Technocracy and The Geopolitical Overview to Help Understand Turkey’s Real Place in the World.
Geopolitics is a world little used today because it was created in Germany before WWI and guided the thinking and actions of the nation through WWII and the Third Reich. It was so unacceptable that when, in the 1970s, I wanted to teach a course with that name the university refused. They allowed me to teach a course with the politically safe title of Political Geography.
It is the only way to understand global political dynamics. As I explained to the students, you can study history and geography as separate subjects and learn something, but to fully grasp what is happening you must combine them. My dictum was that geography is the stage and history the play enacted on that stage. Generally, because of the stigma of geopolitics and the increasing detachment and retreat of politics from the real world, accompanied by a retreat into the political swamps we witnessed loss of control right down to the individual. Unfortunately, others realized its value and exploited it, again to the detriment of the individual. Chief among these were the new nation-states of the post-war economy, the multinationals. They operate independent of the political nation-states attaching and centering themselves in places who effectively allow them to operate untrammeled. A measure of this was seen in the appointment by Trump of Rex Tillerson, former head of Exxon, as Secretary of State. It didn’t work because he had less freedom and power on a global scale than he did as CEO of Exxon.
A few years ago, I witnessed this independent thinking between the real world and corporate entities and application of geopolitics. I participated in a fascinating event organized by the major energy companies in the world in Banff Alberta. On the first day we were divided up into groups and given an assignment. This involved a briefing on the various regions of the world, their known and estimated energy reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas, as well as the political and geopolitical situation. Each group was given money, I don’t recall the amount, but it was in the billions. The reason I don’t recall is because we were also told if more money was needed it was readily available.
Each group spent the next day determining, which place had the best geologic and political situation for our investment. No region of the world was excluded, with the clear implication that we could do whatever we planned independent of the nation-state and its leaders. It was a stark exposure to the thinking of technocrats and the practice of technocracy.
The current situation in Turkey provides an excellent example of how these technocracies view events. Notice that with only mild threats there was a dramatic drop in the Lira, but the stock market is also declining. However, this is only part of the story because the Rand and Yuan are declining as well. The question is why does Recep Erdogan, the current President of Turkey think he is so powerful? Why is he challenging President Trump in such an outspoken way? The immediate answer is that it is a response to the sanctions Trump imposed to pressure for the release of the imprisoned Pastor Andrew Brunson. As always, there is a broader context to the story that is necessary to understand the dynamics of what is happening .
What is happening in Turkey today is a very good example of understanding through geopolitics that technocracies understand and employ. In the past and recent past Turkey had geostrategic importance, but that is no longer the case.
Turkey occupies the geologic feature known as the Anatolia Peninsula. Most people think of Europe as a homogenous region because of political alliances, and it is incorrectly designated a continent. In geologic fact, it is a peninsula attached to the Asian landmass made up of seven smaller peninsulas (Figure 1)
It is a unique peninsula, but also is a pivotal point in so many ways. Geologically it sits on a tectonic plate between Europe, Asia and Africa (Figure 2). This makes it one of the most tectonically active regions in the world with almost constant earthquakes, many of devastating and destructive intensity.
It is the point at which the three major races of humanity meet; the Negroids, the Mongoloids, and the Caucasians. It is at the juncture of the dominant religious groups, namely the Christians and the Muslims. The change of name to Istanbul from Constantinople was symbolic of that juxtaposition. The current battle for power within Turkey is a function of this religious battle as President Erdogan, a Muslim, is converting the country from a balanced philosophy set up by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, to Muslim dominance. Though not a particularly good source, Wikipedia provides a useful summary of Ataturk’s goal.
His government carried out a policy of Turkicisation trying to create a homogeneous and unified nation.
This was a challenging objective given the history of conflict between the groups. After World War I boundaries throughout this part of the world were redefined and one group, the Kurds, was deliberately divided between Turkey Syria, Iraq and Iran. They were the ‘Asian hordes’ feared for their constant invasion of surrounding lands. This was an application, by Winston Churchill of the British policy of divide and conquer. Ever since the Kurds have sought their own country under the name of Kurdistan (Figure 3).
All of these situations remained but were displaced by the region being the boundary between the superpower confrontation of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West. Of course, the West was completely dominated by the US, so their policies dictated what occurred. To study the geopolitics, we need to go back to 1904 and the influential ideas of Sir Halford Mackinder. He saw the weakening of sea power that was the mainstay of the British Empire and anticipated the growth of land power. He identified a region he called the Heartland (Figure 4)
Mackinder defined the Heartland as follows.
He pointed out that the Heartland was in the most advantageous geopolitical location. Aware of the relative nature of the conception “central location,” Mackinder pointed out that in the context of the global geopolitical processes, the Eurasian continent is found in the center of the world, with the Heartland occupying the center of the Eurasian continent. His doctrine suggested that the geopolitical subject (actor) that dominated the Heartland would possess the necessary geopolitical and economic potential to ultimately control the World Island and the planet.
The Heartland Theory was resurrected during the Cold War because the Soviet Union occupied the entire region. An American political scientist, Nicholas Spykman pointed out in 1942 that you could also control the Heartland by controlling the surrounding area he called the Rimland. It is the medieval concept of the siege around a castle. What is interesting is the Soviet Union, and now Russia, are the largest countries by far, yet are effectively landlocked. Spykman’s concept fit the challenge facing the west as they sought to contain communism. It was done with a series of Treaty Organizations.
NATO was formed in 1949 shortly after WWII and triggered by Winston Churchill’s famous 1946 speech about an Iron Curtain. In the speech he noted,
Last time I saw it all coming and I cried aloud to my own fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention.
He was referring to his comments about Hitler and Germany. Fortunately, this time they did listen. NATO began as 12 nations but expanded to the current 29 European and North American nations. It contained communism in the west, but it did not do so the Middle East or in Southeast Asia as the Korean war showed.
John Foster Dulles was the person who expanded the idea and created the reality of Spykman’s containment with a Rimland. Dulles was appointed Secretary of State under President Eisenhower in 1953. During his tenure, he implemented three collective security pacts. In 1954 he created the South-East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) that linked the US and 10 Asia/Pacific states (Figure 8). This linked with his earlier involvement in the strengthening of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) (Figure 5 and 6) and creation of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). The latter originally called the Baghdad Pact or the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO), had the objective of containment. The following maps show the countries included and the regions covered by each Organization.
Figure 6 shows the European nations involved in NATO opposing the Iron Curtain and the Red Countries that, with the Soviet Union, formed the Warsaw Pact.
Figure 8 (modified)
The combined map (Figure 9) is misleading because it shows Turkey as only part of CENTO. This ignores the strategic importance of Turkey during the Cold War. It was the only country besides Britain and the US to be a member of two Organizations.
A list of the strategic factors for Turkey
- It shared a common border with the Soviet Union, albeit across the Black Sea, \
- It shared the Black Sea with the Soviet Union.
- It controlled both sides of the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits that connected the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.
- These Straits are the boundary between Europe and Asia.
- On the Soviet side of the Black Sea were the major grain production areas of what is now Ukraine.
- This region was also the primary center for the Soviet Space and missile program.
The geopolitical importance of Turkey was underscored in the conflict between two NATO members, Turkey and Greece over Cyprus. This was eventually resolved by Cyprus becoming a separate nation with UN membership.
As early as 1967 authors, like A. E. P. Duffy who wrote ”The Present Viability of NATO, SEATO, and CENTO” were considering the collapse of the strategy. All this changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991. Other factors include the collapse of SEATO with the Vietnam armed conflict. CENTO dissolved in 1979 with a commitment of the US to regional security.
Today, Turkey has lost most of its Cold War geostrategic advantage. It is important to the region, as it was throughout history, but it is of limited importance to the US. The attempted coup to displace Recep Erdogan played into his hands because it allowed him to crack down on Kurds and Christians. On the other hand, this inflames the opposition, and the combination of political instability and the increasingly Muslim trend threatens the full membership he seeks within Europe. This tenuous situation was reflected in the recent dramatic drop of the national currency and stocks after Trump imposed a few sanctions.
Turkey is misjudging its power relative to the US. Its geostrategic position is not as it was, so Erdogan is in no position to challenge Trump’s request for the release of Pastor Brunson. The best thing he can do is release Brunson and any other US citizen. Everything else is just bluster. Trump deals with the human factors of Turkey’s behavior, but the technocratic understanding is related to the changing geopolitical dynamics. The geography hasn’t changed but the juxtaposition of the nations is completely different, and the technocrats will act independently. Tillerson would have taken different positions as Exxon CEO than he was able to as secretary of state.