Erdoğan’s ultranationalist alliance bad news for West

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political alliance with an ultranationalist party is bad news for the West and its diplomatic relations with its NATO partner.

Erdogan’s alliance with the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), which has an aversion to all foreigners and a focus on national security to the detriment of democracy, will have significant consequences for Turkey’s relations with the United States, European Union and its regional neighbours, writes Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe..

Erdoğan’s room for manoeuvre on the Kurdish issue will be severely constrained, as will Turkey’s relations with the United States, with an MHP-influenced foreign policy meaning even more diplomatic confrontation With Washington over U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Ulgen said in an article for Foreign Policy.

“The MHP’s influence will lead to a more reactionary Turkish foreign policy, where disagreements will be more likely to escalate,” he said. ”The party’s hypernationalism, combined with an already acute level of anti-Americanism in the country, will complicate efforts to manage the many existing bilateral disagreements, such as the case of the exiled Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and the proposed U.S. sanctions against Turkey linked to Ankara’s planned acquisition of S-400 air defense systems from Russia.”

The possibility of a huge fine against Turkey’s state-run Halkbank for allegedly breaking U.S. sanctions on Iran could also escalate tensions, Ulgen said.

At the same time, Turkey’s relationship with the European Union will probably become merely transactional, covering only a few areas of mutual interest. The MHP has called for an end to membership talks and it will hesitate in supporting any large-scale democratic reforms, he said.

However, Turkey’s departure from the West could be prevented by its heavy reliance on Western funding for its economy, Ulgen said.  

“Turkish disengagement from the West is not a foregone conclusion. It is the probable outcome of growing MHP influence on Turkish foreign policy,” he said. “But ultimately Turkey’s future ties with the United States and Europe will depend on whether the MHP leadership prefers to use its political leverage to achieve domestic or foreign-policy objectives. It will also depend on how Erdoğan chooses to satisfy the MHP’s political aspirations.”

An uncompromising approach from the MHP could prompt Erdoğan to end the partnership and seek alternatives in parliament.

“This unstable equilibrium, caused by the nascent internal struggle for power between Erdoğan and the MHP leadership, will determine the direction of Turkey’s foreign policy,” Ulgen said.