Modern day Chamberlains don’t just appease strongmen, they give them arms too

During his three-day visit to Britain that started on Sunday, Turkey’s ruler met the Queen and Theresa May. The visit was followed and probably triggered by a yearly gathering between officials of two countries held since 2011 called the Tatlidil (sweet talk) Forum. 

The visit comes in the midst of a turbulent pre-Brexit Britain, pushing hard to boost trade with anybody and everybody, but also campaigning for Turkish parliamentary and presidential on June 24 conducted under a state of emergency. The Turkish ruler must have been delighted by the invitation as he is a kind of persona non grata in the continent. 

The British government was the most understanding of foreign countries regarding the Turkish regime’s deeds since the failed coup d’état of July 2016. The government of Her Majesty, the Foreign Office and British envoys they all adopted by and large a very accommodative stance vis-à-vis Ankara. 

Nothing moved London: Harsh and illegal measures undertaken against thousands of Turkish citizens following the coup, ongoing repression of dissent, the fate of Kurdish politicians, the dire state of media and freedom of speech, suspicious dealings with Middle Eastern jihadists, the invasion of Syrian Kurdish land, the new axis with Russia and Russian arms purchase, Turkey’s refusal to show solidarity with Britain in the case the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy. 

Not only were British government officials not moved, they became the advocates of the regime on the international arena. Let us not forget that London before the Brexit was the staunchest supporter of Ankara in its EU bid despite gross incompatibility with the required criteria. Turkish diplomacy relied for years on Britain’s support for its EU bid while, for Brits even Mongolia should have joined the Union!

British leaders tell Turkey “we don’t want Britain to be a safe haven for those coup plotters”. I cannot resist recalling the visit to London of another coup plotter, the late Turkish General Kenan Evren, who received by the Queen in 1988.

British ambassadors of course know better than the lawmakers. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons said in a report in March last year: “The FCO knows too little for itself about who was responsible for the coup attempt in Turkey, or about the ‘Gülenists’—followers of the exiled Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen—whom the Turkish government exclusively blames for the coup. We found that the Turkish government’s account of the Gülenists and the coup, which the FCO seems willing to accept broadly at face value, is not substantiated by hard, publicly available evidence, although as yet uncontradicted by the same standard. More broadly, we disagree with the FCO’s implication that the severity of the measures undertaken by the Turkish government after the coup attempt is justified by the scale of the threat”

Never mind! Appeasement always pays, and this time with interest. British weapons sales ton Turkey since the attempted coup include a $667-million deal for military electronic data, armoured vehicles, small arms, ammunition, missiles, drones, aircraft and helicopters. It also includes a $135-million deal for BAE Systems to fulfil Erdoğan’s plan to build a Turkish-made fighter jet. The jet deal was signed by May in January 2017 under an “open licence” to ease the transfer of military technology, and British officials now reportedly wish to expand the deal by pushing for Rolls-Royce to win the engine contract.

Yet this shameful trade is kind of hidden. The venerable Financial Times reporting on the visit recalls the big ticket items in trade between two countries: Mechanical power generators, cars, metal ores, pharmaceuticals, organic chemicals, iron and steel, specialised machinery, aircraft exports, but no arms! 

Opposition Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle said: “10 Downing Street under Theresa May has become a revolving door for the world’s biggest tyrants, who are also our biggest arms customers.”

It is as though British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his French counterpart Édouard Daladier would have sold arms to Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938 during their infamous visit to appease the German despot.  

“Munich 1938” has been marked down in European history as a political, military, and diplomatic disaster. The history of international relations has shown that appeasement of dictatorial powers is as futile as it is dangerous.

Today, not only is the spirit of Munich in full swing, but the world’s top arm traders, among them Britain, have no remorse in closing deals with autocrats as long as they can pay.   

Finally who in Britain still dares to protest against the seeming national consensus? 

Well nine members of parliament wrote: “This House is very concerned about the visit of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the UK, in light of general elections now being held in Turkey whilst a state of emergency continues to be in place; notes in connection to this that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently stated that it is difficult to imagine how credible elections can be held in an environment where dissenting views and challenges to the ruling party are penalised so severely and that elections held in an environment where democratic freedoms and the rule of law are compromised would raise questions about their legitimacy; encourages the Government of Turkey to restore the constitutional order, respect fundamental freedoms, ensure international election monitors observe the elections and allow all politicians standing for election to campaign freely and receive comparable mainstream media coverage; and calls on the Government to raise these issues as a matter of urgency with the Turkish President during his visit.” 

English PEN, Index on Censorship, PEN International, Reporters Without Borders, CRNI – Cartoonists Rights Network, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Global Editors Network, South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and IFEX called for a strong message to authorities, both in Turkey and the UK. 

And on Tuesday is to take place outside Downing Street. 

In the meantime business will flourish, for sure… 

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.