Turkey to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?
The 22nd Shanghai Cooperation Organization Heads of State Summit was held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on September 15-16. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the first NATO head of government to participate in the summit. Turkey has occupied a dialogue partner status with the organization since 2013.
Erdogan's participation in the summit and the implications he made reopened the debate on whether Turkey is undergoing an axis shift in its foreign policy. Turkey has long had problematic relations with NATO and the West. Erdogan's personal participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit has raised questions about whether Turkey will join the organization in the future. While some experts argue that this is a necessity for a multidimensional foreign policy, others have claimed that a NATO member country cannot be a member of the SCO.
Answering reporters' questions on the plane back from the summit, Erdogan declared that membership was the goal. Erdogan stated "Since its establishment, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has covered serious distances in the fields of security, economy, and trade, and has continued to expand within this framework. The decisive role played by the Asian continent in the global economy is already evident."
As for the West's criticism, Erdogan later declared to US broadcaster PBS: "It is, of course, very noteworthy for us that Turkey is being kept on the sidelines with these delaying tactics despite our strong position. We would find ourselves in a situation where we would inevitably have to look at our other options. The European Union keeps us out of the door for 52 years, doesn't let us get close, and then dares to ask questions like, ‘Why did you meet with such and such a country?’ I will meet".
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made a statement after his meeting with Erdogan at the UN General Assembly: "This is not an organization that makes an important contribution to good global coexistence. That is why I am very irritated by this development. But in the end, it's important to agree on what is driving us to make clear that the Russian war on Ukraine may not be successful."
The foreign policy spokesman for coalition partner Alliance ‘90/The Greens, Jurgen Trittin, told the newspaper Die Welt: "NATO and the EU must ask themselves how long they will tolerate Erdogan's statements."
Nils Schmid, the foreign policy spokesman for the governing Social Democratic Party (SPD), said Erdogan's goal of joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization “would be a big mistake for Turkey's future.” The German politician rather sees Erdogan's move as an attempt to distract attention from domestic political difficulties.
Russian Ambassador to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Bakhtiyor Khakimov told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that Turkey could become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization only if it does not participate in organizations and activities that are aggressive or negative toward its members. He recalled that Turkey is a member of NATO and stressed that NATO defines Russia as an "enemy," before adding, "Turkey should leave NATO to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization," a statement that was carried to the headlines by RIA Novosti.
According to EDAM Coordinator Ulgen, Turkey's membership in the SCO would be tantamount to saying, "I will make friends with countries that do not prioritize democracy and fundamental freedoms in their social order." On the other hand, in the geopolitical rift that became evident after the Ukraine war, Turkey would be declaring that it is taking a similar geopolitical stance to countries that dominate the world based on spheres of influence as in the 19th century.
Sedat Ergin, a columnist for Hurriyet, one of Turkey's leading newspapers, noted that Turkey's multidimensional foreign policy has a tradition and that relations with the SCO should be considered within this dimension. However, Ergin also expressed concern about values: "Turkey, while taking its place in the world, must also recognize values such as individual rights, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and freedom of expression, and participate in international institutions that glorify and defend these values. Let us not deceive ourselves, the SCO, despite its economic importance, is not a center of attraction for humanity in terms of the values we have highlighted. Quite the contrary, this organization appears as a collection of countries where predominantly authoritarian regimes are gathered," he wrote.
Soli Ozel, a leading analyst of Turkish foreign policy, told Deustche Welle that the quest for autonomy is an integral part of Turkish foreign policy. In this regard, Ozel added that the yearning for autonomy from the Atlantic Alliance, through the SCO or otherwise, is neither new nor original. Noting that many countries also act independently in pursuit of their own interests, Ozel said, "The discussion should not be conducted as if reinventing the wheel, but should be grounded on an objective assessment of current strategic realities, new trends in the global economy, alliance relations, Turkey's objectives and capabilities. The worst option would be to pursue a strategic path with an understanding of autonomy indexed to domestic politics or ideological obsessions."
Meanwhile, Ersoy Dede, a pro-government journalist and columnist for the Star newspaper, quoted the chairman of the Association for Democracy and Unity as saying that NATO is an ideological organization, while the SCO seeks cooperation among its members. The article murat made the following statements: "SCO and NATO are not substitutes for each other. It is also not possible for the SCO to provide Turkey with a NATO-like security umbrella. Therefore, it is possible for Turkey to build a close relationship with the SCO, which includes the Turkish republics with which Turkey has close geographic, cultural, and historical ties, without compromising its NATO commitments; technically, membership in NATO should not be impaired by membership in the SCO."
In an analysis by Yunsi Sharifli in Anatolia Agency, a state-owned news agency, he said Turkey's engagement with the SCO and new players will open the door to many political and economic opportunities, adding, "In the short and medium term, Ankara's proactive foreign policy toward the SCO can strengthen its strategic autonomy vis-à-vis Western and Asian powers, and create much better conditions for the continuity of a balanced and multi-vector foreign policy."
Murat Aslan, a columnist for the pro-government daily Sabah, wrote that Turkey should not be expected to watch developments in Central Asia from afar. Aslan said that any structure in which Turkish republics participate is in the interest of Turkey's "global" policy: "However, the advantages and disadvantages of SCO membership should be evaluated in detail and according to precise criteria. Being involved in the game but not becoming an integral element of it seems to be the wisest method. It would be wise to weigh some options, such as being a spectator in the stands or a referee on the field. After all, it is only natural for Turkey to be in Samarkand, but one should not rush into something as ambitious as becoming a member of the organization."