June 3, 2018
At the opening session of the Munich Security Conference on February 16, 2018, NATO’s Secretary General Jean Stoltenberg underlined NATO’s past successes and then said:
“… But the paradox is that, throughout our history, people have questioned the transatlantic partnership, from the Suez Crisis to the Iraq War, from America’s Pivot to Asia, to perceived lack of support for Article 5, and unfair burden-sharing. All of this has fueled an impression of weakening transatlantic bond. But the reality is that the bond has proven to be resilient, because both Europe and North America benefit from the bond. What we see now is North Americans coming back to Europe, just as Europeans are stepping up their contributions to our shared security…” (emphasis added)
Since then, however:
- The Trump administration has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal;
- It has moved the US Embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem;
- According to unconfirmed reports, the Netanyahu government is now trying to persuade Washington to agree to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights;
- Only a day after a speech delivered by Minister of State Michelle Müntefering at the German-Israeli Association to mark the 70th anniversary of the declaration of independence of the State of Israel, Federal Foreign Office Spokesperson issued a statement noting with great concern the plans to construct further settlements in the occupied West Bank;
- Washington has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, the EU and Mexico in addition to others;
- European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said that the EU will take counter-measures; German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has issued a statement saying that “Europe united” can be the only answer to “America first” and that the EU regards the unilateral step by the US as unlawful;
- Populists are now in power in Italy, Eurozone’s third-largest economy;
- Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy has been forced from office by a motion of no confidence and Socialist Pedro Sanchez has succeeded him;
- Following a roller-coaster week of diplomacy President Trump has announced that the US-North Korea Singapore summit of June 12 is back on. (For now at least, i.e. if the humiliating leaks to the media regarding Kim Jong-un’s hotel bill in Singapore do not provoke another angry response from Pyongyang.) Mr. Trump has also said, “… And I think it’ll be a process. It’s not — I never said it goes in one meeting. I think it’s going to be a process…”; (*)
- The same day, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said that China’s placement of weapons systems on man-made islands in the South China Sea is designed to intimidate and coerce others in the region; and,
- On the one hand US unemployment rate has fallen to 3.8 percent, the lowest reading since April 2000. On the other hand, Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights says that the US already leads the developed world in income and wealth inequality, and it is now moving full steam ahead to make itself even more unequal. (**)
The annexation of Crimea and Russia’s alleged meddling in US elections have led to frictions between Moscow and the West. However, Europe remains dependent on Russian energy; has a much higher trade volume with Russia than the US and would prefer a “reset” sooner than later because Europe’s priority is stability and sustainable economic growth. Some observers have raised the possibility of “transactional cooperation” between Washington and Moscow but that remains to be seen.
Washington’s relationship with China is having its ups and downs and Europeans are concerned by the prospect of new tensions in the Far East as well as a global trade war.
The US and the EU are not on the same page on the Iran nuclear deal and the Palestinian issue. The EU, Russia and China are now on the same side trying to salvage the JCPOA. With Europe’s refugee problem and its internal political implications, EU countries dread another explosion in the Middle East and would not even mind the Syrian conflict coming to an end with Assad remaining at the helm. But, Washington doesn’t seem to agree.
Questions regarding the future of Merkel-Trump relationship continue to loom and President Macron’s efforts to take the European center stage are unlikely to lead to fundamental shifts.
In brief, global forecast remains uncertain and much of this is related to an unpredictable Trump White House and EU’s internal problems and its differences with Washington. Nic Robertson, CNN’s international diplomatic editor, today wrote “Trump thrives on inconsistency, a capricious unpredictability typical of a yard bully, which he threatens to employ against Kim. “We had hundreds of new sanctions ready to go on,” he told reporters Friday, adding, “Why would I do that when we’re talking so nicely?… Kim, by comparison, is consummate in his consistency. So far it’s his demands, not Trump’s, that are getting heard. Iran, of course, is watching, taking notes.”
One may approve or disapprove Moscow’s and Peking’s policies, but comparatively speaking, they also appear to stay the course. Both, but particularly the former should be delighted with current transatlantic strains.
At such a critical juncture, an equally unpredictable Turkey is heading toward what many call “landmark elections”. The world is watching but also moving. Ankara should therefore review the international picture with cool-headedness and chart a course of reason immediately thereafter. “We’ll see what happens…” cannot be an overarching foreign and security policy approach for Turkey.
At present, items of discord with Washington are mounting, the latest additions being potential problems related to Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems and the imposition of US tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports.
Relations with the EU are tense, yet the EU remains Turkey’s major trade partner. Trade needs to be matched by cooperation in other fields. To achieve that, both sides should engage in a substantial effort to ensure that they enjoy more than transactional or opportunistic cooperation in the political domain.
On May 30, 2018, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “the decision recently taken by the Syrian regime to recognize the so-called independence of Georgia’s regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and to establish diplomatic relations with these regions is an open violation of international law, the Charter of the UN and the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council.” As it was emphasized on many occasions, he added, Turkey supports the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia. Beyond Georgia, this was probably an indirect attempt to underline Ankara’s independence from Moscow as well. It is good news because respect for the territorial integrity of neighbors and refraining from misguided interventions had always been a fundamental principle of Turkey’s traditional foreign policy.
No matter who wins the elections, Turkey’s progress can only be sustained on the democratic path. Otherwise, it will not be a “win-win” but a “win-and-then-lose” situation.
(*) Kim Jong-un’s Diplomatic Offensive, April 30, 2018