Turkey’s military & economic power: “Great Ottoman Empire” & “Red Apple” dreams

MOSCOW, 22 Oct 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.

The government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which came to power in 2002 in Turkey, clearly tried on a global model of power after the 2010 referendum on amending the Constitution, and AKP leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan began to behave like a world leader. Contact with countries such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Ukraine was transformed by Ankara into the form of a “teacher”, and military and economic relations with Azerbaijan, the republics of Central Asia, Afghanistan and some African countries were not only established, but also given a guiding effect.

In addition, the obvious point is that regardless of the region where Turkey is conducting its policy at the moment, it always refers to historical, religious, ethnic or racial ties. It forms its foreign policy by referring to racial ties with the states in which the Central Asian and Turkic communities live, to religious ties with neighbouring or distant Arab countries, to the common Ottoman history with the Balkan countries. Such links, among other things, display the mental map of those who determine Turkey’s foreign policy.

The mental map of those who determine Turkey’s foreign policy

Turkish politicians are guided by these assumptions in their perception and interpretation of the world. These are Islamic, racial-ethnic, nationalistic, cultural, historical stereotypes and prerequisites… As well as the positioning of Ankara as an expansionist actor, burning with enthusiasm to be an “older brother” and an effective defining force in the region, and the successor of the “great and glorious” empire of the past… Of course, religion and religious organisations are used as an important tool in this historical sphere of influence. The Department of Religious Affairs, the historical heritage of Hagia Sophia, as well as other religious foundations are important tools in the hands of the government.

The government, concerned about a series of economic crises, behaves very generously in two directions. First –  the Secret Fund of the president has increased almost 100-fold over the past ten years. No one else has the right to request information on expenses from the Secret Fund for special operations, for the expenses of the president’s office, for funds managed by Erdogan and similar organisations.

Second – the budget of the Department of Religious Affairs, which is not affected by any crises. Its budget for 2021 is larger than the budgets of 12 ministries. For example, this budget is 2 times larger than the budget of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is a very important ministry, and 5 times larger than the budget of the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), which performs the most important intelligence tasks of the country. While the budget of the Department of Religious Affairs was excessively increased, the budgets of the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, the Ministry of Education and Energy were reduced by more than 56%.

After World War II, political Islamism, which began with a program primarily aimed at opposing Israel and reacting to secular modernism, began to gain strength worldwide with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since the 1990s, jihadist revolutionaries have been added to the modernist Islamists who opposed secular-modernist national state projects in Muslim societies such as Egypt and Turkey.

Along with the emergence of Al-Qaeda, a model of Islamism was born, trying to assert itself through anti-Western and mass terrorist acts. This model had a particular impact on youth in the Middle East, and radicalisation occurred, contrasting with the profile of Muslim youth, who were maximally integrated into the modern world in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s.

Even in the more moderate and secular societies of the Western bloc, such as Turkey, anti-Westernism has gained unprecedented popularity, and Islamist parties and politicians have begun to find supporters with a categorical position against the West. It is interesting that this anti-Western attitude has found supporters among non-Islamist strata of Turkey. For example, he influenced the main centre-left groups and nationalists.

Thus, countries like Turkey and Egypt have become more radical. While in Egypt this wave was contained by the military coup of General Al-Sisi against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkish Islamism under Erdogan acted more cunningly, forming a de facto coalition with nationalist partners, and managed to maintain his power.

Islamist, radical currents dominate the entire region

Meanwhile, after the “Arab Spring”, destabilisation occurred in many countries of the Middle East, and a massive wave of refugee migration has become one of the main problems of world politics. Terrible destabilisation was also observed in the regions of North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. While Islamist-jihadist radical movements began to dominate the entire region, the West began to think about the economic feasibility of being in opposition to internal conflicts in this Islamic world.

The Washington administration’s stance on Iraq and Syria has pushed the region into instability. After the Biden administration’s decision to end the US military presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban seized the entire country within a few months. Millions of refugees heading West from Syria are now being followed by refugees forced to flee Afghanistan. The world is facing a new migration crisis.

After this basic information, we will try to find an answer to the question does Ankara have enough power to exert influence on a global scale through “political Islam”?

Currently, there is an AKP government that pays salaries to jihadists, uses them in internal and external conflicts in neighbouring countries, tries to change the borders of neighbouring countries, searches for territorial waters and areas of economic expansion in waters under the sovereignty of other countries, emphasising at every opportunity that it is not satisfied with its borders, and actually demonstrating this.

Despite the fact that it is a NATO member, this power flirts with such world powers as Russia, China and the EU, like a poker player jeopardising his Islamo-nationalist aspirations at any cost, being an unbalanced power in terms of its demands and capabilities.

Dreams of the “Great Ottoman Empire” and the “Red Apple”

The current Turkish government believes that it will be able to transform an authoritarian country with a devalued national currency into a world power, writhing from unemployment, which cannot get out of the lower line of the middle-income group, cut off from the world, whose democracy has been reduced to zero. More precisely, they are mired in the alluring charms of the idea of it.

The “Great Ottoman Empire”, which they learned about in history lessons, became their standard of success. They believe that they have the right to power and lands lost by the Ottoman Empire. They had sensational, vague, but always expansionist goals, always aimed at establishing dominance over others, such as, for example, “eternal and great country”, “red apple”, “transformation of the world order”. This pathological understanding with a mentality of alienation from the whole world, unfortunately, is no longer a simple marginal alternative in Turkey’s foreign policy, but represents the main trend. This regime strives to ensure that the Republic of Turkey does not live to see its 100th anniversary (1923-2023).

Because the realisation of this dream is currently impossible. One of the elements characteristic of a great state is the gross national product (GNP) of the country. This is the total value of the products produced in the country. Turkey, according to general data, ranks 17th in the ranking of the world’s economies. However, when recalculated per capita, the situation in Turkey is not very encouraging.

Turkey is ranked 53rd in this ranking. That is, if we divide the total value of the products produced by its entire population, then Turkey is a poor country. The living conditions of the Turkish population are quite average, even below average. Even if the GNP index is high, it does not affect the living conditions of people living in Turkey. For example, Ireland ranks 34th in terms of GNP, but 5th in terms of capital allocation per capita. The Irish live much better than Turkish citizens.

Some boast of the great army of Turkey, emphasising that Turkey is supposedly a great state in terms of military power. In terms of the number of soldiers (including the reserve), Turkey today ranks 16th in the world in terms of the size of the army. It is inferior to Egypt, Cuba, Iran, Taiwan, Vietnam and North Korea. In terms of military equipment, Turkey ranks 20th in the world. It was preceded by Bolivia, Myanmar, Algeria, Finland, Thailand, Egypt, Iran, Colombia.

Turkey ranks 21st in the air force ranking. In front of it are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Brazil, Italy, India. In other words, Turkey’s military power is also average. For example, the total number of military aircraft in Turkey is 618. In the US Army, this figure is 13,256 units!

Ultimately, Ankara’s dreams of a “Great Ottoman Empire”, a “red apple” or “transformation of the world order” are utopian. In addition, with the increase in the number of the army, living conditions do not improve. The value of the total economic value added does not solve the problems with the infrastructure of the city where people live, nor does the quality of medical services received improve.

The length of Turkey’s borders does not improve pension conditions or the conditions of children’s education. Nevertheless, politicians in Turkey constantly promise a great Turkey. According to objective data, the “pie of the country” is gradually growing, but the number of people sharing the pie is growing faster than the pie itself! Everyone’s personal piece of pie is shrinking, so it’s useless to rejoice at the increase in the size of the pie.

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT


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