Pinnacle eras of recent modern history have been established via global conflicts; from the shift in the age of empires into modern republics after the end of the Great War to the precipitation of the divide between East/West via the fallout of World War II. However, the “Third Age” of this eternal struggle between internationalism and regionalism came not at the barrel of a rifle, though rather the advent of a global pandemic. Now, more than ever, necessary unilateralism and proximal alliances are the methodologies for which many nation-states are repositioning their countries in the midst of disappointments in global problem solving. Previously, a formulaic approach meant that internationalism came at the expense of regionalism or vice versa. But as we have seen with the pandemic, this is not a viable approach to have going forward as no nation can be an international force if its strength at home is in doubt. Two of America’s most powerful allies in NATO are carving a unilateral path for themselves whilst maintaining shared multilateral objectives for the United States.
Both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Turkey, currently two of the most active member states of the NATO alliance with troops positioned on multiple continents and regions, are evidence such that a nation can be both an international player whilst fulfilling its regional role (outside of the European Union), in fact going further and prioritizing its vicinity as well as member orientated coalitions including NATO. Bilateral relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Turkey, and notably the Turkish Armed Forces, are at the highest point since the Crimean War. This was showcased most recently via the visit prepared for the expected future president of Turkey, former General Hulusi Akar, an accomplished veteran with regard to achieving NATO objectives and the defense of Turkey’s frontiers.
The sense of responsibility that must be exemplified by nation-states that were formerly pan-regional empires is maintained today, whereby be it the distribution of British and Turkish goods & services in Africa, infrastructure cooperation across the Mediterranean, and direct military assistance for those in need on multiple continents. Former empires retain their influence beyond their borders and maintain historical overseas prowess whilst being fully integrated in one’s own region and not within the European Union, which has had its key infrastructure penetrated by the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—such as Piraeus port in Greece—as well as the PRC being their major trading partner. The European Union’s orientation towards the PRC, their largest trading partner as an entire trading bloc, underlines the need for independent NATO powers such as the Republic of Turkey and the United Kingdom to further curb threats to the defense of Atlanticism from both the Russian Federation and the PRC. The resurgence in operational capability via the Ministry of Defense’s Integrated Review displays the clear steps necessary that the British Armed Forces must undertake to complement the UK’s military prowess and further permeate the nation’s strength to regions such as the Mediterranean.
Mediterranean states, bonded in heritage from the Romans to the Ottomans, have long sought to unify under the banner of a compilation of a shared culture, mutual defense objectives, and cooperative economic interests. As the pandemic brings internationalism to a close, regionalism shall replace it in both poise and form. The prime example of this transformation is in the Mediterranean, where the United States, acting as “kingmaker,” partnered together with the Republic of Turkey and the United Kingdom alongside the State of Israel via mutual defense pacts (prefaces exemplified in joint security and intelligence operations carried out recently in Istanbul), a MEDCOM focused on the region itself, and in tandem with energy security partnerships will bring a new age to the Mare Nostrum.
As witnessed by the outcry of the Ukrainian people and their efforts in defense of their homeland, only the internal power of the nation-state coupled with regional alliances is in itself a capable deterrent to those seeking to usurp one’s sovereignty. Indeed, that Ukraine’s calls for support have been largely unanswered, as stated regularly by the Ukrainian Parliament, and disappointments abound over European indifference vis-à-vis ruble sanction “skirting” (the covert stockpiling of rubles by European nations), have left the Ukrainian people reconsidering what it means to defend itself in a region where an aggressor lurks daily. The Republic of Turkey and the United Kingdom, having found themselves well balanced in their regional identity and actively supplying Ukraine, alongside the United States, with defensive capabilities through the deployment of Turkish Bayraktar drones and British Brimstone missiles, are outlining the benefits in operational capability when one moves independently to the behest of potentially cumbersome international machinations.
Preparations in relation to a novel “stay-behind” GLADIO approach, whereby friendly resistance units are prepositioned in a country's own territory to fend off potential adversarial infiltration or invasion, in conjunction with the United States are crucial with regard to ensuring structures that ensured stability during the Cold War. Established in unison with local power brokers, these operations can ensure governments within NATO nations (or others within the periphery also) are safeguarded against penetration by assets of the Russian Federation and the Chinese PRC. Mechanisms constructed via civilian-military cooperation would also aim to restore Atlanticist values as required through direct mechanisms such as the utilization of NATO-aligned local command structures as well as indirect methods aimed at curbing the influence of the Russian Federation and/or the Chinese People’s Republic in the private sector.
As coined by Atatürk, the founding father of the Turks, “Peace at Home, Peace in the World” is still epitomized to this day by the Turkish Republic, which is nearing its centennial, occurring next year in 2023. A nation confident enough to engage internationally whilst not sacrificing its idiosyncratic identity either in its own region or at home has emerged: the Turkish Armed Forces are active in frontiers from Libya to Azerbaijan, from North Africa to the Middle East, and most importantly, from the Balkans to the Mediterranean. It is now countering the Russian Federation and the interests of the PRC via direct and indirect military deployment overseas, making it an indispensable NATO power.
Equally, as the United Kingdom moves toward new leadership and eyes glance towards the aisles of the Houses of Parliament via the deliberations of the 1922 Committee, both major parties appear to be ever distant from the centripetal forces that enabled their modern continuity. This ambiance is showcasing the drift away from Thatcherism with regard to the Conservative Party as per the recent fiscal measures taken and the Labour Party having moved away from the tenants of Attlee where “nation before ideology” is a withering doctrine. This is not a new phenomenon. In fact, during the 1950s, both the Conservatives and Labour had very similar views on economics, focusing on a planned economy whilst differing almost exclusively on social values. British military capability, however, is well-placed to continue to protect crucial sea routes and enable the “rules-based established order” to thrive. Therefore, any incoming prime minister will certainly capitalize on the UK’s naval strength be it during negotiations or during a conflict.
A nation can only be a global player if it fulfills its responsibilities both at home and proximally. As such, the people of the modern Turkish Republic and the United Kingdom fittingly stand poised at the “foothills” of a necessary unilateralism which may be the very catalyst to a revitalized multilateralism based on the ability to achieve global objectives without compromising on national interests even within alliances that are both proximal and international in nature.
Alp Sevimlisoy is the Turkish-British CEO of his flagship private asset management corporation and hedge fund headquartered in Istanbul, and a Millennium Fellow at the Atlantic Council headquartered in Washington, DC.
Peter Woodard is a Canadian-British executive with a geopolitical focus on the moving parts within NATO and the potential for an expanded role within the region.