President Erdogan wants to make NATO member Turkey a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The group is considered an anti-Western instrument, dominated by Russia and China.
Russia and China are united in striving for a new world order in order to replace the US in its hegemony. One forum for this is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with which Moscow and Beijing want to create a counterweight to Washington and Western alliances. Now, with Turkey, a NATO member wants to join the group.
Turkey has “historical and cultural” ties to the Asian continent and wants to play a role in the organization, whose members together make up “30 percent of global economic output,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the weekend after an SCO summit in Uzbekistan.
His country is already a so-called “dialogue partner”. In addition to China and Russia, full members are the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as India and Pakistan, and more recently Iran. The group cooperates in the fields of economy, politics and defense. Some observers have gone so far as to call them a kind of “anti-Nato” – an interpretation that Russia in particular is pushing, while other countries such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have little interest in an anti-Western orientation.
For NATO, the possibility of Turkish membership in the Chinese-dominated group is a nightmare. It once again raises the question of the extent to which Erdogan’s Turkey is a reliable partner for the West.
While the defense alliance supports Ukraine in the Russian offensive and tries to contain China’s striving for world power, Turkey’s accession to the SCO would be a clear commitment to Moscow and Beijing – systemic opponents of the West. Such a step would severely strain Ankara’s relationship with Washington and Brussels.
It is not the first time that Erdogan is publicly toying with the idea of joining the SCO. He already circulated this idea in 2013 and 2016. Both times he brought it up as an alternative to EU membership. Nevertheless, both advances remained without consequences.
“Erdogan likes this balancing act and it serves a purpose. He wants to signal to the West that he has other options,” an expert on Turkish foreign policy of the ECFR think tank told „Voice of America“ ahead of last week’s SCO summit. This interpretation would indicate that Erdogan is using the threatened move to Asia primarily as a political lever.
The timing of Erdogan’s statements also suggests this. The UN General Assembly’s annual meeting began yesterday in New York. A total of over 150 heads of state and government have announced their attendance. Erdogan will also be there – and is hoping to meet US President Joe Biden. Among other things, Turkey wants to buy new F-16 fighter jets or modernize those it already owns. Such a deal is controversial in the US Congress.
Washington, for its part, wants Turkey to take a tougher stance on Russia. So far, there are no signs of this – on the contrary, according to observers, Russia and Turkey grew closer together economically during the Ukraine war. „Financial Times“ recently reported that the US and EU are now stepping up pressure on Turkey because its banks could potentially allow Russia to circumvent Western sanctions. Accordingly, Washington wants to target Turkish banks that are integrated into the Russian payment system Mir.
Erdogan’s foreign policy has long been geared towards strategic autonomy, as he sees it. He is trying to turn his country into a regional power that is on an equal footing with other powers such as the US and Russia. Alliances based on common values are less important to him than transactional relationships.
That’s why he sees no contradiction in being a NATO ally and supporting Ukraine with combat drones on the one hand, and buying Russian weapon systems and expanding trade with Moscow on the other. He also regularly tries to force his demands to be met – be it by blocking NATO’s northern expansion or by sending refugees to the Greek border as leverage.
Erdogan’s statement that he wants to lead his country into the SCO should also be viewed against this background – whether he takes it seriously in the end or not, the process is likely to further strain relations with the West.
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