Foreign policy difficult challenge for Erdoğan– scholar

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may have mastered his country’s domestic political scene by winning a “super-executive presidency” with vastly enhanced powers in the Jun. 24 elections, but he will still face challenges to his foreign policy goals from a looming economic crisis and from his far-right electoral allies, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), according to Carnegie Europe scholar Marc Pierini.

“As a result, the foreign and security policy that Erdoğan will be able to conduct is difficult to predict,” wrote Pierini in an article published by Carnegie’s Middle East Center, describing it as likely to be a “delicate juggling act” with implications for Russia, the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

“By far the most delicate foreign and security policy question today is Turkey’s simultaneous procurement of a Russian S400 missile defense system, with associated radar systems, and of 100 U.S.-made F35 stealth aircraft,” said Pierini.

The S-400 procurement has proven a headache for Turkey’s NATO allies, who fear the harm an allied force’s possession of the Russian system would do to the organisation’s defence interoperability, and the pressing matter that it could offer Russia a back door to sensitive NATO data.

“(I)t may only have dawned recently on the political leadership that there is no way for the systems to operate simultaneously without putting at risk the high-tech features of the stealth aircraft, which is deployed by the United States, Israel, and many European forces. To put it bluntly the purchase of S400 missiles, if it takes place, will raise a “whose side are you on?” question from the U.S. and NATO,” Pierini said.

Turkey’s Syria policy in the coming period will also have a deep impact on its relations with Russia and the United States, particularly its next steps in Manbij, the northern Syrian area governed by affiliates of Turkey’s Syrian-Kurdish enemies, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and home to U.S. special forces deployed in Syria.

Turkey’s “multifaceted relationship with the European Union is another major hurdle that Erdoğan will face,” Pierini went on to say, particularly given that Turkey had “burnt its bridges” with the EU through the country’s deteriorating rule of law and personal attacks on EU leaders by Erdoğan himself.

Though Turkey’s EU accession deal is “close to political termination,” there are still vital reasons for the pair to collaborate, including the mutual benefit of a strong Turkish economy, and the security implications raised by the presence on Turkish soil of thousands of “returning jihadis with EU passports,” said Pierini.