Biden adviser calls for coordinated transatlantic policy against Turkey’s actions

Turkey’s foreign policy in its region poses “a set of problems that require a lot of attention” at the start of the Biden administration that will require transatlantic coordination to resolve, Michael Carpenter, managing director of Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy & Global Engagement, said on Monday.

Turkey is “acting irresponsibly and aggressively and undermining what we think are our shared interests”, Carpenter told participants at a livestream hosted by the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), a Greek non-profit research institute.

“Whether it be Nagorno-Karabakh or Libya or tensions in the Aegean or the purchase of the S-400 air defence system from Russia. These are not actions of an ally,” the former senior Pentagon official said.

In recent months, Turkish armed forces have launched major cross-border offensives against Kurdish armed groups in Syria and Iraq, intervened against the UAE-backed strongman Khalifa Haftar in Libya, backed Azerbaijan in its post-Soviet territorial dispute with Armenia and confronted Greece over disputed maritime boundaries.

Carpenter said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “leadership role in bringing Greece and Turkey together” helped avoid a military confrontation in the Aegean and Mediterranean, a fact that “not a lot of people in the United States understood”.

NATO allies Greece and Turkey are engaged in a political and military standoff over territorial claims to the eastern Mediterranean. Hopes for de-escalation were dimmed in October when Turkey announced naval exercises and sent its research ship, the Oruç Reis, back into contested waters to continue a search for hydrocarbons, a move that had sparked the dispute on Aug. 10.

Turkey is dealing with a set of domestic issues, like the ongoing deteriorating value of the lira and Berat Albayrak’s resignation as finance minister, and the country’s dependence on open markets and trade “gives us an entry point” by transatlantic member states carefully applying leverage on Turkey, Carpenter said.

The objective should not be “pushing Turkey into a corner” by imposing sanctions and seeking an economic collapse or other consequences, which would further aggravate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government’s “aggressive tactics and bellicose rhetoric”, he said.

Instead, Turkey’s Western allies should seek a coordinated balance that includes pathways for Ankara to be able to “get back into their good graces”, together with positive incentives and potentially negative consequences, the Biden adviser said.

Turkey and its allies need “frank conversations to set right the bilateral and multilateral relationships” between them and NATO, Carpenter continued.

“Once again, I think the premise here has to be that the new U.S. administration can’t do it on its own,” he said, adding that neither Germany nor France could tackle the “complex, multifaceted challenge” individually as well.

Instead of unilateral threats, NATO member-states should present a “united front”, which may persuade Erdoğan “that there is room for cooperation, but there are also very negative consequences to pursuing a more aggressive policy”, he said.

Albayrak stepping down as finance minister may be “an indication that when the facts start to accumulate, there is a willingness to re-evaluate policies and personnel”, Carpenter said. “So, let’s test this.”

Albayrak resigned from his post on Sunday after Erdoğan sacked Central Bank Governor Murat Uysal a day earlier and replaced him with Naci Ağbal, a former finance minister and an experienced technocrat who was serving as head of a presidential strategy and budget committee.

During the livestream, EU Parliament member and former French Minister of European Affairs Nathalie Loiseau said the United States and European Union have been “trying so much to have a positive agenda, doing so much with Turkey” but without result.

Merkel’s support of dialogue between Greece and Turkey provided only a temporary solution since Turkey returned its ships to the disputed maritime region “only to deter the European Council from taking measures against Ankara”, she said.

“It’s not good will or dialogue. It’s red lights,” Loiseau said. “Clear messages sent both by the EU and the United States that enough is enough.”

European leaders will decide in a December summit whether to impose sanctions over Turkey’s role in the eastern Mediterranean dispute.

“Sometimes with rogue states or authoritarian regimes, you have to turn to unpleasant moments,” Loiseau said. “Because we are not talking about a reasonable partner. It’s not the Turkey that we used to know. It’s an authoritarian regime.”

The former minister said coordination in foreign policy often means “an absence of action” for the EU, which has been getting “a sense of what it means to be a hard power, protecting the rule of law and international law and order, not accepting the law of the jungle”.

“This is our expectation towards the Biden administration as well,” she said.

EU ambassador to the U.S. Stavros Lambrinidis said one of the consequences of the United States appearing to withdraw from multilateralism in the past years, in favour of more of a ‘might makes right’ approach, was encouraging other countries to disregard international law.

There are “too many smaller countries around the world who are very big in their neighbourhood” that may follow the United States’ example, he said.

It is important for NATO allies to “ensure that we can send united, strong messages that anarchy can’t be the desired outcome”, Lambrinidis said.

“Being able to send those messages concretely and unblinkingly is going to be tremendously important in stopping those who think they can become ‘might is right’ powers in their regions.”

U.S. ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt said the Biden administration will arrive at a unique moment in which Greece is seen no longer as “one of two antagonists but rather as a country at the forefront of Europe’s borderlands … and a stabilising factor in a contested region in the face of Turkey’s calculated provocations”.

“The objective of our diplomacy is to achieve a dynamic where Turkey changes its behaviour,” he said.

Turkey and the West need to resolve their issues as allies, as any possible armed clash between two NATO member-states would only be a win towards Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “greatest objective”, Pyatt said.

The ambassador also cautioned that the 2015 refugee crisis in Europe, another area of contention with Turkey and “one of the defining issues” for Greece, could occur again.

Ankara signed a 2016 deal with the EU to cut the influx of refugees from trying to enter the bloc through Turkey, in exchange for 6 billion euros in aid. In exchange, the EU promised to update the customs union between the bloc and Turkey and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

In February, Turkey announced that it would stop policing the border, prompting an influx of thousands of refugees at its northeastern frontier with Greece.