Turkey still needs the West

Turkey still needs the West

Turkey’s acquisition of Russian S-400 missile systems has led many to wonder if it were moving away from the West, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan realises how much he needs European and U.S. support to fuel his economy and maintain NATO security, said an analysis for U.S. think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Ahval News reports in its article Turkey still needs the West for economy and security that although Erdoğan has increasingly cast Western nations as Turkey’s political ‘other’, he is aware that most of his electoral success since 2002 has been driven by the record amount of mostly European foreign direct investment (FDI) the country has attracted over that time, according to Soner Çağaptay, Beyer Family Fellow at the institute, and research assistant Deniz Yüksel.

Since Turkey’s currency crisis last year, Erdoğan understands that only the European Union, the United States and the IMF can rescue Turkey from a financial meltdown, the authors said.

“Given the size of its economy, occasional partners like Russia and Iran cannot provide the cash necessary to mitigate such a crisis, and China seems unwilling to do so,” said Çağaptay and Yüksel. “Compared to its large trade deficits with Beijing and Moscow, Ankara’s trade ties with the EU and United States are more balanced.”

Turkey’s leader wants to keep his country within what the authors call the “strategic West,” which encompasses the member states of NATO and the OECD. This group accounted for 56 percent of Turkish trade last year, with the EU alone accounting for 42 percent.

“Turkey’s top four export destinations in 2018 were Germany ($16.1 billion), Britain ($11.1 billion), Italy ($9.6 billion), and the United States ($8.3 billion), all well above Russia and China,” said Çağaptay and Yüksel, adding that 78 percent of Turkey’s foreign direct investment came from the strategic West last year.

Yet Europe’s leverage comes with significant financial exposure, as nearly 80 percent of Turkey’s foreign debt is owed to EU banks, the authors said. “Regardless of their feelings about Erdoğan’s populist tendencies, then, European leaders cannot afford to see the Turkish economy collapse,” said Çağaptay and Yüksel.

Turkey also needs the West for security, as a break from NATO would put Erdoğan at the mercy of the country’s historical nemesis, Russia, despite the recent arms deal, they said.

“Policymakers in Washington and Europe should put the growing anti-Western animus in Turkish politics in perspective,” said Çağaptay and Yüksel. “Although Erdoğan’s tight grip is troubling, Turkey remains a relatively stable nation - a fact that should not be minimised at a time when political turmoil and military flare-ups are paralysing much of the Middle East.”