The moderator of the panel was Mr. Lou Katsos, and the participants in the discussion were Professor Alexander Kitroeff, former Ambassador Karolos Gadis and I. The subject of the discussion was, "Turkish Irredentism and the Finlandization of Eastern Mediterranean."
As it is known, Finlandization is the process or result of being obliged to favor, for economic reasons, or at least not to oppose, the interests of a great power as in the case of Finland the interests of the former Soviet Union despite not being politically allied to it.
The panelists suggested and discussed several points of view from historical, political, diplomatic and psychological aspects of Turkey and its present leadership especially of President Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan. Some of the opinions expressed below were also communicated during a radio program and individual conversations.
The core of the discussion was Erdoğan and the new Turkey as he has envisioned it and to implement his vision, even before he took an oath as President, he issued a published a 143-page dictum changing the operation of every single Ministry and other agencies under the Ministries. After that, Erdoğan continued issuing decrees after decrees making the Republic of Turkey, a fully functional dictatorship that Ataturk would be jealous and the Sultan disgusted.
Controlling all political life, Erdoğan could essentially become President for Life whose psychopathic cruelty would make François Duvalier, also known as Papa Doc, of Haiti a Cub Scout. This man fundamentally holds an unchecked wicked authority as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. They all used democracy to expand their influence in the same manner that the Communists had done in the past.
But Erdoğan’s vision for Turkey is magnificently ambitious and costly. Because the Straits are getting shallower and narrower, Erdoğan is determined to open a canal from the Black Sea – five km from Baklalı - to the Sea of Marmara – Küçükçekmece 25 km west of Istanbul; the name of the canal is, Canal Istanbul. Erdoğan is determined to make the canal the rival of Suez and Panama. Erdoğan has brushed aside legal, environmental, and budgetary questions to make the canal a central plank of his re-election bid on June 24. The Financial Times has quoted Erdoğan saying, “One of my first projects in the new era will be to start building Canal Istanbul”… “There may be a Suez somewhere, a Panama somewhere else, but with Canal Istanbul, we will send the world a message.” (Financial Times, Ayla Jean Yackley, May 29, 2018)
The problem is monetary. When Erdoğan announced the Canal in 2011, the estimated cost was 13 billion U.S. dollars. Today it has increased to 15 billion U.S. dollars, and by the time the project ends its price could reach the 20 billion U.S. dollars.
Also, Erdoğan wants to build at least one runway, long enough to take care of taxiing needs of such a military aircraft as an F35. However, it always depends on specific variants as whether Turkey will be trusted to own such an aircraft, the capability for such a heavy and costly aircraft to maneuver (turn, climb, run), the specific models of the aircraft (traditional takeoff/landing versus vertical takeoff/landing), guns, and a few others. With a price tag of $94.6 million U.S. dollars each for only the basic F35A, the price for a more advanced model of F35 could increase its cost to 132.44 million U.S. dollars.
If we add the above sums to Erdoğan’s grand plan regarding the Istanbul Airport, we can quickly add the cost of 12 billion U.S. dollars. The idea is the improvement of the airport by adding six runways across a strip-like land. It will take about a decade to complete with the projection of making the busiest airport not just in the region, but also on the planet. The projected number of passengers could hit the 200 million people annually.
However, in a global economy, which is afflicted gradually by worries from an unfolding trade war to higher oil prices, Turkey could be very close to comfort. Turkey’s economy is 22nd in the world below that of the state of Illinois, which is 20th, and Russia, which is 13th in the world. Starting a business is not an easy venture, but including family in the governments is unwise. In a country whose finances constitute a bubble ready to burst it is the worst thing anyone wants to do; yet, Erdoğan has installed Berat Albayrak as the Finance Minister, who is a businessman and politician, but also his son-in-law.
The question is whether Erdoğan will listen to his relative or he will tell his son-in-law to implement his personal policies. “It is abundantly clear that the president’s whim will appraise all future strategic decisions taken about anything in Turkey, and the new cabinet will function purely as a rubber-stamping forum,”… “The only constraints set to be imposed on Erdoğan are those likely to derive from bond and currency markets, which may inhibit any overtly reckless economic policymaking” (Bloomberg Businessweek, Onur Ant, July 10, 2018).
The changes in the function of the government are expected to have a severe impact on Turkish assets. It is assumed that “Turkish assets to remain under pressure unless policy measures address the country’s high inflation and external dependence. The central bank has not raised rates enough like some other countries given the government’s focus on GDP growth rather than inflation or currency stability” (Gopalakrishnan, DBS Bank). On the other hand, Turkey is likely to face many challenges ahead, as it’s running a massive fiscal deficit but “don't have savings to fund it.”
Also, Erdoğan was the one who decided Turkey’s monetary policy, keeping the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey captive. He has recently prevented constraints attempted by the Central Bank. In the last two years under Erdoğan’s control of monetary policy helped the Turkish voters to do better by offering cash bonuses and other bribing methods. But Turkey has had extraordinarily relaxed both monetary and fiscal policy, which created a variety of issues: The Turkish lira has declined, the inflation rate is in the area of 12% although the target was 5% and also Erdoğan’s restriction of the Central Bank’s independence. Sitting on interest rates while opting for a monetary policy that prioritizes growth over controlling its inflation is a real problem.
Nevertheless, the voters preferred the man who as Mayor of Istanbul had cleaned the city even if their first choice was a bit shaky is an understatement. Democracy in Turkey suffers since its inception oscillating from the Socialists of Ataturk to the right wing Islamists of Erdoğan, and that includes about 1.5 million who live abroad most of them in Germany.
The burst of the economic bubble and the consequent implosion of the present political survival of Turkey is not a matter of supposition, but a matter of time.
About Marcus A. Templar
Professor Marcus A. Templar is a former U.S. Army Cryptologic Linguist (Language Analyst), Signal Intelligence and All-Source Intelligence Analyst. During his career as a U.S. Intelligence Officer, besides organizational duties, he discharged the responsibilities of a U.S. Army Observer/Controller, Instructor of Intelligence Courses specializing in Deconstruction of Strategies, Foreign Disclosures Officer, and Translator Interpreter of Serbo-Croatian.
He is the Macedonian League's National Security Advisor.