Former Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan: Turkey should affirm its Western identity beyond any doubt

Former Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan: Turkey should affirm its Western identity beyond any doubt
Update: 08 July 2022 21:33
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The former Turkish Ambassador to Washington Namik Tan said that the government must revive rule of law and justice to provide an important assurance to Turkey's international counterparts

There is no other option for Turkey but to affirm its Western identity beyond any doubt, said Namık Tan, former Turkish Ambassador to Washington and spokesperson in the Foreign Ministry, in an interview with T24 web site, drawing attention to the striking change in Turkish foreign policy since Russia invaded Ukraine. 

The veteran diplomat said that the government is trying to exert soft power by keeping a distance to anti-Western discourse but it must revive law order and justice, especially fundamental rights and freedoms, to provide an important assurance to Turkey's international counterparts.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

NATO’s expansion and Turkey’s stance

“Given the rapidly deteriorating relations with Europe and the US on top of dire economic conditions, Turkey was unable to prevent Sweden and Finland's NATO membership for a long time. The determining factor at the Madrid Summit was our precious 'land value', which confirmed Turkey as an ally that cannot be easily ignored.

Examine the process carefully and you will see that the US, as a behind-the-scenes architect of the agreement, stepped in with silent diplomacy, and paved the way for NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg to lead the process. Stoltenberg has repeatedly stated on every occasion that Turkey's expectations from Sweden and Finland were legitimate. 

Biden knew that Erdogan wanted to meet him face to face, so he phoned Erdogan just before the Summit and said that 'he could meet with President Erdogan in Madrid to discuss the consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on transatlantic security and other threats such as terrorism.' There is an important point here: While the Biden-Erdogan meeting was made conditional, its content was limited to Euro-Atlantic security on the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With this tactical move, the USA both ensured that the tripartite meeting in Madrid came to fruition and prevented Erdogan from additional negotiations in his face-to-face meeting with Biden."

We need a success story to purchase F16s

“I think the Biden Administration actually wants to meet Turkey's demand for the F-16s. Not only to keep Turkey on Western side, but also to prevent weakness in the southeastern flank of NATO. But he needs approval from the Congress. 

As of today, an unfavorable atmosphere is looming over Turkey in the Congress. We should take steps to overcome the distrust in Turkey until autumn when this issue will come up again. We can show determination to revive our democracy. Lobbying in Congress will not suffice without lasting and convincing democratic processes. In other words, we need a 'success story'. Will we strive in this direction? I am not sure.”

Deciphering the body language

“During my years as the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we regularly informed the domestic and foreign press on foreign policy issues and answered their questions. In particular, we used to provide clear and transparent information “before, during and after” important meetings. That has since ceased to happen. Now we have to decipher the body language. 

Based on what I saw, listened and read, I can say that the meeting took place largely in accordance with the game plan the US prepared. They knew that Erdogan cared about meeting face-to-face in order to maintain his personal relationship with Biden. And they made positive statements on the F-16 issue to create satisfaction for the Turkish Government.”

Turkey - US relations

“There have been ups and downs in US-Turkey relations throughout history. Each time common sense prevailed, and the parties were able to find a way out to solve the problems. I've spent almost two-thirds of my career pursuing this relationship but I regret to say that in the last thirty years, but I regret to say that I have never seen it as complicated and problematic as it is today. 

A break will generate cost for the US too, but would seriously shake Turkey. Let's remember the embargo after the military intervention in Cyprus in the 1970s. 

We can justifiably take pride in having developed our defense industry. But, why do we have to struggle now to get the latest models of F-16s, some of which we exported, and produced with domestic assembly at the aircraft factory established in Ankara 40 years ago? Isn't that a contradiction, a backward slip?”

Russia as a serious threat to NATO

"Russia has lost its prestige and credibility in the West when it invaded an independent and sovereign country, recklessly violating international law, inevitably ending up as an adversary in NATO’s strategic concept document. In addition, the US-led Western bloc launched a wide economic embargo against Russia so much as that the heavy pressure on Russia turned into a kind of endurance test for both sides. It's hard to predict who will give up first. However, the USA will do its best to keep the embargo intact until the end of the war. Therefore, it seems inevitable that Turkey, trying to evade the embargo, will be exposed to the pressures, demands and expectations of the US and other Western countries."

Westernism or Eurasianism?

"Eurasianism, which offers a suitable mechanism for the expression of accumulated anger as a tool of political enmity, is a concept that has been instrumentalized in domestic politics by the political power and related circles. It offers an option that goes against Turkey's historical background, Ottoman and Republican modernization.

Let's be clear: to choose between 'Eurasianism' and 'Westernism' is really a matter of where you want to be positioned between authoritarianism and liberal democracies, what values ​​you want to adopt. Will Turkey use its political, social and economic preferences in favor of liberal democratic freedoms, polyphony, pluralistic participation, or will it favor the authoritarianism represented by the 'Eurasianism' frenzy?

Do we want to live in an oppressive and authoritarian world, like Russia and China, that restrict rights and freedoms? I think we should hope that Turkey's conscious choice of Westernization, democratic institutionalization, and modernization efforts made more than two centuries ago are strong enough to push back the tendencies of 'Eurasianism' and authoritarianism."

Turkey's change of foreign policy

"By invading Ukraine, Russia caused a serious global shock. In other words, the Ukraine crisis will set a new milestone in the history of international relations.

We have also seen a striking change in Turkey's foreign policy since the beginning of the crisis. The government is trying to exert soft power by keeping a distance to anti-Western discourse. Time will tell if it will be successful. However, the government cannot openly take a stand in favor of the Western bloc either because of a deadlock caused by the purchase of the S-400s. Considering our dependence on Russia in terms of energy and the severe economic crisis we are facing, we strive to maintain a measured balance policy as much as possible, and try to play a conciliatory role between the warring parties. Obviously it will be more and more difficult to walk on this fine line and maintain its delicate balance. Taking decisions to show that we stand by the West, of which we are natural members, at a time when anti-Western hostility is at its peak, will impose political costs on the Government ahead of elections. 

No matter how the Ukraine crisis ends, there will be no room for Russian President Putin in the new world order that will emerge. So it will be extremely difficult to maintain a close personal relationship with such a leader. There are a number of steps the government must take to show that it is sincere in its Western orientation. The revival of the law and justice system, especially fundamental rights and freedoms, will provide an important assurance to Turkey's international counterparts in this regard. In short, there is no other option for Turkey but to affirm its Western identity beyond any doubt."