Events

Turkey's Energy Politics: Neither East or West

September 01, 2009 // 2:00pm3:30pm

Dr Gulnur Aybet, Southeast Europe Policy Scholar, presented a model of Turkish foreign policy based on three separate spheres. The spheres include a value based sphere on shared values of the Transatlantic security community; an identity based regional security community; and a sense of 'realism' to maximize its own power and interest.

Dr. Aybet went on to explain that in the first sphere there are common values, norms and principles centring on a common 'way of life' which the security community strives to preserve. Turkey's blancing act in relation to the United States and Europe has been embedded in the security community since the early 1950's. However, in the post Cold War era, Aybet explained, Turkey has been struggling to find its fit, especially since the fallout over the invasion of Iraq where Turkish foreign policy
has been caught between European and American interests in the wider Middle East. This has repercussions not only on where Turkey is likely to be placed in the transatlantic relationship but also on how internal developments in Turkey may shape the nature of Turkish foreign policy traditionally embedded in the this security framework.

Despite the myriad changes in the international landscape since 1945, the 1990s saw a remarkable continuity in preserving and promoting the post war system. This was achieved through an ownership of international norms which legitimized military intervention, beyond the Cold War prism of geostrategic logic or resources. These developments undoubtedly affected Turkey's position within the transatlantic security community. In the early 1990s, Turkey participated in various missions, such as SFOR in Bosnia, which underlined the growing collective security profile of the security community to which it belonged. Nevertheless, the growing divergence between Europe and the U.S. combined with the regional complications regarding the implementation of the new collective security mission, undermined Turkey's traditional Cold War role within the security community.

Since the AK Party (Justice and Development Party) came to power in 2002, Turkey's internal transformation process, has contributed to shifts in its foreign policy. Sometimes these foreign policy transformations have been interpreted by external observers as attempts to step away from Turkey's traditional membership in a 'value' based transatlantic security community to an 'identity' based regional security community, loosely built on ties with the Islamic and Turkic worlds. This constitues the second sphere of Turkish foreign policy. Thus, adherents of this view regard Ankara's developing relations with Russia, and to some extent Iran, as a shift from one security community to another.

For example, the agreement with Azerbaijan to build a gas pipeline from the eastern Turkish town of Igdir to the autonomous Azeri exclave of Nakhichevan, can be seen as an attempt to smooth Azeri concerns regarding the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.

Conversely, Dr Aybet posits that Turkey's energy policies are not driven by its membership in either security community, but are anchored in pure realism. This constitutes the third sphere of Turkish foreign policy. Through this lens, Dr Aybet explained the intesity of Russian-Turkish trade relations.

Turkey views Russia as a very reliable energy supplier, a perception which is reinforced by Russian business intersts in the country. Not only is Russia the single bidder for Turkey's first nuclear power station, Moscow is Turkey's most lucrative trading partner, with bilateral trade volume exceeding $30 billion per year. Russia's interest in obtaining gas distribution rights in Turkey and contracts for building refineries, including the Liquified Natural Gas station in the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, became a reality during Russian President Vladimir Putin's August 2009 visit to Ankara. The agreement was one of many meant to deepen energy cooperation between Russia and Turkey.

However, Dr Aybet pointed out that perhaps the most significant of the deals signed between Russia and Turkey in August was the South Stream project. The initiative, which would link Russian gas through a pipeline through the Black Sea into Europe, was originally planned by Russian officials as an alternative to Nabucco, designed to transport Caspian gas through Turkey to Europe, reducing Europe's dependency on Russian gas and nuetralizing Moscow's transit control of Central Asian and Caspian gas. By signing the Turkish deal, Russia has retained its monopoly as the offshore section of South Stream will traverse the Turkish Exlusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Black Sea, thus bypassing Ukraine, an issue that Moscow has long sought to address.

Dr Aybet argued that the South Stream is pivotal in illustrating Moscow and Ankara's common interests – delivering supplies to consumers at the lowest transit cost possible and using its geostrategic position to become a major energy hub, respectively. The existence of these complementary objectives, in Dr Aybet's view, was bound to result in cooperation. However, as Dr Aybet indicated, these common aims do not preclude the existence of tensions between the two parties.

At the moment Gazprom controls all Russian and Central Asian gas exports because the Soviet-built pipeline network, although in need of critical modernization, is the only outlet for the Central Asian suppliers. Hence, Russia purchases Central Asian gas and then sells its own and Central Asian gas to Europe at higher prices. However, to be able to export a large portion of Russian gas to Europe, Moscow is dependent on a continued and reliable flow of subsidized gas from Central Asia. If Central Asian countries continue to diversify exports, Russia may find it hard to meet existing European commitments. Despite Moscow and Tehran's objections to the Trans-Caspian pipeline, Central Asian dependence on Russian pipelines is likely to continue for a while.

What happens with Central Asian gas directly affects the future supply of Nabucco. The Nabucco agreement was originally envisaged to bring a supply of Caspian gas to European markets by 2014. The project aims to build a pipeline which will connect the existing Baku Tbilisi Erzurum (BTE) pipeline via Turkey into Europe. However, Nabucco may not reach the 2014 delivery deadline due to doubts that Azerbaijan will be able to supply sufficient gas to fill the pipeline to full capacity coupled with uncertainty regarding additional future suppliers, including Turkmenistan, Iraq and perhaps Iran, much to the consternation of the U.S.

Although Turkey does not view Iran as a reliable energy supplier, Ankara receives a portion of its gas supply from Iran under a 1996 deal. Nevertheless in 2007, the AKP government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Iran, which envisages linking Iranian gas to the building of two pipelines, one which will eventually transfer Turkmen gas via Iran and Turkey to Europe and another connecting the South Pars gas field directly to Turkey. The deal is important for Iran because of the chance to develop the gas rich South Pars field.

However, it is important to note that the Iranian deals are reflective of Turkey's overall interest to diversify its sources of energy rather than any Islamist empathy. Therefore, Turkey's policy of keeping all options open with regard to the realpolitik of energy is not linked to identity politics – or a security community based on identities, although the AK party leadership have at times engaged in populist rhetoric that falls within identity politics. Thus, any energy deal with Iran has to be thought of in purely realist terms.

Another manifestation of Ankara's efforts to maximize its interests is the recent deal between Turkey and Qatar which seeks to establish a joint energy commission and focuses on the delivery of Qatari liquefied gas to Turkey.

Dr Aybet posits that both South Stream and Nabucco have an achilles heel: While South Stream might face cost-overruns and financing shortfalls, Nabucco might not be able to garner a sufficient number of suppliers.

However, Turkey views Nabucco as the main East-West corridor and the Russian deals as solidifying its role in the North-South corridor, therefore, as Turkish authorities have pointed out, they do not view the two projects as competing options.

Perhaps the policy of keeping all options open is also evident in Ankara's refusal to become a partner in South Stream, although Turkish officials have allowed the use of the Turkish EEZ in this project. The development of the complementary or competing projects in the midst of these numerous complicated relationships between transit countries, suppliers and consumers remains to be seen.

Turkey's recently concluded accords with Armenia for the normalisation of bilateral relations directly affects the realpolitik of regional energy choices and the security community of identity politics, hence creating a direct cross between the second and third spheres of Turkish foreign policy. Although the Nagorno Karabakh conflict is unlikely to be resolved soon and this may negatively impact Turkish-Azeri relations, Russian influence might help since Russia is also interested in regional stability.

Turkey's main objective in keeping all its energy options open, is to become a major transit hub and become a re-seller to other markets. While this approach remains possible now due to the uncertainty of suppliers and a dearth of financial backing for many of the tentative projects, Turkey may have to exercise a strategy of choice in its energy policy as options narrow. Selective bargaining will require Turkish policy makers to adopt a far more skillful approach than assenting to every possible deal.

Dr Aybet suggested that Turkey can follow a much more definitive strategy of choice in its energy policies only if it is forced to balance the three spheres of its foreign policy:
The value-based transatlantic security community; the identity-based regional security community and the realpolitik of energy and trade.

Dr Aybet concluded that two factors, the furthering of internal democratization processes and the existence of a coherent transatlantic relationship, will affect the manner in which Turkey balances its foreign policy among these three spheres.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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