June 29, 2018 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads: Turkey - More Ally Than Partner

The reelection of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan poses a profound dilemma for the United States and NATO. On the one hand, the electoral success is a victory for illiberalism, cementing Erdoğan’s place in power for years to come and strengthening his hold over Turkish society. On the other, Turkey remains a formal ally and occupies a position of geostrategic centrality that makes it a dominant and critical player in the region, one that the United States and NATO can hardly ignore.

Thanks to last year's constitutional referendum, Erdoğan now enjoys more formal power over Turkish politics and society than ever before. He now presides over a weakened parliament and a censored media. His presidential office has sweeping authority to intervene in the judiciary, directly appoint top officials, and impose states of emergency. While he achieved this power through elections that were generally free (and marked by a voter turnout of close to 90%), they were hardly fair, given his control of the media and the reality that some candidates were campaigning from prison.

Aside from the concern with Erdoğan's illiberal turn, Washington and Brussels are also increasingly concerned about Turkey’s foreign policy turn away from the west and NATO. After a worrying military confrontation a few years ago, Erdoğan has put a lot of effort into strengthening Turkey's ties with Russia. His chummy relationship with Putin is of inherent concern, but worse is Turkey’s decision to rely on Russian weaponry, including the decision to purchase highly advanced Russian air defense weapons. NATO operates an integrated air defense system, and having Russian weapons as part of that system poses security and defense risks that are simply unacceptable.

And, yet, Washington and Brussels can’t just turn away from Turkey. For one, there is no formal mechanism for ousting countries from NATO under the Washington Treaty of 1949. NATO is also an organization that operates by consensus, which means that Ankara enjoys an effective veto over any and all NATO operations and decisions.

For another, Turkey sits on prime geopolitical real estate. It's a transcontinental country with access to both the Black and Agean Seas; it borders Iraq, Syria, and Iran in the Middle East; NATO members Greece and Bulgaria on the Balkan Peninsula; and Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucuses. Turkey's Incirlik air base is a key strategic asset for US forces, critical to the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq and also for supporting NATO operations in Afghanistan.

So how should the United States and NATO respond to Erdogan’s victory? While Ankara remains a formal ally, it can no longer be viewed as a partner. That means that the US should reduce its dependence on Turkey as a strategic asset, including relying far less on Incirlik and other Turkey’s military assets for operations in the region. It should also halt further deliveries of the F-35s Turkey is buying to strengthen its air forces so long as Ankara persists in its decision to purchase Russian air defense systems that pose a threat to these highly advanced aircraft. And the US and NATO allies should make clear that their willingness to support Ankara when confronted with threats that are a result of its own actions will depend on Turkey demonstrating its commitment to behaving like a democratic ally should.

Erdoğan's reelection may have emboldened him, but his power ultimately can be checked. NATO and the United States still have an opportunity to persuade Erdoğan to act as a better partner—should they summon the unity and focus necessary to do so.

What Trump Gets Right About Europe

Jochen Bittner / The New York Times

Although President Trump’s truculent posture toward European allies—often transmitted via Twitter—may be misguided, his view that the US has an unfair onus to uphold the liberal world order is more or less on target, Bittner argues. America expended the most money and manpower to maintain the liberal order over the past 70 years, while the Europeans, Bittner writes, spent almost nothing on defense, “…instead building vast social welfare systems at home and robust, well-protected export industries abroad.” In the case of Germany, manufacturers have benefitted greatly from eurozone membership, operating in a common market with huge wage gaps and tariff-free exports, while spending merely 1.3 percent of GDP on defense. “Europe needs to understand what is driving Mr. Trump’s anger and cooperate with Washington to fix the imbalances in the system,” Bittner concludes.

Donald Trump Has a Point About China’s Technology Abuses

George Magnus / The Financial Times

American trade policy vis-à-vis China is partly about bilateral imbalances, but mostly it’s about Beijing’s industrial and regulatory policies, Magnus writes. Therefore, President Trump is right to punish China for bad intellectual property and technology transfer practices and oblige the Chinese government to change its behavior. Tariffs, however, are the wrong approach for several reasons, according to Magnus, including that they will harm US manufacturing, subject $250 billion of US imports from China to tariffs, and disrupt global supply chains. “There are better ways to pressure China than inconsistent policies based on whim and impulse,” Magnus writes. “Mr. Trump should stop acting like a day-trader and instead set an agenda for similarly minded countries to pursue.”

Donald Trump and the 1930s Playbook: Liberal Democracy Comes Unstuck

Edward Luce / The Financial Times

“The 1930s keep pressing their relevance,” Luce argues, citing the decline of liberal democracy in the US and abroad. “In Europe, the forces of disintegration are on the march. The status quo is struggling to come up with a defense,” he writes. Additionally, President Trump looks poised to escalate a near-facsimile of the Smoot-Hawley act of 1930, which imposed steep tariffs on America’s trading partners, opening the way for trade wars that fueled the rise of European fascism. There is still hope, however, as Luce concludes, “Unlike in the 1930s, there is still a global order to defend.”

Why Russia’s Middle East Gamble Has a Limited Payoff

Yaroslav Trofimov / The Wall Street Journal

While Moscow’s relationships in the Middle East are deepening, Trofimov writes, its influence is still nowhere near matching Washington’s. He points out that none of the regional nations who aligned themselves with the US and the West have switched to the Russian camp since the Arab Spring. Today’s Russia, despite having a strong military and sophisticated diplomatic and intelligence network, lacks the economic power and ideological model to project power as it did during the Cold War. Middle Eastern countries are making limited investments in their relationship with Russia to use as leverage with their allies such as the US, according to Yuri Barmin, a Russia security consultant quoted in the article. “All these countries understand perfectly well how limited Russia’s influence really is.”

Migrants Are on the Rise Around the World, and Myths About Them Are Shaping Attitudes

Eduardo Porter and Karl Russell / The New York Times

Through a collection of studies and graphs, Porter and Russell show how common misbeliefs about immigrants fuel the spread of persecution against them. For starters, people, especially, “the least educated, workers in low-skill occupations with lots of immigrants, and those on the political right,” perceive there are more immigrants than there really are. Furthermore, they underestimate immigrants’ education and overestimate both their poverty rate and their dependence on welfare. In France, Sweden, and the United States, substantial percentages of respondents think the average immigrant gets twice as much government aid as native residents do. “In no country is this true,” Porter and Russel write. And while it is true that global migration has grown sharply since 1990 and is unlikely to slow down anytime soon, “…there are already plenty of walls, and they have done little to stop immigration.”

Why Mexico Is Swinging Left

Ioan Grillo / The New York Times

Despite winning no more than 35 percent of the vote in his previous two bids for president, leftist politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador, aka Amlo, is expected to sweep the competition in Mexico’s elections on July 1. What has changed? Grillo writes that confidence in Mexico’s established parties has nosedived in the last five years amid rising prices and brutal crime alongside horrendous corruption scandals. Amlo’s message—that he will overturn the “mafia of power” and replace it with an austere bureaucracy that invests in communities, is resonating loudly, according to Grillo. Although critics object that Amlo is himself a member of the establishment he rails against, “…his style and discourse contrasts with those who have governed this nation the last few decades,” Grillo writes.

Confessions of an Anti-GMO Activist

Mark Lynas / The Wall Street Journal

Lynas, a former “outspoken activist” against genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, writes that, “…the anti-GMO campaign has deprived much of the world of a crucial, life-improving technology.” Contrary to our initial fears, Lynas writes, genetically modified crops have dramatically reduced the amount and toxicity of pesticides sprayed by farmers. GMO seeds reproduce perfectly well, and GMO foods have, “...no discernable impact on health.” Given the looming challenge of feeding 10 billion people by 2050, Lynas heralds the advancement of GMO technology: “We simply cannot feed the high-consuming population of the future using the low-productivity methods of the past.”


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