Saturday, May 22, 2010

Turkey in a Multipolar World

Last month, I wrote skeptically that Turkey might be risking too much in its efforts to secure an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program (see April 21 post). Though the future of the deal Brazil and Turkey brokered with Iran is far from certain, the ability of both to contradict the popular notion (especially in Washington) that a deal could only be reached under the pressure of sanctions is a true accomplishment that will boost recognition of both countries' emergent roles as diplomatic powers. The news last week that Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva would be travelling to Tehran and that he might well be joined by Prime Minister Erdogan should the Iranians be serious about brokering a deal raised hopes for a deal, prompting contradictory reactions from Washington that can be interpreted any number of different ways. Announced on Monday, the deal (full text) will indubitably lend greater creedence to Turkey's efforts to pursue a dynamic role in rits onal and global politics, further breaking away from its Cold War role as a staunch ally of Wahsington. Taking a look at commonalities between Turkey and Brazil as aspirant powers, former New York Times Turkey correspondent Stephen Kinzer writes in The Guardian:
Turkey and Brazil, though half a world apart geographically, have much in common. Both are large countries that spent long years under military dominance, but have broken with that history and made decisive steps towards full democracy. Both are led by dynamic and ambitious leaders who have presided over remarkable economic booms. Both have already emerged as regional powers, but have grander ambitions to become world powers on the level of Russia, India and perhaps even China. Neither could fulfil those ambitions alone. Together, however, they form a partnership that holds tantalising possibilities.

No two countries have opened more new embassies around the world in the last couple of years than Turkey and Brazil. Senior Turkish diplomats return to Ankara once a year for a grand strategic conference, and at this year's meeting, held in January, Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, was among the main speakers.

Turkey and Brazil were once near-automatic supporters of Washington, but they have struck out on their own path. Distressed by what they saw as blundering American unilateralism that destabilised entire regions of the world, they have sought to defuse international confrontations and promote peaceful compromises instead. By felicitous coincidence, both are now nonpermanent members of the security council. This gave them special leverage over Iran. They have used it deftly.

During the cold war, the non-aligned movement tried to become a "third force" in world politics, but failed because it was too large and unwieldy. Turkey and Brazil are now emerging as the global force for compromise and dialogue that the non-aligned movement never was.
That said, the problems inherent in the deal, especially following Iran's announcement that it would continue to enrich uranium up to 20%, gives reason to think it might not work. Should the deal prove nothing more than a delaying tactic for Iran, the current ebullience surrounding the deal will surely diminish, as will to some degree the optimism of some that Turkey's foreign policy ambitions can play a constructive force in global politics.

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