Will Turkey leave NATO for Sino-Russian Shanghai Cooperation Council?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan is talking about joining the Shanghai Cooperation Council as a full member as a reaction to his frustrations with the European Union.

Erdogan’s massive crackdown on dissidents after the July 15 failed revolution has led to 110,000 people being fired from their jobs and some 32,000 being jailed. Some of Erdogan’s targets are members of the secretive cult, the Gulen movement. But many or perhaps most are secularists or other regime critics and had nothing to do with the coup.

In short, Erdogan has opportunistically taken advantage of the coup attempt to sideline both his secular and his religious critics.

Erdoganism is similar to Putinism, and just a 21st century version of authoritarian populism. You cow the press, curb social media, and jail or marginalize critics, and reinforce one ethnicity over others. Erdogan bears some responsibility for turning the conflict with the Kurds into a hot war.

The Shanghai Cooperation Council, formed in 1996, consists of Russia and China, as well as the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.

Although Turkey has some commonalities with the SCO nations (three of them speak some form of Turkish) I think Erdogan is bluffing.

His main concern seems to be that the European Union is deeply critical of his dismantling of Turkey’s democracy. They are not simply going to wink at his behaving like a late 1960s Greek general.

In contrast, China has a policy of not intervening in other countries’ domestic affairs. Russia under Putin, in addition, is not exactly a bulwark of democratic freedoms.

But the whole proposition is weird since it ignores a key contradiction. Russia and China vetoed several UN Security Council votes on a no-fly zone for Syria, and Russia is giving air support to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which Turkey would like to overthrow.

Moreover, Turkish trade with Europe dwarfs its commerce with the SCO by orders of magnitude. Annual Turkey-EU trade is on the order of 140 billion Euros.

The European Union is not only Turkey’s biggest trading partner, Turkey is also in NATO. Can you be in NATO and in the SCO at the same time? I doubt it. The US, France and the UK provide Turkey with highly sophisticated weaponry. Not only would it be difficult and expensive for Turkey to replace the American and EU hardware with Russian and Chinese arms, it is difficult to make a Russian tank talk to an American F-16. Countries have a tendency to do one-stop shopping for arms because of this integration problem.

I don’t think Turkey will attain membership in the EU if it goes on like this (the EU conceives of itself as a union of democracies). But there are advantages to being in the queue for the EU and Erdogan would have to think his nationalism really valuable to sacrifice billions for it.

So, I conclude that this Shanghai CO business is an idle threat on Erdogan’s part, perhaps a way to get the Europeans to be quiet about his human rights abuses.

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Related video:

New China TV: “Turkey president: Turkey not constrained to joining the EU…SCO could be an option”

Posted in Featured | 19 Responses | Print |

19 Responses

  1. If I recall correctly, David Cameron, while he was still Prime Minister said: “Turkey may be ready to join the EU, sometime around the year 3000.”

    Antoinetta III

  2. The old proverb “hunting with the hounds and running with the hare” comes to mind. Erdogan has the Russians to the East, the Europeans to the North and America to the West with some disparate Countries to the South of him. He is trying to be on the right side of all of them, however, you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. He also has to contend with enemies in his own country who may well be planning his assassination at this very moment. He’s got his work cut out.

  3. China has a policy of not intervening in other countries’ domestic affairs. Russia under Putin, in addition, is not exactly a bulwark of democratic freedoms. That a country should intervene in other countries’ domestic affairs may be debatable but is scarcely a demonstrable of fact. Neither China nor Russia are bulwarks of democratic freedom for the reason that they don’t have democratic freedoms to need bulwarks, and never have. Does any large country enjoy democratic freedom in the original Hellenic sense? Many claim to be democracies but their variations make it hard to find enough in common to arrive at a non-ideological definition. Citizens choose their leader and the US system is the benchmark, might be a definition but then we face the results of the recent US election, and perhaps compare them with Putin’s over 80% approval rating at home. As for Erdogan, Turkey has been governed in many ways over the centuries, mostly authoritarian, and his method of dealing with opposition is nothing new. NATO is not popular among Europeans, it’s increasingly viewed like the contents of the emperor’s wardrobe, but the Obama administration has wanted to keep Turkey on board at almost any cost. Trump’s arrival my change all that. Then again, why shouldn’t Turkey associate with the SCO and still trade with Europe? Because they are enemies? Trump may change that too. I don’t like what I know of Trump, I wouldn’t have him in the house, but he has shaken the kaleidoscope and things may become very different in the world at large.

    • The historical “difference” from the world at large that we currently live in is that Great Powers routinely waged outright wars with each other using the most powerful weapons in their arsenals. We’ve gone for 70 years without one of those. Appreciate the status quo while it lasts.

  4. If it comes to pass, Erdoğan – Putin is a marriage possible only between two cynical, power-mad egotists. One can only imagine the sweet nothings Vladimir whispers in Sultan Recep Tayyip’s ear.

    Will a Russian battlecruiser be dispatched (how does one spell “Goeben” in Cyrillic)?

  5. Hasn’t Turkey been on the front line when it comes to containing Russia? It was that way back around the time of the Cuban missile flap anyway. As I recall, JFK quietly removed US missiles from Turkey when the Russian missiles came out of Cuba. With the certainty of US intervention in case of a conflict no longer a certainty, maybe it makes sense for Turkey to consider other arrangements.

  6. I wonder when China will begin to recognize, as the US should have long ago, that overseeing a world of violent dictators is not “stability” at all.

    • China is well aware of how to manage a chaotic world because they have been doing it for 5000 years.

      Read Sun Tzu’s “the Art of War” if you have not already done so (there are excellent English translations available for free on the web).

      The USA is a arrogant middle school kid compared to China. As long as China gets the resources it wants and no Chinese citizens are hurt, China does not care what dictators do to their own citizens nor to adjoining countries, BUT if a small country upsets China, the Chinese have no problem “fixing” the problem quickly and if necessary violently.

  7. President Erdogan has overplayed his hand and isolated, he is grasping for straws. What groping of countries wants anything to do with him and his self made internal, external problems which looks to escalate on his current course. He has damaged turkey, Its neighbors and the world at large.

  8. Perhaps Erdogan is seeing the writing on the wall – Russia and China’s model of single party rule and business capitalism seems to be ascendent.

    • China is a socialist country. Russia is a multi-party democracy who’s constitution was basically hand written by the US embassy (hence the strong presidency). How clueless do you have to be to confuse Communism with a centrism of a One Nation Tory party. Jesus Christ.

      • To say that Russia’s constitution “was basically hand written by the U.S. Embassy” is nonsense. It reveals a complete lack of understanding of the elements that went into the final product and the role of the U.S. Embassy.

        Of the various proposals for a new Basic Law, or constitution, two were the focus of most attention-one drawn up by the Constitutional Commission of the Parliament, headed by Oleg Rumyantsev, and the other by the executive
        branch, written by Boris Yeltsin’s advisors, most notably Sergei Alexeev and Sergei
        Shakhrai. They share much in common, but diverged in important elements. After negotiations, a final constitution was agreed upon.

        The U.S. Embassy had no part in delivering a “hand written” constitution to Russian authorities. As for the “strong presidency,” that is exactly what one would expect from the Russians, whose entire history was marked by strong central authority.

    • It certainly does. Modi’s BNP in India. The military-owned industries of Egypt and Pakistan. Whatever grotesque bordello Trump’s children set up in the White House by being both his inner cabinet and the overseers of his economic empire.

  9. Well, if it’s seen by Europe as an “idle threat”, then they will simply ignore it.

  10. “Erdoganism is similar to Putinism, and just a 21st century version of authoritarian populism. You cow the press, curb social media, and jail or marginalize critics, and reinforce one ethnicity over others. ”

    Putin doesn’t have a populist done in his body. He’s an open border, pro-free trade, pro-west “lisbon-to-vladivastok” liberal. You being butthurt your bloodbath in Eurasia is semi-successful and this is somehow the fault of Putin, even though he’s collaborated with you 90% of the time, does not reflect on the political/economic/social system of Russia.

    Also:
    “European Union is deeply critical of his dismantling of Turkey’s democracy. They are not simply going to wink at his behaving like a late 1960s Greek general.”

    European Union didnt have a problem with “dismantling of Turkey’s democracy” when the coup was underway. In fact all of their public statements during and after underscore that at the very least they were fully happy to see Turkey’s democracy dismantled. They also didnt have a problem of organizing an internal coup against Greek Papandreou and Italian Berlusconi when it suited them. They also had no problem with greenlighting a military crackdown by their Ukrainian client on its population “like a late 1960s Greek general.”

    Shoddy analysis that reflects personal resentments rather than base analysis.

  11. Meanwhile is quite obvious, that Erdogan never intended to become part of the EU.
    He only exploited EU business opportunities and perversly the EU kind of protected him from the turkish military. The officers were reluctand to remove him, since that would stop the talks with the EU. Till it was too late…

    Ever since he has removed the military threat he is showing his true colors. As he once exclaimed: ‘Democracy is only the train we ride on, till we reach our destination.’

    The biggest problem is the idiotic german chancellor, who has given Erdogan a means to blackmail the EU by threatening to cancel her ‘refugee deal.’

    It would be best to abandon Turkey, move the military assets to another country and sanction the hell out of Erdogan. The refugees from syria can easily be stopped by closing the balcan-route.

    By the way, that is not my opinion, but basically what you hear on the floors of the EU institutions these days.

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