by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 6, Shawwal, 1437)
Britons voted to leave the European Union. Coupled with Turkey’s failed coup, it has changed the global situation radically. There will now be new political realignments in the region.
Two unrelated events, separated by three weeks have had a profound impact on global politics. Britons’ voting to leave the European Union (EU), dubbed Brexit, and the failed coup attempt in Turkey, have altered the global political landscape dramatically. The Brexit vote will not only lead to unraveling of the European Union but also to the diminution of Britain as a major global player. What was pompously called the “United Kingdom” (UK) is neither united nor will it retain its present geographical shape, small as it is. Scotland, Northern Ireland and perhaps Wales will go their separate ways leaving a rump of England. It will become another Netherlands or Belgium in size and perhaps clout. Notwithstanding the monarchy doting subjects in such far-flung places as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, her Majesty will leave far fewer subjects for Prince Charles to contend with at home if he were ever to become king!
These developments have already handed Germany the leadership of Europe, the prevention of which was a primary objective of the other Europeans — primarily Britain and France — who had ganged up and waged two world wars, all aided and abetted by the US. The ghost of Adolph Hitler must be toasting in his grave. Brexit has also dealt a blow to US influence in Europe that had used Britain as a Trojan horse. The other winner of the Brexit vote is Russia. Not surprisingly, one could hear vodka bottles being popped up in the Kremlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, now the undisputed leader of Europe, has already announced that Russia should not be isolated (this was the American plan) and that Europe needs to engage Moscow.
The other development — the failed coup attempt in Turkey — is equally significant. Quite aside from its internal ramifications and what direction Turkish politics may take at home, the failed coup attempt has opened new possibilities in the region. One is improvement in relations between Ankara and Moscow. This will now receive a boost. Even before the coup, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had formally apologized to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. This did not sit well with Washington. Turkey is a NATO member and considered a strategic US ally but there are strong suspicions that the coup plotters had some support from Washington. At the very least, the continued harboring of Fethullah Gulen in the US will further sour relations between the two countries. This is a situation that Russia will definitely find attractive.
Similarly, the Islamic Republic of Iran took a bold and forthright stand against the coup even before the outcome was known. Islamic Iran has itself paid a heavy price for coups. It opposes all such moves as a matter of principle. True, there are differences between Tehran and Ankara over how the situation in Syria should be handled but the Islamic Republic has not allowed this to cloud its judgment of the coup. Nor did it indulge in finger pointing or name calling. Instead, it stood with the elected government of Turkey. Erdogan cannot ignore this. He must remember who stood with him at the most critical juncture and who sat on the fence (the Saudi regime, for instance) until the situation became clear.
Even before these momentous developments, there were unmistakable signs of realignment in the region. A new, informal bloc was emerging comprising Russia, China, Iran and the Central Asian Republics. If Turkey becomes part of this grouping, it will have even greater impact.
Following the failed coup and improvement in relations between Russia and Turkey, there is an increased possibility that Ankara’s role in trying to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Asad would diminish. Even if there is no change at the strategic level, physical limitations will force Turkey to make changes. Its hands are already full at home. Sorting out the mess in the military will consume much of the government’s time. While the coup may have failed, it would be wrong to assume that the troubles for Erdogan or his ruling AKP party have come to an end
Two other points are relevant. Firstly, there are reports that the Saudis also had a hand in the coup. Saudi Foreign Minister ‘Adel al-Jubeir’s name has surfaced as a backer of the coup. At the very least, the Saudi regime sat on its hands until the coup was completely crushed. It took Saudi king Salman two days to call Erdogan. Could it have escaped notice in his inner circle?
Second, what direction would Turkey’s relations with the Zionist regime take now? Before the coup, Erdogan had made up with the Zionists, even with an obnoxious character like Benjamin Netanyahu. Will Erdogan now revise his calculations given that his nemesis, Fethullah Gulen, who is being harbored by the US, has close Zionist connections? Only time will tell how Erdogan adjusts his policies but one thing is certain, following these two events — Brexit and the failed coup in Turkey — the global landscape has altered dramatically.