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The "Global Swing States" thesis and the Future of the Black Sea Regional Order
March 25, 2013 19:21PM
By George Niculescu,
The report outlines a number of key features recommending the four "global swing states" for becoming "promising partners" for the United States: they all possess large and vibrant economies; they occupy a central regional position or stand at the hinge of multiple regions; they are standing democracies who could potentially support the current global order defined by liberal values and norms; they are increasingly influential at regional and global level, but do not want to scrap the international order altogether, though they desire to adapt it to their changing international status.
The direct link of this report to the future of the Black Sea (BS) regional order is obviously Turkey. The inclusion of Turkey into the quartet of the "global swing states" purports to supersede the widely used “Neo-Ottoman” approach towards the analysis of Turkey’s foreign policy.
However, it might come as a surprise for some that, unlike the other three "global swing states", Turkey is a member of NATO and already a key US ally just like most European countries, or like Japan, South Korea, Australia and Israel.
However, the recent history of Turkish-American relations has brought challenges, in particular since 2003 when the Turkish Parliament rejected access to Turkish territory for US troops during the war in Iraq. Turkish-Israeli relations have also soured. Moreover, in the aftermath of Romanian and Bulgarian accession to NATO (both of them Black Sea Littoral states), access of allied naval forces to the Black Sea and the role of non-Littoral states in regional cooperation have been subjects for contention between the US and Turkey.
In spite of the past major policy splits between Ankara and Washington, in the view of the two authors, Turkey would be best positioned for acquiring the status of "global swing state" because of: its geographic position at the borders of many volatile countries in the Middle East, as well as of the Balkans and the Caucasus; shared maritime borders with Russia and Ukraine in the Black Sea; the co-existence of electoral democracy and a majority Muslim population; Ankara's aspirations for regional supremacy in the Middle East, and the Turkey’s tough stance against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
In this context, it remains to be seen whether or not the "global swing states" concept is going to be integrated with the Obama 2 Administration's foreign policy. Frankly speaking, from the perspective of the US interest to maintain the regional order in the BS while the US pivot is moving towards Asia, the "global swing states" concept might fit extremely well with the currently changing dynamics of the US regional policy in the BS.
If that were indeed to be the case, what practical implications could we expect ?
1. Over the last twenty tears, Turkey invested substantial resources into reshaping the regional order in the BS: the founding and development of the organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), the establishment of the on-call naval force BLACKSEAFOR, and the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform are just few examples of the Turkish efforts in this regard. The US could indeed capitalize on those efforts in an area where Turkey has already taken new responsibilities. However, that would mean a radical change of the recent American regional policy towards the BS, to one where "Turkey was no longer the focal point of the Western geopolitical outlook in the BS, while Romania and Bulgaria have been using their EU and NATO memberships to bolster stronger regional roles for themselves." For such a radical change to work in practice, Turkey and the US should quietly harmonize their regional policies, while avoiding to create the impression to other major regional powers, i.e. Russia, as well as to major neighbors, i.e. Iran, that Turkey is acting like a mere Western vector in the BS regional geopolitical games. At the end of the day, harmonizing US and Turkish regional policies in the BS makes a lot of sense in the context of Washington's blessing to Ankara's more prominent regional role in the Middle East by means of leading the anti-al Assad coalition in Syria.
2. The protracted conflicts in the South Caucasus (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh) and in Transnistria have been plaguing stability, security and regional cooperation in the BS since the end of the early 1990's. The United States has put a lot of effort into working towards the peaceful resolution of those conflicts at various levels (political, diplomatic, economic, civil society, etc.) which has led to little, if any, practical progress. On the other hand, Turkey has thus far only marginally involved itself in conflict resolution in this area, partially to protect its strategic partnership with Russia from potential contentious issues, partially because Turkish involvement was not welcome by all, or even bluntly rejected by some, local or other international actors.
Applying the "global swing states" concept to the BS regional order might actually lead to a bolder Turkish role in the peaceful resolution of those protracted conflicts, in particular if Europe was not interested, willing, or able to cover for the prospective decreasing role and involvement of the US. Such an evolution would address, on the one hand, Turkish aspirations for bolder roles and representation in international organizations, and, on the other hand, would mitigate the fears of some of the US regional partners, most notably Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Azerbaijan, that they were left by the US at the discretion of the Russian conflict resolution schemes. A bolder Turkish role in conflict management and resolution in the BS would also correspond to what Stratfor, the US think tank, is envisaging as the new US strategy aiming at "stepping back as global policeman" while "allowing the burden [of managing the never ending conflicts] to shift to powers that have direct interests in the area". Given that the US has been providing leadership from behind the scenes in recent conflicts in Libya, Syria and Mali, the protracted conflicts in the BS might follow in the same footprint thanks to a renewed Turkish-American partnership in the region.
3. While conflict scenarios have been dominant above, the most prominent outcome of the US-Turkey partnership under the "global swing states" concept might yet be the ability to shape evolving prospects of economic integration in the BS region. The US could take advantage of Turkey's unique position in this regard: on the one hand, Ankara is locked in a customs union with the European Union, although it's prospects to become a full fledged member anytime soon look rather slim. On the other hand, over the last two decades Turkey has developed a vibrant economic and trade relationship with Russia. Bilateral trade relations have multiplied by seven since 2001, while Russia is currently Turkey's second largest trade partner. The joint trade volume was 30 billion dollars in 2011, with a prospect for increasing up to 35 billion dollars in 2012. In this context, Ankara has had no better policy choice than being a core promoter of regional economic integration in the BS, something which it has struggled to achieve thus far.
Ankara would likewise be a key element in any Western strategy intending to downplay the Russian-led Eurasian Union, which has been deemed by the West as a purely geopolitical project aiming to re-build a Soviet-style, new institutional outfit. That could be the case since, as long as it is locked in the current economic and trade situation, Ankara is bound to work against the Eurasian Union economic integration for fear of remaining isolated from its regional economic and trade partners. Consequently, by establishing a partnership with Ankara covering the trade and financial orders in the BS, Washington could get significant leverage on the evolution of both the European and the Eurasian integration processes in the BS, against a minimum political, economic and financial cost.
In conclusion, Turkey might become the "global swing state" interested, willing, and able to sustain the future regional order in the BS. From this perspective, it will be interesting to see whether and how the "global swings states" concept would be enacted in the BS, and to follow the European reaction, including that of the Black Sea Littoral members of the EU (Bulgaria and Romania) to the changes of the regional order brought up by it. However, one could hardly expect that everything will go smoothly. Regarding the maritime order in the Black Sea, Turkey and the US may need to negotiate on key issues such as the transit of the US Navy ships through the Black Sea straits. The differences of perception regarding what justice means in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the continued sour relations between Turkey and Israel may also affect the renewed Turkish-American partnership. Likewise, the Turkish-Iranian "wary partnership under strain" might also affect the BS order, in particular in the South Caucasus.
But at the end of the day, Turkey might only prove that it is a pivot of the BS regional cooperation, security and stability through assuming a leadership role and by setting up balanced relations with Russia, Europe and America. The "global swing states" concept could forge an enduring partnership between Turkey and America for maintaining the regional order in the Black Sea region. Whither Turkey's relations with Russia and Europe in that same geopolitical area?
See Terterov, Kreutz, Niculescu – “The Changing Dynamics of the Wider Black Sea in Regional Security and External Relations” from http://gpf-europe.com/upload/iblock/283/wider_black_sea_security_report_final_banner.pdf
G. Friedman, -"Avoiding the Wars that Never End" from http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/avoiding-wars-never-end
Data from an article quoting prime-minister Erdogan published on: http://english.sabah.com.tr/economy/2012/12/04/russia-and-turkey-uphold-strategic-partnership
See S. Kardas - "The Global Swing States and the International Order: A Turkish View" on http://www.gmfus.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files_mf/1356111319Kardas_GlobalSwingStates_Dec12.pdf
See St. Flanagan- "The Turkey-Russia-Iran Nexus- The Eurasian Power Dynamics" from https://csis.org/publication/twq-turkey-russia-iran-nexus-eurasian-power-dynamics-winter-2013