim country in the region to show that it is possible to reconcile Islam with democracy, modernity and success.”
Written in 2009, the book predicts that by 2015 we will be seeing a brewing confrontation between America and Russia, which isn’t wrong (but wasn’t exactly difficult to predict!). This confrontation will continue to grow until 2020 whereby neither side will risk a war but will be eagerly manoeuvring themselves in the meantime. At this point, presuming Russia weakens drastically due to an overstretched military, internal problems and confrontation from the US, the area of Central Asia will be a ‘poacher’s paradise’ for Japan, Eastern Europe and Turkey. Turkey could / would seize the opportunity to take a greater role in the Caucuses – yet another geopolitical fault line.
Japan and Turkey will likely remain close allies – an alliance which started in 1890 after the Ertugrul Frigate event. It may be that their shared linguistic roots also have subconsciously helped this allegiance?
Note that this allegiance was formally renewed in 2013 when “the Two Prime Ministers [Erdogan and Abe], in view of the foregoing, decided to upgrade their level of co-operation to a mutually beneficial strategic partnership in order to promote common interests of both countries through bilateral, regional and multilateral co-operation.”
In line with Tukey’s own current ambitions, Friedman predicts that the country will be one of the top ten economies by 2020. It will remain as a strong and stable economy amongst quagmire of instability and squabbling.
If these current forecasts continue to materialise, Russia would likely fear Turkey and one possibility is that it would seek to contain Turkey by potentially destabilising the Arab states to the South of the border and trying to control access to the Black Sea.
Since, currently from the US’s perspective, Turkey is an ally against Russia, the latter event will be avoided at all costs by both nations. Friedman reckons that Turkey would likely continue to grow as a regional power through the 2030s.
Turkey’s economy and influence will continue to grow.
Due to Turkey’s future economic strength, neighbouring countries will need to align themselves to to the new power.
It seems incredible that Friedman argues that Turkey’s influence could stretch into Russia and into Europe towards Ukraine but, as he points out, many current events would have been laughed at a few decades ago. It seems reasonable, he argues, that Muslim Turkey should influence Muslim Kazakhstan.
We only need to take a glimpse again at the extent of the Turkish Empire of yore to remember how far their influence / empire reached previously.
Almost unbelievably, the Black Sea could end up being a Turkish lake!
At this point, what Friedman describes is practically a return to the Ottoman Empire but, presumably, just like the current “American Empire”, the nature of the empire will be one of influence. Or, as Michael Hudson points out in ‘Super Imperialism‘ and in numerous articles, colonisation in its current iteration can be done financially.
Should Egypt become unstable (an “inherently unstable country”), Turkey would likely revert to its traditional role and insert troops to stabilise the country and, potentially, take the opportunity to control the Suez Canal. Israel, by now overwhelmed by Turkey, would be forced to submit and keep up good neighbourly relations.
After controlling the Suez Canal and with immediate access to the Red Sea, Turkey would be in a strategically strong position to control the Arabian Peninsular and pressure other local powers – particularly Iran – who, like Israel, would by this point wish to keep good neighbourly relations.
Controlling the Arabian Peninsular is euphemistic for controlling the oil reserves. Friedman calculates that, at this point, Japan – who rely heavily on Gulf oil – will wish reach a strategic agreement with Turkey, or to put it more aptly, an alliance.
Only at this point, will the Americans feel some discomfort, particularly by the maritime strength of both Turkey and Japan, their strategic alliance and the fact that both are on opposite sides of Asia, ideal for controling the oceans and potentially over-stretching the US.
Friedman sums up Turkey’s future with,
“By the middle of the century, Turkey’s influence will extend deep into Russia and the Balkans, where it will collide with Poland and the rest of the Eastern European coalition. It will also become a major Mediterranean power, controlling the Suez Canal and projecting its strength into the Persian Gulf. Turkey will frighten the Poles, the Indians, the Israelis, and above all the United States.”
2050s and beyond
Presumably, the extent to which Turkey frightens the Americans will also determine its fate beyond the middle of the century.
At this point, the analysis moves from the terrestrial geopolitical domain, rockets up into the stratosphere and towards the science-fiction – or perhaps science faction since the patterns and estimations seem reasonable enough. The next technological shift is a move to space based weapons, called “battle stars” where, inevitably, America would have a technological advantage simply due to prior technological and military investment.
Assuming Turkey and Japan remain allied (the Japanese providing the technology), America would initially seek to strangle both with demands, sanctions and antagonism.
Both countries would need to expand in one way or another, especially Japan who have almost no natural resources and will need them badly.
The natural third ally for Turkey and Japan would be a strong European nation: preferably Germany who, despite already being close allies to Turkey, would prefer a risk averse strategy (i.e. Unsicherheitsvermeidung – a beautiful German word!) regarding a pan-Eurasian counterbalance to the US hegemony.
We would then likely enter another cold war, since Friedman assumes that no-one would actually want to take on the Americans in an actual all-out war. He does predict, however, that by 2050 Turkey and Japan (out of necessity) would seek to pre-emptively strike the US, thereby causing WWIII which would probably suck Germany into the Turkish-Japance alliance and Poland in the American alliance. Somewhat reassuringly, Friedman reckons this World War will have only 50,000 fatalities and would be over quite rapidly. The United States states would be victorious since this is, after all, America’s century – until like every other Empire, it collapses from within.
Although a fascinating read and highly informative, one does wonder whether the book will become a self-fulfilling prophecy – seeing as Friedman does seem to have some sway within the corridors of the White House and the Pentagon.
On the other hand, there are of course Black Swans which nobody can predict, resulting from internal and external factors. The South American nations were once predicted to become model economies until their economies suddenly collapsed whilst the Americans had high hopes for Iran and Afghanistan until some unexpected decisions took their destinies on a different course (see the Bitter Lake documentary by Adam Curtis).
Likewise, Ian Bremmer’s Top 10 Risks for 2015 (Eurasia Group) include Turkey on the basis that “heavy-handed rule, short-sighted political decisions, and bad foreign policy bets will all conspire against Turkey.” – events that Friedman et al may not have expected.
Friedman’s analysis is, naturally, US-centric and assumes that America will reign supreme for at least the next century based on the military and economic dominance.
Turkey’s Asian Pivot
Turkey has indicated an eagerness to join the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) which was formed to create closer Eurasian ties but could potentially develop into an economic counterweight to the US and EU. Turkey’s renewed requests to join last year dismayed Brussels particularly at a time when Turkey’s EU-accession was being rediscussed. Erdogan’s remarks to Putin that if they join the SCO, they will say “goodbye to the EU” wouldn’t have impressed Brussels either but does illustrate Turkey’s current self-confidence or, at the very least, an ambivalence towards joining the EU.
Furthermore, the recently formed Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) – a counterbalance to the US-led IMF and World Bank – will come as a shock to the Americans. Despite America’s calls for none of their allies to join, Turkey (alongside Britain and many Western countries) has already applied for membership.
Turkey’s future and what it means for us
Strategically, whether Turkey looks East or West (or both), her prominence on the world stage will certainly grow and her influence will follow. As we have seen with recent events, Turkey will continue to play an ever more important role in the “Great Game”.
The anticipated growth leading up to at least the middle of this century undoubtedly points an ever-confident Turkey and an undisputed importance of the Turkish economy and marketplace.
HandsOnTurkish believes that businesses and businesspeople, if they wish to engage with Turkey, should develop at least a basic grasp of the language and a good understanding of the Turkish culture in order to foster good relations and boost trade.
* “The Next 100 Years” by George Friedman, Anchor Books, New York. Copyright 2009.
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