Simon Waldman is a Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center and co-author of The New Turkey and Its Discontents.
Turkey is embroiled in yet another spat with a western country. This time, Turkey arrested a U.S. consular employee for alleged links to the Gulen movement, followers of Turkish Islamic preacher and U.S. resident Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara claims is behind last July's attempted coup. Calling the move arbitrary, the United States suspended non-immigrant visa applications, and Turkey reciprocated.
Meanwhile, North Atlantic Treaty Organization members are seething at Turkey's recent behaviour. After months of warnings, Ankara has decided to go ahead and buy Russian S400 missiles. NATO is apprehensive that Turkey's new purchase will be for hardware that is incompatible with that of its member states. NATO is also concerned about Russian involvement in the Middle East and the Ukraine.
These are just the latest example of Turkey's apparent drift from the western orbit. In July, it was revealed that Turkey leaked the locations of U.S. forces operating in Syria. Then there's Ankara's spats with European countries, most notably Germany, which had to relocate its forces from one of Turkey's bases after Ankara refused German politicians' requests to visit their troops. Turkey also irked NATO by voicing its opposition to Austria's involvement in a drill, scuppering the whole exercise. Such developments have led many to ask whether Turkey remains an ally, and some even call for Turkey to be expelled from NATO.
Turkey was once considered a bulwark in the West's fight against communism, a vital ally in the war on terror and a model democracy for developing countries. Eight years ago, the newly elected Barack Obama chose Turkey as the first Muslim country to visit as president and, until the Gezi protests of 2013, considered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a trusted ally.
So much has changed since then. But even though Ankara is cozying up to Moscow and is being more conciliatory to Iran, with Tehran sending its military chief to Ankara for talks, it would be a mistake to think that Turkey has suddenly joined the Russian orbit. From Ankara's vantage point, the only axis that Turkey spins on is its own.
Turkey views itself as a regional superpower, reasoning that not only does it have one of NATO's largest standing armies, but it is also an emerging economic powerhouse with an array of hard- and soft-power tools under its belt, including its important geographic location, the potential to be an energy hub and its cultural affinity to its neighbouring regions.
Underlying these illusions of Turkish power is the country's history. The successor of the Ottoman Empire, which played the game of Great Power politics until its defeat during the First World War, Turkey considers itself a world power in its own right. What else can describe Mr. Erdogan's recent remarks that the United Nations needs structural reform because the world was bigger than the five permanent members of the Security Council (United States, Russia, China, Britain and France)? What Mr. Erdogan meant was Turkey should not be excluded.
Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came into power in 2002, Turkey has sought to increase its international reach, utilize its geographical location, harness cultural as well as economic diplomacy and ease tensions along its eastern borders. All this was coupled by increasing business and trade links with all of Turkey's surrounding regions, not just Europe. Some called this engagement Neo-Ottomanism.
Whether or not such terminology is fitting, Turkey considers itself both a regional superpower and an important international actor. This is why Turkey isn't listening to its NATO allies about which arms it can or cannot buy. It's the reason why Mr. Erdogan thinks it appropriate to tell the German foreign minister to know his place. And it is why Turkey set up a military base in Qatar, intervened in Syria and wishes to involve itself in nearly every regional development, including the Gulf crisis, the Iraqi Kurdish referendum and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
With such illusions (or delusions) of grandeur, Mr. Erdogan sees it as a personal affront that U.S. President Donald Trump only gave him 22 minutes of his time when he visited Washington earlier in the year, and that Mr. Trump has still not changed U.S. policy toward Syrian Kurdish fighters of the Peoples' Protection Units (PYG) nor extradited Mr. Gulen.
From Ankara's perspective, Turkey's power and status demands that the world should listen. If not, it will simply seek alternative partners and international allies that do.