Alliance between US and Turkey is collapsing leading to a potentially dangerous situation that experts fear will have a huge regional impact.
Turkey’s economy is fragile yet Erdoğan decided to appoint his son-in-law (a raw hand) Berat Albayrak as treasury and finance minister. Trump has pressed the nerve where it hurts by hitting Turkish exports by increasing to 50pc in tariffs on import of Turkish steel, on aluminum it is upped by 20pc. Turkey stands as the eighth largest world steel producer. In 2017, exports by Turkey to US amounted to $20.6 billion as per official data.
The hostility built up with Turkey detaining Andrew Brunson,an American pastor who has been in jail since 21 months in the crackdown resulting from a coup in Turkey that ended in failure. This was accelerated by a tweet of Trump dated 10th August 2018:
‘I have just authorised a doubling of Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar! Aluminum will now be 20pc and Steel 50pc. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!’
Lurking behind the decision is a fear of almost authoritarian powers sought by Erdoğan via a 143-page decree turning around mode of working of practically every government department. He has centralised power to be exercised at his will.
Not only is the Trump administration reacting to continued detention of Andrew Brunson but also reportedly against Turkey’s defense policy and use of a Russian missile defense system. ‘Lawmakers are worried that the missile defense system could expose weaknesses in the US-made aircraft. They fear that Turkey could share those vulnerabilities with Russia, among other concerns.’(CNBC 10 Aug 2018)
With the onslaught on Turkey’s tariffs by US, Turkey will be forced to search fresh markets for exporting her steel and aluminium. Middle East can be one as well as North Africa.
‘Turkey makes up 62 percent of bar used to reinforce concrete and masonry structures coming into the U.S. It also accounts for 37 percent of imported pipes for piling, which is used for foundation support and construction, and 14 percent of cold-rolled sheet. The tariffs will likely put U.S. steel companies in a favorable position, with Nucor Corp., Commercial Metals Co. and Steel Dynamics Inc. set to be among the big beneficiaries, according to Andrew Cosgrove, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.’ (Bloomberg)
The bigger picture here must be viewed taking in trade between Israel and Turkey. In 2017, the trade between the two came to $4.3 billion. Israel imported $2.9 billion worth goods from Turkey and exported $1.4 billion worth to Turkey mostly being refined oil and chemicals. It imports, textiles, machinery, cars and metals from Turkey. Now the US sanctions on Turkey may end up damaging Israel-Turkey trade relations too.
Trump has been opening too many fronts at different levels with different nations. Counties may retaliate against US confrontational policies if they are viewed as destabilising the liberal economic order; to employ a widely used term. Trump’s reactions and decisions are creating immense uncertainty globally.
One example of his unpredictability is the fact that he accepted the offer to meet Kim Jong-un, to negotiate the North Korea’s nuclear programme the same day he placed tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum. ‘Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a New York-based research firm that forecasts global risks states, “The United States has become a less certain partner for a while now.” (NYT)
Since Trump’s ascent to the White House, the US has become diplomatically a weaker country. He has alienated long-standing allies and his pushing other nations with arm-twisting tactics is creating resentment. It is not necessarily delivering either. Noam Chomsky in an interview published in May 2018 says, “Turning to international affairs, in Trumpian lingo, “America First” means “me first” and damn the consequences for the country or the world. The “me first” doctrine has an immediate corollary: it’s necessary to keep the base in line with fake promises and fiery rhetoric, while not alienating the actual constituency. It also follows that it’s important to do the opposite of whatever was done by Obama. Trump is often called “unpredictable,” but his actions are highly predictable on these simple principles.”
The art of diplomacy and its tools are missing from Trump’s gear box. Diplomacy must dissipate the negative effects of interdependence of nations and enhance the positive ones. Leaders who achieve the opposite only weaken their alliances, their standing in the comity of nations and their own stature in eyes of other nations.