Recently, news that the United States had shot down a balloon in its own airspace dominated the international agenda. It was learned that the balloon in question belonged to the People’s Republic of China. China explained that the balloon was used for meteorological purposes. However, this did not satisfy the United States. Subsequently, unidentified aerial objects were sighted in U.S. and Canadian airspace and were also shot down.
Although it has not been named in recent years, a new Cold War has begun and is continuing. The actors in this war are China on one side and the United States on the other. On the side of the United States are the Western European states, which are its traditional allies, and on the side of China are the states that are against the Western bloc, especially Russia. The US administration prefers to describe this confrontation as a strategic competition and does not hesitate to openly state that it consists of democracies on the one hand and autocratic governments on the other.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was the first concrete manifestation of the new cold war. The European countries, which had long been hesitant, came to understand that they needed to ally with the United States. It was also seen once again that democratic governments should stand together against autocratic ones. However, when it comes to democracy and democratic governments, nothing can be so crystal clear. There can be more than 50 shades of gray.
Although Western European and North American states consider themselves the cradles of democracy and emphasize the importance of acting in unity, it is clear that they need states in the middle in their struggle with autocratic states. Unfortunately, the approaches of these states to these states have not been very encouraging for a long time. Most of the European states and the United States, especially after the Second World War, did not give much importance to whether the governments of these states that gained their independence were democratic or not. Moreover, in these states they even considered it advantageous for their short-term purposes to be autocrats or dictators on their side. At the point we have reached today, the autocrats and dictators at the head of these states will be able to upset the United States and the European states by choosing sides. Because China, as one of the two largest economies in the world, can be an alternative to the United States. Taking into account the prejudices of the peoples of these countries against the United States and the Western European states, it seems much more likely that these countries will be included in a bloc formed by China and Russia. Especially among the peoples of African countries, there is a preference for China because of the support it gives to the infrastructure and economy of their countries and the way it gives this support. In a new Cold War, China will not hesitate to use this advantage. In addition to all this, the bad memories of the colonial period, which has been going on in the developing or underdeveloped parts of the world since the 19th century, are still alive.
In this context, it is impossible for the United States and the European states to continue their long-standing policy towards the governments of these states caught in the middle of the new Cold War. The fact that the United States and European states remain silent and continue to tacitly support the rule of autocrats and dictators is not good news for the new cold war, which is destined to intensify in the coming years. It shows that these states are reluctant to support the Western bloc.
But there are also good examples. For example, as a result of the support of the democracies of Germany, Japan and South Korea after the Second World War, each of these states has become a developed state today, and the peoples of these countries, where democratic rules are strong, support today’s alliance of democracy. So there are indeed good examples, although they are few. However, the situation is different when it comes to states in the Middle East and Africa. Today, the number of states with strong democracy in the Middle East and Africa is quite limited. Even in the leading states, democratic practices are not fully established. Egypt and Türkiye are the best examples. Although Türkiye‘s long struggle for democratic development is much more successful than Egypt’s, it would not be wrong to say that Türkiye has an autocratic administration, especially in the last 10 years.
Of course, the fact that Türkiye is a NATO member and a candidate for EU membership distinguishes it from all other states in the region. However, it is obvious that it has been slowly moving towards autocracy, especially in the last 10 years. So much so that, at this point, its NATO membership has become questionable. EU membership is now only on paper. So how did we get to this point? Is Erdogan alone to blame for showing autocratic tendencies? Of course not. The leading European countries are also to blame.
In fact, Türkiye‘s approach to European Union membership in the early 2000s was quite positive and the Turkish government was very enthusiastic about it. However, this desire was undermined when European leaders said in almost every speech that Türkiye‘s membership in the European Union was unlikely, even if it fulfilled all the criteria. The Turkish public and those who govern Türkiye were badly affected by these negative messages. This situation strengthened those who opposed Türkiye‘s place in the Western bloc, NATO membership and EU membership. At the beginning of the 2010s, the Turkish government, whose economy was getting stronger, began to show autocratic tendencies as a result of this categorical exclusion from the EU. With the growing influence of China and Russia, the alternative sought by anti-EU circles has been found.
With the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011 and the impact of the migrant crisis, the autocratic tendency began to strengthen. Combined with the confidence of being in power for many years and the exclusion of the EU, the AKP government sought a balance between the Western bloc and China and Russia. From this point on, the Turkish government, which began to play the immigration trump card against the West, was also successful in this regard. The European big powers preferred to solve the immigration problem in the short term by ignoring the autocratic approaches of the Turkish government.
The final nail in the coffin was the attempted military coup in Türkiye in 2016. This coup attempt was a milestone. From that point on, the AKP government in Türkiye tried to disregard democracy and destroy the rule of law. With the transition to a presidential system in 2018, the country is now on the road from autocracy to dictatorship.
At the point that we have reached today, Türkiye‘s NATO membership has become questionable. Although there is no official way such as expelling Türkiye from NATO, even absurd alternatives such as creating a new organization instead of NATO are being discussed. But the solution is not to exclude Türkiye. The solution is to give positive messages to the Turkish people. Because, as the opinion polls show, the AKP government represents only less than 40% of the Turkish people. The majority of the Turkish people do not want an autocratic government and traditionally believe that Türkiye‘s place is in Western civilization.
It is at this point that the United States and the European countries need to correct the mistake they have made so far. Instead of focusing on their short-term interests, they should immediately stop tacitly supporting the autocratic approaches of the Turkish government, which is to their advantage as well as Türkiye‘s in the medium and long term.
The world is on the brink of a new Cold War, which seems to last for a long time. Türkiye will be a key country in this struggle, so this is not a choice but a necessity.
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