By Eugene Matos De Lara.
Dismantling both truth and fallacies of NATO-Turkish-Iranian Relations in the wake of the P5+1 deal
For years, Iran has undisputably been taking numerous steps to acquire strategic nuclear technology. In brief, the international community suspects that Iran desires to amass the uranium required for the capability to build nuclear weapons, while Iran insists it is not the case since it only wants to fuel civilian reactors.
The doubts presented herein have been Americanized, and the issue monopolized and fuelled by the sole fact that Iran has not been able to run its nuclear program transparently since the beginning; and here is the crossroad. It was not until recently that the controversial Iran Deal or P5+1 has become a clash for mediation and diplomatic negotiations.
What drove me to this brief opinion report was my realization of how the west continues to fail and realize the weight of importance these nuclear talks and deals have with our partners in the middle east. The deal will affect the whole world in the long run, however I will be concentrating on Turkey’s interest. The facts tell us that Iran has been actively developing its missile technology, carrying a variety of ranges which pose an existential threat to western allies. In this regard Turkey has not been mentioned a lot. This potential at hand for a military dimension to Tehran’s massive nuclear capabilities combined with this wider missile range has worried global actors, who have placed two and two together intensifying this growing potential military clout. One undoubtedly strong, to be sure.
This emergence in the Middle East, would tip the balances in the region upside-down, making Iran a leading power in the region, an unthinkable notion. This project development in the region will trigger a regional arms race that has already gone for a few laps or at least force regional actors to new defense cooperation, towards something I love to call strategic diplomacy that in this case will use non military alternatives. I present herein my opinions on US’ and Turkish strategic diplomacy approach with Iran.
It was surprising to me when I came to the realization that Turkish-Iranian collaboration has increased since the early 2000s, to some it was just not supposed to happen. During the AKP, strategic relations have greatly benefitted from the new foreign policy approach of Ankara in regional policy makings, drafted and led by the Premier Minister Davutoğlu himself. The Turkish Prime Minister works to capitalize on Tehran’s historical-geopolitical significance of this important region, and conceives of current relations with Farsi hostilities as a crucial factor for the achievements of Ankara’s ambitions in the region.
The most tangible interest, as a starter, of Turkey has inevitably been the strong commitment and cooperation with Tehran against the Kurdish separatist movement PKK, a branch of which is very active on Iranian territory and is considered a threat by Iranian authorities. This common goal was realized placed into effect in 2000. We see this cooperation overlapping other issues as well such as the control over the ever growing ISIS threat. Correlatively, the bilateral trade of 2000 has foremost affirmed the strong diplomatic ties between both governments. The trade agreement steadily increased from around 1.2 billion dollars in 2001 to nearly 20 billion dollar in 2013. The fact in the matter is that Iran has supplied to almost one fourth of Turkish national gas imports. In light of all the above, it is easy to see Iran’s importance for Turkey and why Turkey has taken the approach it has regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Despite the nuclear activities of Iran and its existing missile strike power, and despite all the red flags NATO and Donald Rumsfeld have waved, Turkish officials have declared many times that Iran does not present a threat to Turkish national security. This is when tensions between US and Turkey began, when Turkey decided to drop some of the ongoing military training and technology. Moreover, Turkey has continuously and vigorously advocated the right of Iran to develop peaceful civilian nuclear technology and seemingly does not suspect Tehran of uranium enrichment activities.
Furthermore, Turkey went as far as to attempt to play a mediator role during both its non-permanent membership in the UN-Security Council and bilateral and multilateral initiatives. To some, this is subject to wide criticism, however it is instructive to the study of diplomacy to grasp the strategy behind the actions taken by Turkey.
Turkish politicians and policy makers have opted towards a more pragmatic assessment of the matters influencing Turkish-Iran policy for over a decade. In this context, I gather that Turkey has now truly remained on the cooperative path with Iran despite the security implications and risks and even at the expenses of USA relations. Correlatively, there are theorists that dwell in IR realism that argue that the approach adopted by Turkey actually goes beyond pragmatism by incorporating ethical normative positions.
This normative position, is rhetorically incorporated by the Turkish President Erdogan during the Iranian nuclear dispute and has been marked by the normative critiques of Israel as the only state in the middle east with nuclear capabilities. The idea brought forth by Turkey is offensive to the P5+1 deal because it brings to stage a comparative legitimization of Iran going nuclear because it will contribute to a balance of power in the middle east. On the other hand, Turkish perception of the deal might also change as trade will undoubtedly increase.
One can summarize Turkey’s approach to the Nuclear dispute as determined by fixed and tangible interest encouraging continued cooperation with Iran and pragmatic standards based on that interest. Secondly, Erdogan basis his policy on a normative plea in the International arena based on Israel’s unjustified privileges in the eyes of the west. In addition despite Tehran significance in Ankara, Iran has been acting indifferently towards Turkish interest. Case in point, the post Arab Spring political revolts clearly demonstrate the contradictions in political actions between both states have been increasing since then.
Iran in collaboration with Moscow has actively supported the Assad Regime, while on the other hand Ankara has logistically and diplomatically supported high levels of opposition groups. This is very sensitive, in the case at hand interests of both Iran and Turkey are in diametric opposition, while Iran carries the intention of preserving the status quo in Syria, Turkey seeks to create a new one built to its own advantage, an anti theocratic one to be sure. Iran has always and traditionally been playing the Shia subject in Middle East affairs, effectively after the regime change in Iraq resulting from the US invasion. In turn, Syria has been considered by Iranian decision makers as the most significant additional component of Tehran’s regional policy. Turkey’s Sunni-tending AKP government, in contrast, has seen the Syrian civil war as an opportunity to change the established power structure in a way that would increase its influence within it.
After this brief concretization of interest, substantial difference between both states truly showed its contrast during the end of the Arab Spring. The case of the Syrian uprising, shows the split of interest which has noticeably changed. As mentioned above during the past decade Turkish officials waved away threats and superstitions of a nuclear or ballistic attack. Although this is true and it remains thus, I have reasons to believe that Ankara might be reconsidering this stance. Ankara’s possible participation in the NATO project Missile Shield Project shows security policy steps are being considered. Meanwhile, after the signing of the P5+1 agreement, I find it also simultaneously improbable that assertive security projects will unfold, because the fact remains that Turkish diplomats will avoid flagging Iran as a potential threat, since it might threaten to block trade deals.
The present stage is set so that Turkey will not be able to maintain its somewhat independent regional policies in neighbouring regions, while measuring the consequences of Iran’s nuclear and armament ambitions. Turkey’s limbo is close to an end while the West force Turkish officials and diplomats to cooperate in joint actions in the hope to promote a security framework and strict defense policy due to Turkish inabilities to balance competing Iranian interest. Security cooperations such as the one titled Missile Shield Project with the USA will without a doubt lead Turkish diplomats to a more harmonious regional policy. In other words, diplomats will consider predominantly USA perceptions in the regional decisions. The story might repeat itself, similarly like the cold war period when Ankara had little to no ability to manage its regional priorities independently. This might be really interesting
As one might have gathered by now, Turkey, has reasons to be both worried about and encouraged by the Iran deal. Syria must be restated as topping in the list for Turkey to be worried about the deal. The reasons are simple, al-Assad’s security threats and the kurdish belt in the north. The link to fear is the one between the PKK and the PYD, fearing a gain of territory that might ultimately spill over in Turkey. The idea is for Ankara to actively participate in the Syrian civil war and shape it. Supporters of the agreement highlight the opportunities Turkey has with Iran will strengthen their economic ties. Turkish minister Nihat Zeybekci stated that “…Ankara and Tehran have managed to cooperate in both trade and tourism, while remaining competitors for regional influence” and resuming that the 2015-16 fiscal year exceeded expectations from Iran.
Yet one should note it has already started to prove positive reflections in the Turkish business community. In addition, development projects are expected to help Turkey’s poorer eastern provinces. Moreover, peace process with the PKK will be able to enjoy economic and diplomatic alternatives rather than military force an element that soft power strategic diplomacy advocates for. Finally, long term benefits are available, Turkey always wanted to become the regional energy hub. Turkey eyes is potential interest in energy and acquiring better volumes of natural gas supply coming especially from South Pars. Now with sanctions gone both Turkey and Iran can focus on improving economic and diplomatic ties to further energy ends. Obama has conducted soft power strategic diplomacy in Iran, a diplomatic dance that surely Turkey will enjoy as bilateral ties with Iran can refocus on cultural and economic relationship and generate a needed trust.
A corrosive effect, the crumbling diplomatic relation between Turkey and USA. Relationship Span, common interest however increasingly uncooperative.
To be sure, U.S and Turkey relations date back to many decades. The final push was made when Turkey entered NATO in 1952. Turkey is an important and unique NATO outpost. However, although Turkey and the US carry common interest, they do not share the same identity. Case in point in 2003, when the AKP government decided to change US relation approaches by banning the right of passage for US military troops. The idea of Turkey as a stand alone state is increasingly true, because it seems to me that Turkey only actively cooperates with Washington when it serves their interest. Another example is when Ankara went against the US in 2010 at the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran to control Tehran’s nuclear power as mentioned above. Furthermore, Turkey broke NATO purchasing commitments, first on the basis that it did not believe on Iran’s existential threat, when it bought defense systems from China a few months later.
Turkey is ever more distant from the US, otherwise the fight against ISIS would have been easier, as well as bringing Iraq back to stability, and perchance even overthrowing Assad, an idea of which I am most opposed to. European allies are important however Turkey is the only NATO ally that borders both Iraq and Syria. Turkey only demonstrates uncooperative actions and absence from war efforts. Actually Israel has been cooperating much more in certain respect as a non NATO signatory than Turkey who has been since the 50s.
Ankara has decided that it cannot operate with high degree of US leadership. Although Turkey might be enjoying the P5+1 deal more than anyone else, the US might both lose an ally and the economic leash it once had around Iran through strict effective sanctions. In regards to the Iran deal Turkey stands as an imperfect however unique regional ally. There is no common identity which can explain the close end of positive diplomatic relations. Some may call Turkey an opportunist or a rogue state however, those critics may come from those who do not grasp IR realism.
America’s ground loss in the Iran deal
It seems to me contradictory, while the Obama administration from a perspective pitched a strategy through diplomatic negotiations and relations with Iran while tempting Turkey to lead an offensive facade with Iran which will for starters dismantle their relations with Iran. The case at hand exemplifies the difficulties faced by the new Turkish foreign policy strategies. One can clearly see the ethnical-normative conceptualizations with a very pro-active regional orientation. I restate that the basis of US Iran policies resides, similarly with the Ankara’s, within the realm of soft-power diplomacy, and the limits of this strategy is found in well placed foreign initiatives which fizzle on realities. The realities are simple, The Iran deal does not work for the West and we can see the demerits of this deal when studying the shortcomings of the deal itself.
Although a possible success for Russia, India, China, Turkey and even the EU, the P5+1 has fallen really short from what the US had initially looked to achieve. The West wanted for Iran to dismantle its entire nuclear program, agree to inspections, and cancel its ballistic projects and its support towards Hamas and Hezbollah. At first sight, I believe it is very unlikely that the West got the best deal possible, and we should not compare or use Turkey’s soft power endeavours as an example either, this is a common mistake. Even Donald Trump humors the situation by stating that he could have made the deal actually work.
As I am sure others have already alleged, Obama really really wanted this deal signed and badly. Furthermore, it is instructive to note that it is rare for one side, quasi impossible for both parties to get all it could virtually get off a deal. In most cases during my experiences in international negotiations, preferences do not regularly meet at a set single point, but rather expect overlaps. Losses are to be expected but only compensated by another gain from another hand. Usually the margin of loss from a negotiation is a few drops from the goal. However, could the US have gotten more from the deal? My opinion is that the margin of loss is large.
One should notice that short term thinking on containing nuclear activities in Iran is a political suicide. Secondly, US’ and the lack of foresight on how a sudden release of sanctions would work after great investments have poured considerably in Iran. Finally how the lack of provisions against Iran’s aggression in the region are subject to much concern about the results of this deal idea. Indeed, there is a considerable rush for businesses to make trade deals with Iran. This all makes sense since the P5+1 opens up the biggest hydrocarbon prizes in the world as well as other domestic industries. Note that Iran has the second largest reserve of natural gas and fourth on oil. Iran has a growing petrochemical industry that can become a major exporter to the world. The crucial role of business in Iran today demonstrates how unsurprising it is for European leaders from both politics and business are aiming to further extend their interest in Iran.
A possibility for further discussion would be to visit the openings of using Iran as an alternative to Russian energy, which the EU has fallen to dependency from. Indeed, the enthusiasm is noted in the EU, and also demonstrates how lifting EU sanctions makes much more sense and effective than US sanctions. Inturn, many US sanctions are still in place and might remain after the deal is fully implemented. When talking business, the EU, China, Russia, Turkey and possibly India will get a good bargain from sanction relation but not the West.
Investments have already begun, and Iran’s economy will grow when sanctions will be taken fully away. There is an interesting concept in economics called the ‘production possibilities frontier’. Iran’s growing economy will not only allow their government to invest in social projects but also towards the military. The west have little to no control on how Iran will spend their deal money. Critics say that money can be spend on the growth and development of Hezbollah, and towards the general Iranian offensive plan and this is a concerning subject to its neighbors. The GCC have supported the deal publicly, however I am sure that they have reasons to be concerned too. Iran has an aggressive offensive history towards Bahrain, Eastern Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Sunni Shia tensions are growing fast. Iran is and sees itself as the center of of the Shia, thus shows accountability for those Shia abroad. While on the other hand the GCC sees itself as the leader of the Sunni.
On a deal such as this one, trust and soft power diplomatic strategies take center stage over military actions, although pragmatic approaches are being used, the problem arises because the Sunni and the Shia have intense discomfort and lack of trust which dismantles the moral energy for soft power activity. Leaders from Barhaim, for example, have expressed that this deal is not compatible with their policies and nothing worse could have been done to make Iran ever more powerful. In turn, Barhaim is not a soft power advocate. Weapons are coming into GCC countries like candy. The nuclearization of the gulf is viable explanation to the increase of weapons in GCC countries. Some would even argue that the development of nuclear weapons by other GCC countries should be taken into consideration. US diplomatic meetings at Camp David and in the GCC might assuage some concerns. However in the long run a heavy burden hails from the work needed to maintain US and EU relations with the GCC and other Sunni states, now more than ever this is important while Iran becomes more economically powerful.
The real fatal mistake is the short term thinking nature of the deal. The termination day is on October 18th 2025 after which provisions of this UN resolution and EU Council Decisions and Regulations related to the deal will be obsolete and void. The deal carries clauses that restricts uranium and plutonium production for the next 15 years. This is a short time, which demonstrates the short vision, at the end it is very unlikely that Sunni and Shia relations will be resolved by then, and on the other hand it is quasi impossible to surely know if the hardliners in Iran will have more or less clout.
In 2023 the IAEA will conduct an investigation whether the nuclear material in Iran has indeed remained in peaceful purposes. Correlatively, 2023 is a checkpoint that will increase the number of sanction relief if Iran has complied to its obligations. Personally I highly doubt that sanctions will be liftable again after such a relief. By this time many forms of bilateral relations will be significant to the cost of snap back provisions. In doing so, I place an importance resemblance between the snap back in Iran to the cake walk in the Iraq War.
The deal at hand carries a natural assumption that Iran is increasingly peaceful and prosperous by the side of western policy and heading. I am very skeptical on the subject. In other words I am worried for the region, and worried on what Iranian leadership can do with this deal, and the sets of precedence it contains could mean for our diplomatic soft power future. Robert Jervis professor of political science at Columbia University recently published a thesis titled “the Iran Deal” on Border Crossing academic journal about this subject. The notion that Iran cannot be trusted is very common through his thesis and he specifically warns the international arena from the possibility of a sneak out attempt.
The idea behind a sneak out is one that uses secret programs to develop nuclear weapons without the US noticing. The primary source of this issue is Iran’s exceptional history in diplomatic deception. If this is truly happening, one can easy speculate how easily the financement of this program can unfold after the relief of fiscal sanctions. Although surveillance is a strong component of the P5+1 deal, the risk of falling short form place and time are high, in fact the margins of failing to find a secret program is now harder than it would have been without the agreement. Critics of the agreement have repeatedly argued that the inspection and surveillance are not effective and extensive enough.
Having a skeptical view of Iran can benefit the west. As during the cold war we are facing with a question what are we to do if Iran cheats the agreement. It is a question that has been downplayed and overlooked while we rest much of our attention to the snap back provisions and fiscal implications of the P5+1. We should question and be worried about the counter actions that the US might take if a violation were to occur. Lifting sanctions again in order to correct Iran’s action will be almost impossible, as we would have increased trade deals by then between Turkey EU and Iran. Another option would be to strictly increase economic pressure, the idea behind this strategy would not be to redress Iran but to however lead a regime overthrow.
We can measure the success of an economic corrosion if an independent middle class in Iran that rejects theocracy. This possibility must have been noticed by Iran’s supreme leader before signing the deal. Iran’s confidence is similar to the example of China’s in which great economic growth has not truly pushed a support for political liberty. Although a good strategy I fail to find a precedence that supports its viability because the trade and geopolitical case of China makes both countries hard to compare. A military offense should be the last resort.