By BARIN KAYAOĞLU
March 27, 2011
Barely ten days ago, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had objected to a NATO intervention in Libya. Part of Mr. Erdoğan’s criticism sprung from his belief that, in moving the international community to intervene in Libya, France wanted to get its hands on the North African nation’s oil and natural gas. The Turkish Prime Minister was so angry that he recited a very anti-Western part of the Turkish national anthem (“Civilization is but a one-tooth monster”).
And then, on March 23, Ankara decided to send five warships and a submarine to the Libyan coast to enforce the arms embargo against Muammar Qaddafi. Two days later, Turkey agreed to let the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) take over command once U.S. forces conclude their operations in Libya.
What explains this sudden change in the Turkish stance? More important, after Westerners have worried about Turkey’s “Eastern shift” in the past few years, is Ankara finally “heading back” West?
Yes and no.
To be sure, Turkish naval forces enforcing the international embargo against Qaddafi is very different than the Turkish Air Force attacking Qaddafi’s armies and/or defending the rebels with other NATO allies.
But not only is the seeming shift in Ankara’s Libyan policy consistent with recent trends in Turkish foreign policy, it is also a testament to the country’s Western character.
A year and a half ago, the Turkish minister of foreign trade had mentioned the Libyan government’s interest in investing $100 billion abroad and had hoped that Turkey would get a substantial portion of that money. One source indicates that Turkish construction projects initiated in Libya within the past two years alone are close to $8 billion. Another report estimates that Turkey will invest €35 billion in Libya’s infrastructure over the next ten years.
That is precisely the indication for Turkey’s “Westernness” – pursuing economic ends with political means.
And it’s an ironic twist: Turks, just like other nations in the developing world, regularly blame developed countries (with some justification) for manipulating political troubles in developing countries in order to “exploit” them. Although I don’t think that statement explains recent events in the Middle East and North Africa, it is certainly true that, in the contest between political ideals and economic needs, many Western countries frequently choose the latter over the former. Most of the time, they mix both.
Turkey may or may not be “moving East.” Its foreign policy axis may or may not be “shifting.” But in the final analysis, Turkey’s Western commitments still matter – especially as Turkey acts very “Western” these days.
Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.