Volume 9, Issue 2
Middle East Institute – The Impact of Shifting Geopolitics in MENA energy
The Middle East Institute (MEI) hosted a panel discussion, February 28, about how major Middle Eastern states are navigating far-reaching change in the energy market and shifting relations between the players.
Molly Williamson, an MEI scholar, moderated the discussion. She summarized the current state of the energy market. Williamson argued the world presently is watching the emergence of a new oil order with ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding its evolution. Furthermore, with the large deposits of gas found in the Eastern Mediterranean, followed by the upsurge in shale gas in North America that led to the collapse of international oil prices in 2014, the structure of oil pricing and the movement and ability of price manipulation are in a state of upheaval. These factors, in addition to the unrest plaguing the Middle East, have pushed the region to try to use more of its own oil to diversify and grow. It has also led nations to apply other commodities in the region to boost economic growth.
Justin Dargin, an energy scholar from the University of Oxford, continued with Williamson’s perspective. Dargin reasserted the importance of enormous oil reserves in the gulf region and discussed the three main challenges the industry faces moving forward. The first challenge regards the rising energy intensity in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. With energy intensity rising throughout the Middle East as countries are attempting to industrialize rapidly, governments are subsidizing low cost power to give them a head start. This is coupled with low energy efficiency, leading to unsustainable energy consumption rates and ultimately an energy deficit in the long run. Dargin argued that as a solution to this problem, instead of fostering economic growth based on low cost fees, MENA countries should focus on operational efficiency. The second issue is the rising gas demand in an increasingly gas consuming/receiving region. The final problem the MENA region faces is unlocking unconventional gas production. This requires a high level of technical know-how, pushing many countries to align with international oil companies (IOC) to transfer their expertise.
Ralf Mammadov, a resident scholar on energy policy at the Middle East Institute shifted the conversation to the power struggle that oil creates within the international arena. Mammadov argued the balance of power is shifting from OPEC to non-OPEC countries. Russia and the United States are becoming more prominent gas distributors and there is growing ambiguity surrounding how the U.S. and Russia may use their oil and gas industries to leverage themselves within the international arena in the future. Meanwhile in Europe, with domestic production and consumption on the decline and a large reliance on Russian oil, infrastructural problems to procure gas in Europe are rising. With Ukraine being the major transit for oil to Europe, pressure on pipeline projects are growing, especially with regard to Europe’s landlocked countries that are solely reliant upon pipelines. Additionally, Mammadov stressed the importance of the U.S. promising its energy security to Europe via liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Professor Brenda Shaffer, senior fellow, Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, furthered the discussion on the changing nature of the natural gas industry. Shaffer argued the natural gas industry will have a much more political nature than oil because of the long-term nature of its contracts. Oil is a more commercial transaction. Shaffer posited that the nature of the natural gas trade may not reach a global market as the previous U.S. administration struggled to find contracts for its reserves and the new source of oil in the Eastern Mediterranean expanding pipeline options and influencing the geopolitical distribution of energy in the world.
Professor Shaffer also brought attention to how the gas found in Cyprus, Israel, and parts of the Middle East may help solve conflicts in the MENA region. But, Shaffer emphasized that pipelines should not be perceived as solutions to peace between states. Rather, pipelines represent relationships within the region. Little gas trade exists between the GCC countries themselves, showing the bad relationships that currently exist and the scope for cooperation that can be built upon if only the GCC states are willing to come to the table. Shaffer also highlighted the importance of Russia in the region due to the Eastern Mediterranean being a major point of Russia’s oil exports and gas exploration.
Jean-Francois Seznec, an MEI scholar, shifted the conversation to the policy of the current U.S. administration toward oil. Seznec highlighted how recent changes in the administration are altering substantially the nature of the energy game, contradicting Shaffer’s argument that LNG gas may not be as important as people think.
Brookings: The Future of the European Security Order
The Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion on The Future of the European Security Order, March 1. Fiona Hill, then senior fellow and director of the Center on the U.S and Europe, Brookings (prior to her departure to join President Trump’s National Security Council), introduced the program by addressing the changes that have taken place since 2015. Hill emphasized the increasing internal and external challenges facing Europe: the growing populous movement casting worry over upcoming European national elections, the continuing economic crises in Greece demanding greater bailout agreements, the Brexit referendum, the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis flooding European borders, and the political consequences of mass migration movements to Europe generating even greater pressure on the Union. Meanwhile, with the new U.S. administration, the question of its commitment to the transatlantic relationship is casting a cloud of doubt over European and U.S. relations.
Costanze Stelzenmuller, a Robert Bosche senior fellow, moderated the discussion and directed the conversation toward security challenges in Europe, and in particular, Eastern Europe, following the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Justyna Gotkowska, senior fellow, Department for Germany and Northern Europe, Center for Eastern Studies in Poland, detailed Poland’s greatest preoccupations following the Ukraine crisis. Gotkowska emphasized how Russia is Poland’s prime security concern today, presenting a long-term challenge for Polish and Western security.
Gwendolyn Sasse, director, Centre for East European and International Studies, discussed the bottom-up approach the Germans are taking regarding international security. Sasse argued societies are polarized because present international norms are coming under pressure and failing to spread the liberal order amid an increasing populist wave. National governments need to first fix their own states before they can begin to fix the EU.
Christopher S. Chivvis, associate director, International Security and Defense Policy Center, and senior political scientist at RAND Corporation, summarized the three main concerns presently facing Europe. Chivvis argued the first issue Europe needs to deal with is Euro-terrorism. Euro-terrorism is likely to get worse in time as the flow from returning foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria may increase at a time when Europe hasn’t managed to strengthen its population. Chivvis suggested that solving this problem will take more law enforcement and intelligence resources alongside closer cooperation between European members and other nations, for example, the United States. The second issue facing Europe is deterring Russia. Chivvis stated Russia wants a 1990s relationship with the EU; realpolitik and military dominance. The final challenge facing the EU is avoiding the impulse to turn inward and delink with Washington. At present, it is important for Europe to give the U.S. time to play itself out and not engage in short-term decision taking, adding America has not changed irrevocably overnight despite a new administration. Chivvis reminded the audience the transatlantic relationship was built to create a liberal democracy. To move away from such a relationship would be a major victory to opponents of a system the West constantly seeks to defend.
From the opposite spectrum, Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center, and a Kremlin insider, offered what he perceived to be the current Russian perception of the state of world affairs. Rojansky argued that generally, when Russians look toward the U.S., they hold a considerable amount of uncertainty and concern. The Russians have taken on a ‘defensive crouch’ toward the U.S. They are not willing to engage in conflict but are willing to defend themselves using any means.
Panel 2 – Trans-Atlantic relations and European Security: A Break with Past?
The second discussion panel moderated by Thomas Wright, fellow and director of the Project on International Order and Strategy, The Brookings Institution, focused on the future of the transatlantic relationship and European security. Wright began the conversation with Kurt Volker, former U.S ambassador to NATO and executive director of The McCain Institute for International Leadership. Wright presented a variety of messages coming out of the Trump administration and asked Volker whether there appeared to be a coherent message coming out of the administration toward transatlantic relations.
Ambassador Volker stated it was still too early to predict the direction the Trump administration will take. However, Ambassador Volker posited that two central issues are complicating matters further. First, the rising populism movement against traditional foreign policy that President Trump amassed during his presidential campaign is placing pressure on the administration. Secondly, during his presidential campaign Trump was especially good at shaping the dialogue via the media. Nevertheless, despite these foundational complications, Ambassador Volker argued that so far, the Trump administration has made good decisions regarding foreign policy with Vice President Mike Pence pulling together a coherent and consistent U.S. foreign policy message for Europe.
Theodore Bromund, senior research fellow, The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, added to the discussion on the Trump administration’s transatlantic relations. Bromund presented a view that the Trump’s administration will depart from the post-1925 American policy of seeking to advance positively the European mission. The administration instead will show a polite disinterest for the EU and this comes down to economics, security and history. Secondly, the EU and the U.S. do not see eye-to-eye on transatlantic security cooperation, he opined. For instance, if Europe increases its spending, then the U.S. believes it can invest less in European security. Meanwhile, Europeans perceive their increased security spending to be in conjunction with continued American support that will allow the whole structure to benefit. The rift between the two beliefs will serve to strain transatlantic relations, he believes. Finally, historically, Bromund argued that following the Cold War, the United States should have stopped supporting Europe and taken a more neutral approach to Brussels while maintaining support for NATO.
Daniela Schwarzer, director of Research, The German Council on Foreign Relations, argued that meanwhile, across the Atlantic, what has happened in Washington in the past month has created a new dynamic. Germany has its own reevaluations to make. Germany is aware that some of its own partners are weak, and it must take responsibility for them.
Ambassador Volker added that both Brussels and Washington are experiencing populist, anti-establishment movements. In both instances, the establishments are experiencing what Ambassador Volker termed as ‘elites in denial,’ elites who do not understand where their own publics are. Volker opined that what elites in Europe need to do is figure out how to be more responsive to the publics’ concerns: immigration, culture and identify, job loss to newcomers, security and terrorism.
Julianne Smith, senior fellow and director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program for the Center for a New American Security, continued with this sentiment. Smith posited there exists a democratic deficit on both sides of the Atlantic, but particularly regarding the value of the European project. With that said, the U.S. administration must consider how much it is willing to make the case to the American public about the value of the European project. Nevertheless, Smith argued that the question of how willing the U.S. administration is to get involved in this debate and how willing it is to defend, support and preserve the European project, is something that is not yet clear.
Daniela Shwarzer expanded on the democratic deficit issue. She contended the European Union is only ‘half way integrated,’ and more must be done to stop the system from falling apart. Shwarzer stated to make that step, EU national governments need to transfer sovereignty in sensitive areas. Ultimately, Shwarzer emphasized the message to President Trump should be that the U.S. and Europe have a lot to lose if they do not cooperate.
SETA DC: The U.S – Russia – Turkey Triangle on Syria
The Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research held a discussion regarding the U.S – Russia – Turkey Triangle on Syria, March 31, 2017. Kadir Ustan, executive director, SETA Foundation, moderated a panel of four speakers with regional expertise.
Faysal Itani, senior fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, provided a broad perspective on the triangle. Faysal argued that presently, the prospect of reaching a diplomatic solution in Syria is limited because of the divergent interests that external actors face. The fight against extremist groups and the complexity of creating a military zone require coordination and cooperation among the three states that is unfeasible within the current political context. For Turkey, Faysal argued that its number one objective is clearing its borders and unseating ISIS. Nevertheless, Turkey’s referendum, military casualties in Syria, and bumpy foreign relations with Russia and the U.S. are constraining its actions. Meanwhile, Russia’s primary interest is breaking the crusade in Syria, gaining Syria as an important ally, and by doing so, strengthening its position in the West. The core problem that Russia faces is a time constraint. The longer it takes to transform the conflict from military to political, the weaker Russia seems, Faysal explained. Concurrently, the United States’ primary interest is destroying ISIS and limiting Iranian influence. Yet the U.S. has a shortage of suitable partners in Syria and simultaneously is struggling to negotiate with Russia. The only goal that all three powers share is destabilizing ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
Murat Yesiltas, director of Security Studies, SETA Foundation, added to Faysal’s views, stating there are too many conflicting interests in Syria and an ambiguity of actors. Following the battle of al-Bab, Yesiltas posited that there are some major conflicts of interest arising among the three powers. Importantly, Turkey is trying to recalibrate its national security priorities by expanding its military operations against the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a left-wing Kurdish political party to ensure the withdrawal of the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), a Kurdish militia in Syria. Simultaneously, the U.S. and Russia have sent special military forces to prevent Turkey from attacking the YPG, with Russia using the YPG to counter an escalation of Turkey’s strategic plan in the region, Yesiltas believes.
Mark Perry, an independent author, directed the conversation toward U.S. strategy in Syria regarding ISIS. Perry argued that under the Trump administration, the new military and foreign policy strategy in the Middle East is defensive, but strategic. Perry stated President Trump is “bomb[ing] the hell out of ISIS,” as he promised during his campaign. The Trump administration has expended 27% more ammunition in three months than under a comparable period during the Obama administration. Perry contended this action has economic implications on Capitol Hill with the Budget Control Act, which limits President Trump’s access to funds. Perry argued these budgetary issues are driving the Trump administration’s strategy. There are many ongoing conflicts around the world the U.S. is dealing with that the Trump administration is looking for a win. Perry argued, “if you want to find out what the U.S. will do in the Middle East, follow the money.” Additionally, President Trump has given the decision of targeting to the Pentagon, thereby increasing the level of violence and loosening the rules of engagement in Syria.
Richard Weitz, the Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute considered the growing relationship between Russia and Turkey. First, Russian analysts still see Turkey as a rising power and appreciate the new flexibility within Turkish foreign policy. Second, the alienation of both countries from Europe brings them closer together. Furthermore, Russia views the differences between Turkey and NATO as an opportunity for Russia to gain leverage in the Black Sea. Finally, the Turkish and Russian governments share a growing impatience with President Trump. Weitz contended President Trump has not been forthcoming in his campaign promises and this has disillusioned the opposition in Russia and Turkey.
Kadir Ustan closed the discussion by reflecting on the varying degrees of priorities that all three actors have within Syria and within the Middle East in general. Ustan put forward a final question, asking “If ISIS is a common threat, what would be a common end game, and how can this conversation be reversed?”
Richard Weitz hypothesized that in the case of U.S. and Russia, once could envision a compatible end game whereby the U.S. destroys the ISIS base in Raqqa, then turns Raqqa over to Russia, and then focuses on Iraq. The problem is whether Assad will have the authority to take control.
Contrarily, Faysal concluded if there is no ISIS, then there will be someone else. Although Russia and Turkey view ISIS as a common threat, ISIS is much less important than it is for the U.S. For a solution to be reached, Faysal speculated the YPG needs to be eliminated, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) needs to be ok passively with the situation, and Assad needs to be able to govern Syria.
Atlantic Council: Strategic & Sustainable Development for a Unified Cyprus
AHI attended “Strategic & Sustainable Development for a Unified Cyprus” held by The Atlantic Council, March 8. Ambassador Victoria Nuland, former assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, provided opening remarks. She stated the current negotiations are a refreshing and conducive framework to solving the Cyprus problem, a settlement she believes is close to fruition. She cited a reference to U.S. support for the ongoing negotiations in the very first public briefing of the Trump administration as a reason for encouragement.
Panel 1: Scene-Setter
John Harkrider, executive director, One Cyprus Now, spoke about the problems a lack of international support can create and discussed how his organization is working to prevent such an issue from arising in Cyprus. Damon Wilson, executive vice president of Programs and Strategy, The Atlantic Council, spoke about the in-depth look at the eastern Mediterranean undertaken by the Atlantic Council. He mentioned that Europe cannot be whole, and at peace, until Cyprus is resolved.
Panel 2: Laying the Groundwork for a Prosperous Unified Cyprus
Jonathan Cohen, deputy assistant secretary for Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State, presented first. He said the current talks have a strong chance at opening economic, security, and political opportunities that have been closed for over forty years. He added that every Turk he communicates with can agree to fill in the details of the Cyprus solution while we wait for the results of the Turkish referendum. Turkey’s incentive to resolving the Cyprus issue comes down to the opening up of a gas deal between Israel and Turkey. On the Cypriot side, the market of eighty million Turks has been shuts for years. Reopening the Turkish market to Cypriot businesses would make Cyprus even more prosperous, he believes. DAS Cohen also believes Erdogan has built his reputation on the protection of Turks and solving Cyprus would solidify that reputation as the Turkish hero who protected the Turkish Cypriots. The Cyprus issue has long blocked NATO-EU cooperation and a settlement is more important than ever to work on common security cooperation, according to Cohen.
Special Adviser of the UN Secretary General on Cyprus, Minister Espen Barth Eide, cited the strong support he received in multiple meetings with U.S. officials for the peace process. The minister hailed the exchange of maps for the first time by the two community leaders as a huge milestone in the process for a Cyprus solution. According to Edie, following that exchange, the conference consisted of some of the richest conversations on the fears of both communities. He is absolutely convinced that all parties would like this to be solved now. While everyone may not agree on the details, it is in the strategic interests of all. Eide conveyed concern with how much the Turkish Cypriot side allowed the untimely Enosis vote to impact and undermine the process.
Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis, chief negotiator for the Republic of Cyprus, spoke about the reluctance of the Republic of Cyprus government to attend the conference in Geneva. Though President Nicos Anastasiades received heavy criticism, it was important to attend the conference, according to Mavroyiannis. The ambassador added the conference in Mont Pèlerin, Switzerland, was the first time everyone sat around the table and discussed substance rather than just statements. He stated the peace process is at its furthest point than ever before because negotiations were being led by Cypriots. However, the keys to a solution are in Ankara. A solution would be achieved if it were up to the two leaders. The main issue is with Turkey, and the issue of maritime rights, according to Ambassador Mavroyiannis. Cyprus is in a very strategic location at the outermost point of the EU. There is incredible potential in Cyprus that can only be reached by looking to the future.
AHI Questions Panel
AHI President Nick Larigakis asked the panelists about their confidence in the Turkish Cypriots’ ownership of the negotiations with the possibility of Ankara controlling the strings. DAS Cohen responded the U.S. stands prepared to help in any way that the leaders find useful. “We’re prepared to have a tough conversation with Turkey if necessary,” he said. Ambassador Mavroyiannis stated the current situation should not be confused with what is trying to be achieved. Greek Cypriots want a political success with Turkish Cypriots so that the latter are free from their political reliance on Turkey. Greek Cypriots do not want to cut the cultural links between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots. Eide mentioned the Turkish Cypriots do not want to break that link either. The format needs to be adjusted so that the linkage of one’s security does not threaten the other.
Panel 3: Getting to Growth: New Models for Development on Unified Cyprus
David Bonanno, managing director, Third Point LLC, spoke about his company’s investment in the Cypriot banking sector. Cyprus holds a very attractive profile for international investment, and it has energy and infrastructure projects that need capital to complete, he said. The island has always had an excess of capital but a lack of investable projects. Bonanno believes the reunification of Cyprus will bring with it building projects and the start to an economic wheel of prosperity. Energy, infrastructure, and tourism are the best places for investment, he said.
Dr. Rachel van Elkan, an adviser for the European Department for the Mission Chief for Cyprus and Switzerland to the International Monetary Fund, spoke about the need for an economic plan to be in place prior to “Day One” of reunification. Such a plan would be instrumental to the future of the Cypriot economy. Dr. Elkan added that currently a lot of money is waiting in the wings, but the IMF does not want it to be used inefficiently by flowing into Cyprus on “Day One.”
Harkirder discussed the need for an economic roadmap prior to reunification. He believes local investment from the ground-up would kickstart economic growth, but no one on the island is well informed about the benefits of investment in Cyprus. He believes the economic matters of a solution should be left to the private sector, and he was confident that a united Cyprus could become the Singapore of the Mediterranean.
Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu Discusses Future US-Turkey Relations
AHI attended “Turkey-U.S. Strategic Partnership: Looking to the Future,” a special address by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, organized by the Turkish Heritage Organization, March 21, 2017. Dr. Brenda Shaffer, senior fellow, Atlantic Council, moderated. Dr. Shaffer noted Turkey’s relations with Europe are at an almost unprecedented low. She blamed the strained relations on a lack of European appreciation for the security threats facing Turkey and a result of three consecutive U.S. administration policies in the Middle East.
Foreign Minister Cavusoglu noted two issues that currently overshadow U.S.-Turkey relations: Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) and American support to the Kurdish YPG in Syria. The foreign minister expressed a desire to work with the new Trump administration to address these concerns and work on common interests. One such shared interest is NATO, where Turkey desires to help the U.S. “revitalize the organization.” In an allusion to President Trump’s claims that NATO members do not share the burden equally, Cavusoglu criticized the Europeans for not doing more to support the organization. He claimed Turkey has rescued effectively the EU by stemming the tide of illegal migration. He also promised to answer President Trump’s call to reach the 2% target of spending on defense.
The foreign minister spoke extensively on the Cyprus issue. He claimed that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots have shown nothing but a constructive approach, while “the Greek Cypriots have ignored our positive steps.” Foreign Minister Cavusoglu also falsely equated the recent Enosis vote in Cyprus with a desire by Greek Cypriots to “still have this dream to unite with Greece.” He conceded that a solution in Cyprus would be a significant step in peace, stability, and prosperity in the eastern Mediterranean, but he believes this is the last chance for a solution.
On the topic of regional issues, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu expressed his support for the territorial integrity of Georgia, Ukraine, and even Israel. He voiced concern with U.S. support for the Kurds in Syria, which Turkey believes to have direct ties to the Kurdish terrorist organization, PKK, saying a policy of using one terrorist organization to fight another will fail. The foreign minister reminded the audience that Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country and is “the most generous humanitarian actor in terms of GDP allocated for humanitarian assistance in the world.” He added bilateral relations with Bosnia and Croatia have served Turkey well.
In the Q&A portion, Cavusoglu berated Armenia for occupying 20% of another country, in reference to the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory on the Azerbaijani border. The foreign minister called upon Armenia to withdraw immediately and expressed support for any policy Azerbaijan may adopt in response.
The Turkish Referendum and Its Potential Impact on U.S.-Turkey Relations
AHI attended the Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) event, “Turkey’s Proposed Presidential System and Its Potential Impact on U.S.-Turkey Relations” held March 30, 2017. The speakers included: Dr. Gulnur Aybet, professor of International Relations, Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul, and Mr. Howard Beasey, president, American-Turkish Council. Yenal Kucuker, THO executive director, moderated.
Dr. Aybet, an appointed advisor to President Erdogan, explained the current Turkish system of government is not a classical parliamentary system, but rather, it is a de facto semi-presidential system with no presidential accountability. She stated the whole argument around the upcoming Turkish referendum is centered on one person rather than the merits of the proposed changes. The new system, in her opinion, would remove the presidential immunity and allow for criminal investigations by the parliament.
Beasey noted there is no English translation for the eighteen recommendations on the referendum, making it very difficult for outsiders to comprehend the details of the referendum. The key concern for American companies is how the referendum will impact stability and the economy on the ground in Turkey. By strengthening the executive branch, President Erdogan will be given the power he has said he needs to handle the Turkey’s challenges. There will no longer be any excuses, and President Erdogan will be compelled to improve Turkey’s economy and security in order to be reelected, said Beasey.
On the topic of how the referendum would impact U.S.-Turkish relations, Beasey did not believe it would lead to any immediate changes in the relationship. Dr. Aybet argued Turkey does not view its relationship with the U.S. in the same sphere as its relations with NATO and the EU. Instead, Turkish policy toward the U.S. is one of realpolitik. The rising anti-Americanism in Turkey is not a result of domestic incitement, but rather, a result of American behavior following the July coup attempt.
SETA Hosts Turkish Presidential Referendum Talk
AHI attended a SETA Foundation event titled, “Turkey’s Presidential System Referendum,” March 30, 2017, at the Loews Madison Hotel. The speakers included: Abdulhamit Gul, AKP member of Turkish Parliament, and Nebi Mis, director of Domestic Policy, SETA Foundation.
In remarks, Gul clarified that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has always been a democratic party seeking reform on behalf of the Turkish people. According to Gul, the current system lacks a separation of powers and transparency, and the referendum promises to address those concerns. The new constitution will result in the closure of military courts, grant the power to propose new legislation specifically to MPs, and allow Parliament to check emergency law powers granted to the president. Under the proposed system, the president will no longer have immunity and the percentage of MPs needed to bring him to court will decrease from 70% to 66%, Gul added.
Mis explained that successive Turkish administrations have always asked for a change to the current system. Turkey’s democracy has seen six different coup attempts since the 1950s. A deepening institutionalization of Turkish democracy is necessary to prevent a coup attempt every 10 years, he stated. Following the discussion, a member of the audience asked the panelists about the credibility of such a referendum given the fact that everyone who speaks out against Turkish President Erdogan is arrested and threatened. Gul outright denied any allegations that Turkey does not have freedom of speech or press. Gul blamed the notion of a crackdown on freedoms in Turkey as outside propaganda and claimed Turkey is a free country where no one is wrong for expressing their opinions, especially following the coup.
The Turkish Referendum: European and American Responses
AHI attended a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars teleconference discussion titled, “Ground Truth Briefing: The Turkish Referendum, European and American Responses.” Aaron David Miller, vice president for New Initiatives and Distinguished Scholars, Wilson Center, moderated the briefing, which was held April 20, 2017. The speakers included: Henri J. Barkey, director of Middle East Programs, Wilson Center; Alan Makovsky, founding director of the Turkey Research Program, Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Kati Piri, member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands.
Barkey and Makovsky touched on the referendum and its lack of credibility during the process. Makovsky mentioned the acceptance of unstamped ballots, a first for Turkey, at the polls as the easiest way to stuff a ballot box. In fact, Turkish law prohibits such practices yet they were ignored for the referendum. Issues of validity continued when many of the nation’s Kurdish minority, a majority of which opposed the referendum, had no access to ballot boxes. Barkey noted that historically, the results of an election in Turkey have never been questioned since the birth of the Republic. Despite the military coups and political instability, massive suspicion of an election’s results is unprecedented until now. For the first time in Turkey’s tumultuous political history, there is massive suspicion of the referendum results.
Piri discussed how the EU and Turkey currently are going through transformation periods. These transformations are pushing the two apart, not closer together. She mentioned the majority of the Turkish middle class is oriented toward the West. These voters were responsible for the success of the referendum’s “No” vote in the majority city centers of Turkey, according to the Dutch minister. Piri added, when 14 opposition members of Parliament were arrested, the international outcry was too low. She believes, in the end, President Erdogan will be forced to move back toward the West once the economy slows down. An audience member asked what would happen to the migrant agreement if EU-Turkey relations deteriorate. Piri responded the EU is much more prepared to combat migrant flows than it was a year ago, but added the Greek islands are already overrun and cannot continue to handle the burden. In her opinion, the EU did not do enough to help, and if one country will suffer the most from a break in the migrant deal, it is Greece.
What Do EU-Turkey Relations Hold in the Future
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars hosted a panel discussion titled, “What is the Future of EU-Turkey Relations?” Henri Barkey, director of the Middle East Program, Wilson Center, moderated the panel, which was held April 24, 2017.
Constanze Stelzenmueller, public policy scholar, German Marshall Fund, contended Europeans and Turkey desire to prevent a tipping point from occurring between relations. Stelzenmueller believes neither side is willing to break off accession talks, despite talks being de facto frozen since December 2017.
Michelle Egan, professor and Jean Monnet chair ad personam, School of International Service, American University, added the worsening of accession talks create an internal credibility issue within the EU. Accession talks have become all the more complex, citing Hungary and Poland’s track records on human rights and the rule of law undermining the EU. The combination of an unwillingness by EU members to throw Turkey out, a history of non-democracies in NATO, and current members with questionable democracies, further complicate the matter.
Egan then addressed the Cyprus problem. Egan argued that a deal could fundamental and symbolically shift relations forward while also opening new issues that cannot be anticipated. On the other hand, a lack of solution also gives EU member states reason to stop accession talks for Turkey because of a lack of solution. Considering this, Egan suggested that unfortunately, Cyprus has been one of the unsuccessful attempts by the EU to resolve territorial issues before joining. She added that finding a solution remains unlikely. Regarding EU-Turkey relations moving forward, Egan emphasized the harsher EU measures and standards set in place regarding security and the rule of law. Egan noted if Turkey shows a serious and persistent breach of civil rights and rule of law, one-third of the commission can freeze its accession. This comes with the reality there is a hollowing out of support for Turkey’s accession to Europe. Egan argued the focal points of cooperation between EU and Turkey today lie in the customs union between the EU and Turkey that require modernizing and greater cooperation on energy and migration.
Aykan Erdemir, senior fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a member of the Turkish Parliament (CHP), shifted discussion toward “The Turkey Question.” Erdemir suggested that President Erdogan moving forward will take a more offensive defense. Scenarios such as full scale assaults through government-funded NGOs and state institutions, and Turkish support for political parties in Europe, are likely. Moreover, Erdemir argued Erdogan is pivoting away from Transatlantic alliance and values, which is what he wants. Erdemir added, Erdogan is back full circle to his Islamist authoritarian self, and he is serious about it. Nevertheless, Erdemir opined Turkey does lose out from accession talks stopping. He highlighted Turkey’s receipt of more foreign direct investment after candidacy status than in the entire country’s history. An end to accession talks would mean an exit of Western and local capital from Turkish economy, leaving every Turkish citizen and company with their bank account, business, and assets unprotected, and furthermore, meaning they can be taken, frozen, or controlled by President Erdogan’s cronies at any point, which would leave Turkey vulnerable.
As a final thought, Erdemir stated Turkey never had a serious vision for the EU. Turkey never thought like the EU because it did not realize a European vision. President Erdogan’s EU vision was to use the EU as instrumental tool to counter balance Turkish judiciary and military momentarily. Moving forward, Erdermir argued the question is whether the West wants the EU to border Russian buffer states, such as Ukraine and Turkey, or if the West wants the EU to control those buffer states.
Diplomatic, Security, and Energy Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean
The Johns Hopkins SAIS Energy, Resources, and Environment (ERE) Program hosted the event “Diplomatic, Security and Energy Challenges in the Eastern Mediterranean: Forecasting the Next Five Years” in coordination with the Greek Foreign Affairs Council and the SAIS Israel Club, April 21, 2017. The panelists included: Andrew Novo, associate professor, Strategic Studies, National Defense University; Nikos Tsafos, president and chief analyst, Enalytica; Simon Henderson, a Baker fellow, Washington Institute; and Omer Taspinar, director of the Turkey Project, The Brookings Institution.
The discussion began with Novo stating the U.S. cares more about how the eastern Mediterranean connections other regions, than it does about the region itself. The U.S. is solely interested in stability, compromise, and growth in the eastern Mediterranean. When handling Greek-Turkish relations and Cypriot-Turkish relations, a compromise has been illusive to the U.S. The reason is the U.S. risks antagonizing one ally when it bolsters the other. In Cyprus, he stated the economic opportunity in infrastructure and energy is large should a solution to the Cyprus issue be found. Tsafos, however, cautioned that eastern Mediterranean gas has too many possible options and routes, with none of them being particularly good options.
Henderson discussed the Israeli desire to export gas to the Turkish market. Such an agreement on exporting gas requires a minimum twenty-year commitment, however. According to Henderson, President Erdogan is a perplexing politician, and he is unlikely to commit to a stronger economic tie with Israel for twenty years. He also mentioned the ongoing conflict between Turkey and Cyprus over Cyprus’ EEZ makes the underground pipeline option from Israel to Greece dubious and non-lucrative for energy companies.
Taspinar cautioned that a warming of relations and stability between Turkey and Cyprus is not likely to happen in the short term. President Erdogan’s victory in the referendum shows that he is weakening. Despite the crackdown on opposition, emergency law, mass purges of the military and civil service, Erdogan only won by a narrow margin. The past shows us that when Erdogan is weak and vulnerable he favors nationalism, an unfavorable shift in the eyes of Cyprus. Taspinar stated the only reason Erdogan would compromise with Cyprus would be if there was a hope on the Turkey-EU front. He then discussed Turkey’s current desire to buy S-400 missile defense from Russia. Should this deal go through, President Putin will successfully lure Turkey away from NATO and Turkey will continue to be dependent on Russian gas.