Türkiye looks toward a new world order
An alternative, more just, pluripolar world-system under construction
The inclusion of Türkiye in the recent tour of Cuban President Díaz-Canel raised the question: Is the Eurasian nation participating in the project of China and the Third World for the construction of an alternative, pluripolar, more just and sustainable world-system? This would be a surprising development, taking into account Turkiye’s longstanding membership in NATO. (See “Díaz-Canel in Algeria, Turkey, Russia, & China: The daily construction of a more just pluripolar world,” November 29, 2022; “China and the Third World: The construction of an alternative, more just world-system,” 10/1/2021).
A note on terms. First, I prefer the term “pluripolar” instead of “multilateral” or “multipolar”, to give emphasis to the fact that the alternative world-system under construction consists of more than regional economic centers integrated into the established structures of the capitalist world-economy; it is not just a matter of some giant states declining and other relatively large states ascending Rather, what is emerging is an alternative world-system with different structures and norms, in which states have a certain degree of economic autonomy in the context of worldwide economic connections; and in which each region (pole) has its own culture, without negating its embracing of universal principles that are the foundation of the world-system, such as the right of all nations to sovereignty, and the right of all peoples and nations to development.
Secondly, the government of Turkey in June 2022 submitted to the United Nations a change of its name to Türkiye, a proposal that was accepted by the international body. The new name is the best expression of Turkish culture, civilization, and values; and it is the term most used by Turks. The new name avoids some distasteful connotations of the Anglicized form, which in the English language refers to a bird species connected to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, and it also can mean a stupid or silly person.
A multipolar world vision is central to Turkish diplomacy
Is Türkiye now among the nations participating in the construction in practice of a pluripolar world? Daily Sabah, an English-language Turkish daily located in Istanbul, has several articles related to this question. In “Multipolar world vision central to Turkish diplomacy,” published on July 4, 2019, İbrahim Altay summarizes President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s comments to the Turkish press following his participation in the G20 Summit in Japan and subsequent visit to China. Altay concludes that “mulipolarism continues to be the basis of Türkiye’s foreign policy.”
In his comments to the press, Erdoğan stressed the growing mutually beneficial economic relations that Türkiye has with China and Japan. He rejected interpretations that Türkiye was moving away from the West and turning toward the East, declaring that “Türkiye is a country that remains open to both East and West.” He maintained that Türkiye, like China, supports multilateralism as against unilateralism. He supports the Chinese motto that “the world is bigger than five.”
Erdoğan expressed support for the nuclear deal reached with Iran and China, Russia, France, Germany, and the United States; and he does not favor the sanctions that are being imposed on Iran. The Trump administration, he noted, withdrew from the deal because it did not address Iran’s ballistic missile program or Washington’s concern with Tehran’s influence in the Middle East, but the other countries believed that those issues should be addressed in separate, future negotiations. Erdoğan noted that the Western powers feared that Iran’s atomic program could allow it to build nuclear weapons, but Iran has long insisted that its program is for peaceful purposes. He further stated that Iran has quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium; and it is prepared to trade its excess uranium and heavy water abroad, but U.S. sanctions prevent such trade, thus putting Iran on course to violate the terms of the nuclear deal.
The alternative pluripolar world under construction includes mutually beneficial trade in the arms industry. Türkiye had an agreement with the USA for the purchase of a defense missile system. But Türkiye decided to purchase the missile system from China, because of its lower costs and other advantages. However, the Chinese company was included in the list of U.S. sanctions, so Türkiye considered it prudent to cancel the deal and to purchase the system from Russia instead. Erdoğan maintained that the incident did not harm relations with China, and the two countries continue their collaboration in the defense industry. Meanwhile, Erdoğan noted, Türkiye has paid $1.4 billion dollars for military planes, but the USA has failed to deliver them.
Mutually beneficial trade in the defense industry is a necessary component of today’s world, even in the alternative more just world under construction. Taking into account the historic legacy of imperialism and military expansionism, it would be naïve for any country to leave its national defense dependent on the moral comportment of other nations. However, in permitting mutually beneficial trade in the defense industry, the alternative world-system will likely increasingly stress weapons designed for the defense of nations (including negotiations with respect to complexities in distinguishing defensive and offensive weapons). Moreover, the more that the world-system becomes characterized by mutually beneficial trade among nations, the less will any nation have an interest in attacking other nations, so that defense spending will be gradually but significantly reduced. Peace among nations is a long term goal, gradually constructed on a just economic foundation; it cannot be idealistically implemented without the necessary structural base.
Erdoğan also discussed Türkiye’s differences with the European Union concerning Cypress. Türkiye is the only country in the world that recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, established in 1983 on the northern one-third of the island.
On the Website of Daily Sabah, one finds various articles on the expansion of cooperative economic relations between Türkiye and other countries of the East and South. For example, there is a report on December 3, 2022 on declarations by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, that Türkiye and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are taking joint steps in several areas to enhance their friendship, industry, technology, agriculture, and tourism. For his part, UAE Ambassador Saeed Thani Al Dhaheri stated that the two countries have inaugurated a new era of partnership and constructive cooperation based on achieving common interests and stimulating mutual economic growth.
An article on October 27, 2022, “Türkiye, Ghana agree to nurture ties, continue consultations,” reports on meetings between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Ghanaian Foreign Minister Shirley Botchwey. Çavuşoğlu reported that trade between Türkiye and Ghana continues to develop, and the two nations agreed to expand bilateral and multilateral cooperation, including strengthening cooperation in the military and defense industry, especially in regard to the fight against terrorism and border security. The Turkish Foreign Minister noted that "Türkiye and Ghana are partners in promoting effective multilateralism, rules-based international system, and sustainable development." He declared that Türkiye "believes in 'African solutions to African problems.' We view our relations with the continent and all its friendly countries from a perspective that is based on a win-win approach and mutual benefits."
The article concluded with the observation that
“Türkiye’s engagement with the African continent has been gaining pace over the years. Having adopted a one-dimensional foreign policy shaped by its relations with the West for decades, Türkiye has shifted to a more diversified, multidimensional and independent foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. This opening up to Africa, which dates back to the action plan adopted in 1998, took shape in 2005, which Ankara declared the “Year of Africa.” Türkiye was accorded observer status by the Africa Union the same year. In a reciprocal move, the African Union declared Türkiye its strategic partner in 2008, and relations between Africa and Türkiye gained momentum when the first bilateral Cooperation Summit was held in the commercial capital Istanbul with the participation of representatives from 50 African countries that year.”
An article in the Daily Sabah published on December 22, 2020, “Strengthening diplomatic ties to boost Turkey-Indonesia trade volume,” reports on an agreement between Türkiye and Indonesia to increase bilateral trade from the current level of $1.5 billion to $10 billion. A High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council was to be created to provide the foundation for businesspersons from both countries to discover business opportunities and fields of cooperation. The construction sector is expected to be most important, in light of the announcement by Indonesian President Joko Widodo of a $33 billion megaproject to move the nation's capital from Jakarta to the province of East Kalimantan. Türkiye has used the Public-Private Partnership model, especially in the construction sector, such that Turkish construction companies are now second in the world after Chinese companies.
In “How Turkey became a partisan issue in Washington,” published on January 28, 2021, Batu Coşkun maintains that as Türkiye increasingly became oriented to cooperation in the construction of a pluripolar world, the villainization of the Eurasian nation became the norm, indulged in by politicians from both U.S. political parties, Türkiye’s membership in NATO notwithstanding. In this context, Türkiye has become one of the countries whose policies are most distorted by fake news, the Daily Sabah reported on December 2, 2022, a situation that has led Erdoğan to declare the need for “a new understanding of truth-oriented communication.”
An article by Eralp Yarar, dated July 8, 2022, focused on the normalization of relations between Türkiye and Saudi Arabia. Historically, the two regional powers had cordial relations. Türkiye is a member of NATO and had been allied with Washington; Saudi Arabia has traditionally backed a status quo dependent on the West in the Middle East. But things began to change in the context of the security conditions created by the Syrian civil war, the migration crisis, and tensions with respect to the island of Cyprus and the conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. As these dynamics were evolving, Türkiye was turning to cooperation with the nations of the East and South in the construction of an alternative world order. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia remained locked in its traditional role, joining with the United States (and the United Arab Emirates) in the attempted imposition of an anti-Palestinian pro-Israel peace plan in the Middle East, dubbed the “Deal of the Century.” Diplomatic relations between Türkiye and Saudi Arabia were broken following the killing of dissident journalist Khashoggi by a Saudi hit squad at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.
Now, however, a shift in the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia is occurring, as a result of strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Washington as well as the emerging orientation to strengthening regional influence through connectivity and creating win-win situations. Both Ankara and Riyadh, according to experts, have decided to deepen cooperation in the region in order to strengthen stability and peace. Following a meeting between Erdoğan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Ankara on June 22, 2022, a joint declaration was issued that emphasized the determination of both countries “to start a new era of comprehensive cooperation in many areas.” The Crown Prince characterized the current situation as a “common will to start a new era of cooperation.” The rapprochement between Türkiye and Saudi Arabia, experts say, could have important implications for the dynamics of the region, including the posture of Iran and Israel.
Over the past year, Eralp Yarar notes, Ankara has embarked on a diplomatic push to reset relations with regional powers such as Israel, Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia after antagonism in recent years. Erdoğan has emphasized that Türkiye hopes to maximize its cooperation with Israel, Egypt and the Gulf nations "on a win-win basis." The normalization process launched with Saudi Arabia and the UAE will make great contributions to both sides, Erdoğan said recently.
The Regionalization of Asia
On the Website of Daily Sabah, one also finds articles on what it characterizes as the regionalization of Asia. “New era for China and ASEAN relations: RCEP,” by Ahmet Faruk Işık, published in Daily Sabah on August 19, 2022, reports on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes 15 countries that make up almost one-third of the global economy. The Partnership, launched on January 1, 2022, includes the ten nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), namely, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The five non-ASEAN nations are China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. The goal of the organization is to reduce tariffs, unify trade rules, and strengthen the supply chain among the members, seeking a form of integration not imposed by any or some of the nations. The economies of the group of five are significantly larger than the ASEAN. The total trade volume of the plus five group is 2.5 times higher than that of the ASEAN members.
Ahmet Faruk Işık describes the creation of RCEP as a victory for mulitlaterlism and for China. It is beneficial for all. China will be able to sell its high-technology products and other manufactured goods at competitive prices, while at the same time, China’s large economy and correspondingly high level of consumption in consumer goods sold on shopping websites provides a market for RCEP producers of consumer goods.
Such an agreement departs from the unequal exchange of the European-centered world-economy, in which the periphery traded its low-priced raw materials for high-priced manufactured goods, with the terms on exchange tending to decline for the periphery in the long term. In contrast, RCEP is an arrangement that promotes commerce among the manufacturers in all the participating nations, if Isik’s description is correct.
An article by Kerem Alkin, published on December 14, 2020, stresses the rapid growth in recent years of regionalization in global trade, or intra-regional trade. And he considers that RCEP will accelerate this process further. He noted that in the early 2000s, the share of intra-regional trade among Asian countries was only 16% of all foreign trade realized by Asian countries. The percentage doubled to 32% in 2010, and it nearly doubled again to 60% by 2020. These figures can be taken as an important indication of a pluripolar world emerging in practice.
Alkin notes that corresponding figures for Latin America and Africa are only 18% and 25%, respectively, which indicates less regionalization of trade in these regions. However, the difference here is that major economies like China, Japan, and South Korea are in the East Asia region. Not having such strong economies in their own regions, Latin American and African nations must go beyond their region to East Asia in the quest for more equitable and mutually beneficial exchanges that are alternatives to the unequal exchange offered by the Western-centered capitalist world-economy. The nations of Latin America (and to a weaker extent Africa) are developing regional integration combined with geographically broader South-South cooperation in the quest for a pluripolar world, without disdaining North-South cooperation, whenever it involves exchange that is mutually beneficial.
In the foreign policy initiatives and mutually beneficial cooperative agreements involving Türkiye and the nations of East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, we see the emergence of an alternative world-system, with structures and norms different from the established neocolonial world-system, which was constructed on a foundation of colonialism and imperialism. The alternative construction points to the real possibility of a sustainable future for humanity.
Those of us who are citizens of the Western nations with structured economic advantages in the neocolonial world-system ought to learn to look at the emergence of an alternative, more just world-system as an evolution of humanity to a more advanced stage. We should not try to preserve our advantages through new forms of imperialism. Nor should we seek moral redemption through idealistic notions of a world without borders, or through identifying individuals of the past and the present to condemn and erase or cancel. Rather, we should look for creative ways to participate in the alternative construction, redefining our national projects to this end.
Marx provided the general outline for us to come to terms with it. He understood human history as characterized by class conflict, or in more general terms, by domination and exploitation, leading to conflict. He saw unfolding contradictions as providing the conditions for a more harmonious era.
We need to creatively reformulate Marx’s narrative, taking into account the greater empirical knowledge and cumulative human experience that we have today. We need a narrative that explains how colonial domination and imperialism, in creating the conditions for emancipatory movements of the peoples, created the conditions for the construction of a just and sustainable world characterized by peace and prosperity.
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