A ‘new NATO’? – Consequences of Turkey’s attempted coup d’état
One fateful night
On the evening of July 15, 2016, a military coup d’état was instigated in Turkey against the Turkish government and institutions by a minority within the Turkish military, calling themselves the Peace at Home Council. The putschists seized control of the state-run television, announced the imposition of a curfew and martial law while also closing two bridges in Istanbul to Europe and Anatolia.
The President and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was on holiday at the time but urged his supporters to the streets using FaceTime and, somewhat ironically, the independent broadcasters.
Twelve hours after the first signs of the military coup, Erdoğan went on air announcing that the government was in control and the coup had failed. Figures stand at roughly 300 killed and 2,100 injured.
It was suppressed, isn’t it now just business as usual?
No. The scale of political insurrection and subsequent government reaction in Turkey is incredibly rare for an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country, albeit not so in comparison to many of its neighbours. The economic landscape in Turkey is facing significant uncertainty given the military and political transformation resulting from the allegations being made. Nearly 82,000 civil servants have been sacked or suspended for alleged links to the coup attempt or those involved.
What next - pivot from the EU to the East
There is the serious possibility of a major pivot by Turkey away from NATO and Europe towards the East as relations sour with the United States (US), making Russia a relatively more attractive ally. This tension has risen partly because the US has refused requests for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, of the eponymous Gülen movement, who Erdoğan alleges were the coup architects. The Turkish strongman has made it clear that the US must choose between Turkey and the Gülenists.
Furthermore, we have already seen warming relations and cooperation between Turkey and Iran. Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, recently met with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, at a joint news conference. The pair promised closer contact and greater cooperation on their involvement in Syria, critical given their opposing viewsof Bashar al-Assad’s future.
This pivot towards the East, and namely Russia, has long term relevance not only due to Turkey and Russia being at the forefront of military operations in the Middle East, but because their combined populations and economies constitute a major proportion of Europe’s total. Turkey has long been an aspiring member of the European Union (EU) but recent developments over the past years have brought this into question. The events of July 15 and the associated fallout may represent the tipping point for Turkish foreign policy.
Turkey, Iran and Russia… the ‘new NATO’?
NATO has long been the primary deal and peace-maker in Europe and more recently the Middle East. However, a ‘new NATO’ comprising Turkey, Iran and Russia, and any other countries that see fit to join the rank and file, would increase their ability to project policy beyond national borders. Erdoğan has claimed that he is;
"even more determined to work hand-in-hand with Iran and Russia to resolve regional issues and to strengthen our efforts to return peace and stability to the region,”
A fairly clear cut direction regarding Turkey’s future foreign policy.
This type of alliance or security bloc is often a precursor to increased trade and capital flows with many positive flow-on effects for commerce and investment. The economic heart of this nascent alliance was alluded to by Putin who referred to the many major projects in the pipeline;
“energy and energy projects constitute the key point in our bilateral ties”.
While some commentators argue this is merely returning the two countries to the trade levels prior to Russian sanctions following the downing of a Russian jet, it may well be a sign of future momentum in trade and major projects.
Uncertainty, when navigated correctly, leads to opportunity
Turkey is the 17h largest economy in the world and the EU is its largest trading partner. The potential pivot away from its primary trading partner would consequently be followed by a shift in economic and capital flows. Where there is change, there is opportunity and given the size of the pie at stake, those ready to navigate this redirection may find the reward well worth the effort.