Could the UK replace the US as Turkey's closest Western ally?
- THE EDITORIAL BOARD, ISTANBUL
- May 13, 2018
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visits Britain this week to meet with Queen Elizabeth II and British Prime Minister Theresa May. At a time when Turkey faces criticism for allegedly turning its back on the West, the country's excellent relations with the United Kingdom are a testament to Ankara's willingness to cooperate with its Western allies – provided that they do not seek to undermine Turkish interests. Turkey and Britain work closely in a range of areas, including trade and national security. A series of smart moves by the British governments made it possible for London to nurture a mutually beneficial relationship with the Turks.
First of all, Turkey is satisfied with Britain's commitment to the fight against terrorism and, specifically, terrorist organizations such as the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). Having designated the PKK as a terrorist organization in 2001, the British government, unlike many other European countries, backed this legal step with concrete action. British officials have repeatedly acknowledged the links between the PKK and its Syrian branch, the People's Protection Units (YPG). In addition to distancing itself from the militants, London has taken concrete steps to arrest and bring to justice foreign terrorist fighters who illegally traveled to Syria to join the PKK/YPG terrorists.At the same time, Britain sided with Turkey's democratically-elected government in the wake of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt and became one of the few countries to openly acknowledge the links between the coup plotters and FETÖ, the terrorist group led by the U.S.-based criminal Fetullah Gülen.
In recent years, the British government refrained from granting asylum to FETÖ members, who are harbored by several European countries, taking into account the group's past attacks against Turkish citizens. Britain also proved a reliable ally in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt by coming out against the coup plotters, whom London described as having carried out an attack on Turkish democracy. Just three days after the failed coup, Alan Duncan, the British minister of state for Europe, became the first Western politician to visit the country.
The British government sent a clear message to Turkish officials that it respects and supports their fight against all terrorist organizations. Having fought together against Daesh terrorists in Syria as part of the Global Coalition Against Daesh, Turkey and Britain agree that the Syrian civil war must end without further delay and note that both terrorists and Bashar Assad's regime must be removed from the conflict zone. Mutual actions taken by Turkey and Britain in the Syrian crisis may play a significant role in filling the power vacuum created by the U.S.
Finally, bilateral cooperation on security, trade and foreign policy issues is highly significant in the post-Brexit period. Improving trade ties, and making free trade agreements, is likely to pave the way to reaching the goal of 20 billion dollars in bilateral trade. Furthermore, the TF-X project cooperatively carried out in the security industry emerges as the most important proof for the potential of bilateral cooperation.Meanwhile, Britain plays a very sensitive and consistent role toward the rising wave of Islamophobia around Europe and the U.S., setting an example for European countries that harm their own societies with anti-Islamic sentiment.
In recent years, Britain took a series of sensible steps to earn Turkey's respect and friendship. The Turkish president's visit will undoubtedly contribute to efforts to take the relationship to the next level. Britain's coherent position against the regional confusion created by the U.S. is also momentous. Under the circumstances, it seems plausible that Britain could soon replace the United States as Turkey's closest ally in the West. In light of the country's emerging strategic partnership with London, Western policymakers must ask themselves whether losing the Turks is their only option.