September 11, 2017
Asked in a Guardian interview whether he had known a more dangerous time in his 30-year career, NATO’s Secretary General Stoltenberg said: “It is more unpredictable, and it’s more difficult because we have so many challenges at the same time… We have proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea, we have terrorists, instability, and we have a more assertive Russia… It is a more dangerous world… If I started to speculate about potential military options I would only add to the uncertainty and difficulty of the situation so I think my task is not to be contribute to that. I will support efforts to find a political, negotiated solution” (*).
Mr. Stoltenberg is right in his description of the current international picture and prioritizing diplomacy. Beyond the issues he referred to, many countries are suffering from populism and high levels of polarization. Climate change, lethal heatwaves, the devastation brought by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the floods in South Asia, the Mexico earthquake and, again as the Guardian has reported, recent studies which suggest that people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood and microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world only show the diversity of global challenges.
Yet, the world is divided. The 72nd Regular Session of the UN General Assembly will convene on September 12, 2017. The general debate will open a week later with emphasis on the theme “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for All on a Sustainable Planet”. The theme no doubt reflects an aspiration but also constitutes a contradiction with the reality. It remains to be seen whether the General Assembly would witness some display of international solidarity or serve as a forum for rhetoric.
David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post last week that Secretary Tillerson has often been the silent man in the Trump foreign policy team. But out of the spotlight, he says, Tillerson appears to be crafting a broad strategy aimed at working with China to resolve the North Korea crisis and with Russia to stabilize Syria and Ukraine. Indeed, while President Trump often mentions all options being on the table, diplomacy remains the only option. And, Chancellor Merkel’s suggestion to tackle the North Korea problem in the P5+1 format used in Iran nuclear talks is a good one.
Democracy and diplomacy remain the best options for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) in containing if not resolving our multiple internal and external problems. The number one task is healing the disease of polarization. Ataturk’s motto was “peace at home, peace in the world”. Unless we re-establish national unity, we will not be able to move forward on any issue.
On August 31, the Washington Post carried a remarkable op-ed by Senator John McCain. Referring to President Trump he wrote: “… We must, where we can, cooperate with him. But we are not his subordinates. We don’t answer to him. We answer to the American people. We must be diligent in discharging our responsibility to serve as a check on his power. And we should value our identity as members of Congress more than our partisan affiliation…” The op-ed reflects the spirit of a fundamental principle of democracy: separation of powers. We need to bring it back.
After the current government assumed office in May 2016, it was said that Turkey needs more friends and fewer enemies. Yet, we continue to be at odds with everyone, particularly our traditional friends and allies. Relations with Washington are at an all-time low. Relations with Germany, de facto leader of Europe, are no different. Relations with EU countries and the EU as a whole remain strained. We are faced with a huge problem of chemistry. Whatever legitimate grievances we may have, these are lost in Ankara’s endless bravado. Maintaining our bonds with the West and having excellent relations with Russia are not mutually exclusive. This has been our policy for years and there is no compelling reason to change it. And, our relations with regional countries need to restored to their former level. While the fight against ISIS may continue, indications are that the Syrian conflict may have left the worst behind with attention shifting to the future, to what kind of a Middle East will emerge from the current turmoil.
In brief, this may be the moment of truth for our so-called “precious loneliness”.