On December 10, 2019, China announced that it had identified a new virus named COVID-19 in the city of Wuhan. Soon after neighboring countries reported their own cases, and it was clear that the virus had already spread all over the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergency on January 30, 2020. Shortly after, the virus was identified in Africa and Europe forcing the WHO to declare the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020.1 With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic the world has transformed rapidly, states and institutions have changed priorities. Lockdown travel bans, closure of schools, and businesses became common measures to respond. Turkey has not been an exception in implementing these measures. In fact, Ankara was very quick to act at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
The dramatic picture created by the COVID-19 pandemic, empty squares and airports in major cities, halted flights, abandoned planes on the tarmac, made more people think about the way the world operates. The slowness and weakness of the major countries to address the pandemic widened the debate on the changing world order, citing the inability of states to provide support to their citizens. Thus, the pandemic turned out to be a global political, economic problem, obviously more than a health issue. Logistic chains were broken therefore many countries could not provide simple basic medical equipment like masks. The world economy faced one of its worst crises in modern times. Health and food security surfaced as major security issues. Nation-states came to the fore as the only source to provide basics, discrediting international organizations. The efficiency of global institutions and economic systems started to be questioned. Concepts like ‘post-COVID-19 order,’ ‘new normal’ became common. Many analysts suggested that ‘the world will never be the same again.’
It may be too early to reach concrete solutions and a definition about the post-COVID-19 order, however, we can still track the direction of the change and question whether nation-states are adapting to the new situation. This study attempts to provide a framework by comparing the present situation with the post-Cold War order and shed light on the course of the change. Hence, questions like ‘Has the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a change in the world order? If it has, what is the nature, scope, and content of this change?’ are addressed. The study takes the case of Turkey, as a regional power and a nation-state, to see whether it is ready for the new era and is adapting to the transforming international order. Thus, Turkey’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is analyzed.
After 2015 Turkey became the target of international terrorist attacks, its cities were bombed by terrorists, and the country had to respond to one of the worst refugee flows of this century while dealing with economic challenges before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic
The hypothesis of this study is that the change in the post-Cold War order had started long before the COVID-19 pandemic, in the mid-2010s with the Arab uprisings, but the outbreak accelerated the change and made it more visible. At the global level, the major changes are in the balance of power i.e., declining the U.S. power, the rise of regional powers, technology, communications, etc. The other major change is in globalism in terms of economic and political relations. International organizations are losing credit against the nation-state. Ideologically, neo-liberalism and internationalism have to cope with growing nationalism, as states are prioritizing security versus cooperation. In this regard, the article claims that Turkey provides a good example of a regional power that is adapting to the changing situation with its responses to the recent challenges. Located at the crossroads of global and regional geopolitical competition, Turkey has always faced great security challenges, especially due to Iraq and Syria civil wars. Specifically, after 2015 Turkey became the target of international terrorist attacks, its cities were bombed by terrorists, and the country had to respond to one of the worst refugee flows of this century while dealing with economic challenges before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Turkey responded to these challenges by transforming its executive system, adopting a presidential system with a referendum, recalibrating its foreign relations, and restructuring its security apparatus. These steps can be analyzed in accordance with the changing global order and the threats, which these changes created. The COVID-19 pandemic, starting from March 2020, in this regard, provided important challenges and tested Turkey’s preparedness. The assumption of this study is that Turkey had already started to adapt to the transforming world order –which is still in the making– due to the fact that it pioneered facing the challenges because of its unique location. And this helped Turkey to react more rapidly to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This study will use a comparative analysis to see the direction of the change in line with the parameters given above that is, change in the balance of power, the role of the international institutions versus nation-states, and changing economic policies. It may be too early to reach conclusions and concrete results since the facts and ideas on the subject are still evolving. For this reason, it is hard to frame the subject theoretically. This article is divided into five sections. The first section of the article will examine the concept of the ‘World Order.’ The second section will focus on the geopolitical challenges, how they changed the global balance of power, and what the post-COVID-19 order will look like. The third section will analyze Turkey’s response to the post-COVID-19 era by comparing its regulations in the 1990s. The fourth section will compare and contrast the challenges, and the changes in the field of the economy. In the following section, the role of the international organizations and the nation-state is the focus of the study. Finally, in the conclusion, I hope to demonstrate to what extent Turkey’s COVID-19 measures indicate the country’s readiness for the post–COVID-19 order.
In this study, I used initial thoughts and reactions of analysts to the phenomenon, from opinion articles, and arguments, to explain the direction of the change. On Turkey’s preparedness, I have analyzed the reformation of the political system, actions of the state on recent challenges, Turkey’s foreign and security policies in 2015-2021, and measures taken to combat COVID-19. Recent news articles, statements of officials, and measures of governments are all part of the research.
What Is World Order?
Different schools of thought attribute different meanings to the concept of the ‘World Order.’ Realists see international politics as the act of balancing among sovereign states. For them, world order is the product of a stable distribution of power among the major states. Liberals, on the other hand, look at the relations among peoples as well as states. They see order, arising from broad values like democracy and human rights, as well as from international law and institutions such as the United Nations (UN).2 Whether it is based on law or power, institutions or deterrence, world order implies a way of understanding and generally accepted manner of operating of international actors within a framework.
Henry Kissinger deÞnes world order as “the concept held by a region or civilization about the nature of just arrangements and the distribution of power thought to be applicable to the entire world.” According to him, world order rests on “a set of commonly accepted rules that deÞne the limits of permissible action and a balance of power that enforces restraint where rules break down.”3 He indicates that order and stability result not from a desire to pursue peace or justice but from a ‘generally accepted legitimacy,’ and it is based on equilibrium of forces. Legitimacy is an international understanding of the nature of workable arrangements, and of the permissible aims and methods of foreign policy. No state expresses its dissatisfaction with a revolutionary foreign policy.4 Liberal theorist John Ikenberry underlines the fact that this understanding is formalized and institutionalized as we have experienced after the post-Cold War by the major powers.5 NATO and EU enlargement are examples of this institutionalization. The UN started to play a greater role in preventing conflict after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and World Trade Organization (WTO) became important platforms to solve economic issues.
We can say the post-COVID-19 order actually started to develop in the mid-2010s with the retreat of the U.S. and other developments in technology, communications, and security
From a historical context, we are on the eve of entering the 5th global order. The Concert of Europe accepted in Vienna in 1815, following the Napoleonic Wars, can be regarded as the first example of world order. Metternich’s formula for European equilibrium was based on common interest of the powers in preserving peace to ensure continental harmony.6 This system collapsed with the breakout of World War I, in 1914. American President Woodrow Wilson tried to establish a new liberal order based on open diplomacy and self-determination with his Fourteen Points, ending great wars and colonialism. The League of Nations was an attempt to create a permanent international body to keep the dialogue open among the big powers. However, this liberal order did not last long; Britain and France went back to colonialism while Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy challenged the system as revolutionary actors pulling the world to another great war in 1939.
After Nazi Germany was defeated, the victorious powers established a new order based on the current balance of power. A new nation’s system was organized around the UN and other supporting international institutions. The Founding Charter of the UN was signed on June 26, 1945. In the economic front 1944 Bretton Woods system, the World Bank, and IMF were established. Bipolarity became the norm, as the U.S. and the Soviet Union remained as only two superpowers dominating the world, and although rivals, they worked together to stop another great, nuclear war by limiting nuclear arms and crafting, arm redaction, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreements.
From 1945 to 1990 the world order was based on a balance of power between the U.S. and Soviet Union, and nuclear deterrence between them. Cold War bipolar order worked for almost five decades, provided predictability, relative security, and legitimacy for international affairs. As Nye suggested, “economic conflicts among the U.S., Europe, and Japan were dampened by common concerns about the Soviet military threat. Bitter ethnic divisions were kept under a tight lid by the Soviet presence in Eastern Europe. A number of Third World conflicts were averted or shortened when the superpowers feared that their clients might drag them too close to a nuclear war.”7
As the U.S.-led post-Cold War era, which started in the 1990s, based on American leadership and supported by enlarging international organizations, nears its end the world enters a new era. In this new post-COVID-19 world, American leadership is challenged, the function of international organizations is being questioned, geopolitical concerns and competition prevail over cooperation. As Bobbit puts it “whether we say that these postwar international institutions were once capable but have become deadlocked, or that they were never designed to deal with the transnational complexities of an interconnected world, the result is the same: the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed these institutions as useless in coping with global threats that pit states against each other.”8 We can say that the change in the world order is mainly about globalism versus nationalism; liberalism versus protectionism; democracy versus populism; decentralization versus centralization. It is about declining U.S. global power, the rise of regional powers, and searching for a new balance. We can say the post-COVID-19 order actually started to develop in the mid-2010s with the retreat of the U.S. and other developments in technology, communications, and security.
Post-COVID-19 Geopolitical Challenges and the Change
Although it is difficult to formulate the developing New World Order, in order to understand and compare what is in the change, one of our parameters is power politics and balance of power. Briefly, we can claim that the COVID-19 outbreak accelerated the change in the world order towards strategic competition amongst big powers, retreat from globalization, rise of nation-states, and economic downsizing.
After the 9/11 attacks in New York City in 2001, the gap between U.S. liberal ideals and foreign policy priorities started to widen
The first direction of this change is the decline of the U.S. as the only superpower of the world –a status it has enjoyed since the early 1990s– opening space for great power competition. This is a move away from the post-Cold War World Order which was shaped after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, communism collapsed in Eastern and Central Europe, and the bipolar world order ended. Many American analysts hailed this as ‘the victory of the western capitalist World’ against communism. Francis Fukuyama wrote his famous “The End of History?”9 article. He claimed western-style liberal democracy was the final ideological reach of humans. The signing of the Charter of Paris for a New Europe in 1990, within the framework of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE),10 was a call to former communist European states to join the liberal world.
The major change was the change in the balance of power as one of the major players vanished. The direction of the change was towards a liberal order. The U.S. President George H.W. Bush described the New World Order at that time, as the “new ways of working with other nations, peaceful settlement of disputes, solidarity against aggression, reduced and controlled arsenals, and just treatment of all peoples… Freedom, democracy, free-market economy, and the rule of law” became the basis of the neoliberal U.S-led world order.11 It meant that in order to be a respected member of the international community a nation should implement these principles at the domestic level. Prominent American diplomat Richard Holbrooke defined the moment as the opportunity of 4th security architecture. The key was an undivided Europe into which Russia was integrated.12 In this architecture, international governmental organizations like NATO and the European Union (EU) played a key role. Their common strategic interest was acknowledged by a NATO summit declaration in January 1994, and the European Community’s Maastricht Treaty.13 NATO accepted a new strategic approach to include former communist European states and launched the Partnership for Peace program. The European Economic Community became the EU, after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. EU members set standards for newcomers known as the Copenhagen criteria,14 which said a country must be a democracy, operate a free market, and be willing to adopt the entire body of EU law. With the joining of Austria, Finland, and Sweden the EU started to enlarge Eastward.
The UN as well became an important tool in this new post-Cold War world. The credibility of the UN was affected positively by the response to the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. The Security Council proved that it has the capacity to protect its members from occupation in the new world order. But as Russet and Sutterlin pointed out “the effectiveness of the UN in dealing with international security problems, whether by enforcement measures, peacekeeping, or mediation, will always be sensitive to the nature of relations between superpowers.”15
The first geopolitical challenge to this U.S.-led liberal order came in the late 1990s. China and Russia revealed their discontent openly when the then President of Russia Boris Yeltsin paid a state visit to China. In a joint statement with the Chinese leader, the two countries called for ‘a multipolar world’ and the construction of a better international economic and political system. Russia and China decided to cooperate within the context of consolidating security, stability, and economic integration in Eurasia and the Pacific.16 NATO’s ‘out of area intervention’ strategy and military action against the pro-Russian Serbian Milosevic regime because of the Kosovo conflict further angered Moscow.17
After the 9/11 attacks in New York City in 2001, the gap between U.S. liberal ideals and foreign policy priorities started to widen. The U.S. started the Iraq War in 2003, without the consent of the UN Security Council, and it was a major break from the order. Unilateral actions, use of force without the authorization of the UN became a more common practice. Israel’s breach of UN decisions in Palestine after the failure of the peace talks in 2000 and U.S. policy to back these illegal actions, disregarding rule of law, U.S. breach of Geneva Accords in the opening of the Guantanamo interrogation center,18 as well as selective action against anti-democratic governments further deteriorated the neo-liberal order.
In the past, tectonic changes in world order took place after wars as Mac Millan indicates. But challenges that have come to the surface after COVID-19, developed gradually. The way the system operated, the abilities of the countries, and social values changed in a decade in the absence of a global conflict, as in a war.19 The post-COVID-19 order has also been shaped by a series of scattered unconnected military struggles before the pandemic. The geopolitical rivalries have returned after the U.S. failures in Afghanistan and Iraq with China and Russia appearing as challengers to the U.S.-led order. Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed his challenge at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. With the help of rising prices of oil and gas, the Russian economy had recovered in the early 2000s and Moscow started revealing its discontent about ‘western expansion’ under the pretext of NATO and EU enlargement policies. Putin openly challenged the unipolar world order and said: “the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world.”20 He complained about American domination of global affairs, expansion of NATO into the Baltics, and color revolutions implanting pro-western governments in Moscow’s former sphere of influence. “The process of NATO expansion has nothing to do with modernization of the alliance, we have the right to ask ‘Against whom is this expansion directed?’”21
China with its growing economy has also been eager to be a global power and reveal signs of expansion. In the post-COVID-19 world, many analysts believe that the geopolitical competition between China and the West will be a defining issue. China is a new power challenging American supremacy (in Asia), with a weapon the Soviet Union never possessed: mutually assured economic destruction, says McTague. China unlike the Soviet Union is able to offer a measure of wealth, vibrancy, and technological advancement.22
Changes in global order have always affected Turkey’s domestic, security, and foreign policy, because it sits on the fault lines of geopolitical rivalries
China and Russia started to challenge the U.S.-led world order by revealing their long-term strategies. China adopted its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ in 2013 while Russia turned to its Eurasianism to counter western expansion to its borders, even using force in Ukraine and Georgia. International institutions failed to stop the occupation of Crimea in 2014. It was another step forward in the deterioration of the world order and the U.S. reliability. China officially incorporated islands into its administrative districts and carried out geological exploration work in Malaysian waters. Beijing fortified uninhabited islands and turned them into military bases in the South China Sea, despite U.S. criticisms and warnings. The U.S. declared Russia and China as rival countries in its National Strategy of 2017. NATO declared and reiterated that Russia was a rival country in the Warsaw Communique of 2016.23 UN Secretary-General António Guterres described the world as not multipolar but chaotic because of Great Power Rivalry.24
An infographic showing Turkey ranks 8th in the world with over 87.74M doses given. August 20, 2021.
OMAR ZAGHLOUL, İRŞAD TOGRAK / AA
In the post-COVID-19 order, the U.S. and its allies are on the verge of launching a new containment to counterbalance China. NATO and EU members are discussing decoupling from China. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that China’s increasing influence had created a ‘fundamental shift in the global balance of power’ that should not be overlooked.25 He suggested that in the future the western alliance should cooperate more closely with like-minded countries such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea to face the Chinese challenge. The U.S., Japan, Australia, and India are known as Quad is planning to hold joint exercises in the Indian Ocean for the first time in over ten years.26 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said, maybe it is time for a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies.27 The European Commission in their joint communication on March 12, 2019, for the first time, declared China an “an economic competitor in pursuit of technological leadership and a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.”
Apart from Russian and Chinese challenges, regional powers too became more involved in international politics. U.S. leadership was challenged in different parts of the World. Countries like Turkey, Iran, Venezuela, Germany, France, North Korea, Brazil, and many others started to put pressure on the U.S. in their regions and experienced difficulties in mutual relationships.
Turkey and the Post-COVID-19 Geopolitical Challenges
Changes in global order have always affected Turkey’s domestic, security, and foreign policy, because it sits on the fault lines of geopolitical rivalries. First of all, the U.S. policy of using force in the region instead of peaceful solutions to the conflicts has had a direct negative impact on Turkey. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, chaos in Iraq, the tension with Iran had a negative impact on Turkey in the early 2000s. The war in Iraq in 2003 created security concerns for Turkey as the central government collapsed and radical terrorist organizations expanded. The U.S. sympathy for Kurdish aspirations put extra pressure on Turkish borders. The power vacuum in the north of Iraq provided a safe haven to the PKK terrorist organization while the Turkish economy was also affected by the war when trade slowed down with the Arab world and Turkish energy security was put at risk.
Parallel to the Iraqi crisis Turkey’s other Southern neighbor Syria also came under pressure after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut in 2005. Turkey was trying to mend its relations with Damascus and convince the Assad regime to open up. Turkey helped Syria to break the isolation hoping that President Bashar al-Assad would push for reforms. Turkey also mediated between Syria and Israel28 until Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to attack Gaza in December 2008.29 These geopolitical concerns appeared long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it shows how geopolitical competition affected Turkey’s security and foreign policy.
In fact, in the 1990s, Turkey as a member of the western security system adapted to the U.S.-led order by adjusting and liberalizing its economy and approaching the European Economic Community. The collapse of the Soviet Union removed one of the biggest security threats for Turkey. But rising ethnic conflicts and the breakup of Yugoslavia negatively affected Turkey. Turkey came under pressure from the public to act and became a safe haven for people escaping from the Bosnian war. Turkey avoided instabilities and tried to strengthen its ties with the western world, thus supporting European integration, trying to be part of it, and approving NATO enlargement. Turkey wanted to cement its relations with the U.S, accordingly the then Turkish President Turgut Özal strongly supported the U.S.-led coalition attack against Saddam Hussein in 1991. Turkey joined NATO operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, sent troops, voted in favor of military intervention to protect the lives of civilians as well as welcoming new members into NATO, and providing strengthened enlargement.
In the post-COVID-19 world, many analysts believe that the geopolitical competition between China and the West will be a defining issue
The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) continued in the footsteps of Turgut Özal by pursuing liberal policies after coming to power in 2002. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wanted to secure Turkey’s membership in the EU, therefore he implemented legal reforms, tried to limit the role of the army, and accepted the Annan Plan in 2004 to unify Cyprus, despite criticisms from nationalists. Turkey remained in line with the western countries and sought international legitimacy especially when it came to military issues. Turkey did not support the U.S.’ unilateral decision to invade Iraq in 2003, due to the lack of UN authorization and the Turkish Parliament refused to ratify a decree which would have allowed the U.S. Army to invade Iraq from Turkish soil.30 Ankara has continuously supported international law and UN resolutions when it comes to violations of rights in Palestine and elsewhere. After the 9/11 attacks, Turkey joined the NATO mission in Afghanistan and Hikmet Çetin led the civilian mission there for three years during 2003-2006. When international terrorism threatened Europe, Turkey forged the Alliance of Civilizations in 2005, against ethnic and religious discrimination, thereby aiming to be a bridge between the Islamic World and the West.31
In the post-Cold War era, Turkey also contributed to European integration by allowing NATO expansion. On December 17, 2004, the EU decided to start membership negotiations with Turkey. Erdoğan’s government implemented reform packages to adapt its legal system to that of the EU. In domestic politics, Turkey started democratic reforms to end military control on civilian rule. State Security Courts were dismantled, the restrictions on where headscarves could be worn were lifted gradually and the structure of the National Security Council was redesigned to include more civilians.
In the Middle East, Turkey supported democratic change in authoritarian regimes, established economic ties, and increased complex interdependence, holding joint ministerial meetings with Syria and Iraq. Turkey also played a role between Iran and UN Security Council P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the U.S.; plus Germany) meetings on Iran’s nuclear program, hosting meetings and even clinching a deal between Iran and its counterparts.32
In the 2010s, as the neo-liberal world order started to deteriorate and the U.S. leadership was challenged, geopolitical rivalry was felt more strongly. NATO-EU intentions to include Ukraine and Georgia antagonized Russia, and the first bullet was fired in Georgia in 2008 with Moscow forcefully stopping NATO’s expansion plans. During the crisis, Turkey played an important role by implementing the Montreux Convention which regulates the passage of warships through the Turkish straits.33
In 2011 the so-called Arab Spring revealed global and regional struggles for influence in North Africa and the Middle East. The fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, NATO military intervention to Libya overthrowing Muammar Qaddafi, the uprising in Syria, and the civil war in Yemen have all destabilized the region. Turkey’s long investments to relationships with these countries fizzled out, with its two Southern neighbors Syria and Iraq, turning into failed states, exporting instability. Most notably the Syrian civil war, which created humanitarian and security risks when, within a year, millions of refugees had fled into Turkey. Human and arms smuggling and the threat posed by the Syrian regime to Turkey added to security concerns. Kurdish leaders, whom Turkey had been negotiating with for a constitutional solution to solve issues, took another path as they saw an opportunity to establish a statelet in Syria. The PKK denied burying arms and returned to violence. Ankara regarded all these events as attempts to cut Turkey off from the Arab world so allowing it to be bypassed by international energy and trade routes.
Another feature of the post-COVID-19 order can be selective cooperation rather than total partnership in alliance making
Turkey has felt the geopolitical competition of the post-COVID-19 order long before the pandemic. Increasing security concerns and measures ‘to protect the nation’ came to the Turkish agenda much earlier. The terrorist PKK ended its ceasefire and targeted Turkey’s dams and security forces, declaring war in 2015.34 A year later ten terrorist organizations formed a joint coalition against Turkey under the banner of Peoples Joint Revolutionary Movement led by PKK member Duran Kalkan.35 Starting from 2015, two years of terrorist attack waves and a defeated coup attempt in 2016 accelerated Turkey’s adaptation to this new world. Turkey started a reconsolidation process of the state and restructuring the security apparatus, purging members of stealth terrorist organizations from state bureaucracy, closing military high schools, and starting anti-terrorism operations within Turkey. Turkey built a wall on its border with Syria, installed electronic monitoring systems, and launched a military operation against ISIS near its border in August 2016, named Operation Euphrates Shield. It accepted a new concept on war against terror, launching operations to terrorist bases both inside and outside Turkey, most notably operations in Syria and Iraq to end attacks from the PKK, YPG, and ISIS.
For Turkey, the leadership and partnership of the U.S. lost their meaning due to Washington’s unresponsiveness to Turkey’s security crisis when Ankara felt a direct challenge to its territorial integrity and national security due to the wars, refugee flows, and terrorist attacks. When missiles fell on Turkish border cities and towns like Akçakale, Reyhanlı, Yayladağ, and Kilis in 2014 and 2015, and when Syria shut down a Turkish plane in 2012, Turkey asked for the Patriot air defense systems from NATO. Turkey also wanted to purchase its own air defense systems from the U.S. but could not get even a reply to its request for 17 months. The U.S. did not share Turkey’s concerns about PKK terrorism and its affiliates in Syria, the Assad regime, and coup plotters failing to support the democratically elected government of Turkey against coup plotters and repeatedly arming the YPG in Syria. Turkey did not get enough support from its other western allies either. Thus, Ankara looked for other partners and signed a deal with Russia on S-400 air defense systems, nuclear energy, and initiated the Sochi and Astana processes to secure its southern border with Syria.
In the Mediterranean Sea, Greek Cypriots began offshore natural gas explorations and signed maritime delimitation accords in 2003 with Egypt and Lebanon in 2007. These activities were considered as a breach of Turkish Cypriot’s rights so Turkey tried to break this containment by strengthening its stand and signed an Exclusive Economic Zone deal with Libya in 2019. Turkey also invested in its national defense industry, producing its own fighter jets, tanks, and guided missiles. These challenges and Turkey’s response can be regarded as the country’s preparedness for the post-COVID-19 security environment.
During the pandemic, governments have assumed new powers to trace, track, and control at the expense of international organizations
Another feature of the post-COVID-19 order can be selective cooperation rather than total partnership in alliance making. Nations tend to cooperate in certain fields while they compete in other areas. Turkey and Russia are partners in keeping Syria’s territorial integrity while they disagree on the fate of the Assad regime. Although Russia and the U.S. are competitors in Syria, they acted to limit Turkey when Ankara pursued a military operation called Peace Spring in October 2019.
Economy in the Post-COVID-19 Order
The COVID-19 outbreak accelerated the change in the world economy as well, as the increasing strategic competition amongst big powers, and retreat from globalization has also made economic downsizing a trend. As a reaction to COVID-19, countries implemented different strategies like suppression or mitigation, and all strategies had economic implications. Those who decided to suppress, imposed quarantines, lockdowns, and stay home orders. Free movement was restricted, border controls were set up, flights stopped, and international trade came to a halt. The resulting disintegrated international production system failed when the supply chain was broken. Many developed nations like the U.S., UK, and France could not initially provide simple basic health materials like masks because they were produced elsewhere.
The virus has had a great psychological impact on people which may permanently affect the way the economy and politics will work. People seem to have lost their faith in globalization and international trade. The pandemic reminded us that the basic political and economic unit is still the nation-state. Borders matter again. The disease shattered lives, disrupted markets, and exposed the failures of some governments. Life in cities has changed with the possibility that tens of millions of urban service jobs may disappear.36
What happened after the COVID-19 outbreak was a diversion from the post-Cold War order which was identified with globalization, and growing information and communications technology. After the 1990s, production became centered in Asia-Pacific countries, mainly in China. Free movement of goods, capital, and people, growing logistics networks, diversification of production centers, free-market economy, and liberalization were the backbone of the global economy. Transnational corporations developed global scale strategies. Easier communications and transportation opportunities made the world smaller. Trade barriers dropped; state-run businesses gradually ended. Many nations opened up their capital accounts to global flows. Diplomatic moves and military operations took place in real-time as people watched everything live on televisions. Transnational illegal activities like arms, drugs trade, human trafficking, the possibility of nuclear arms smuggling, and international terrorism, together with global warming, the spread of new diseases like HIV, and insecure weapons of mass destruction from a scattered communist arsenal are all now common concerns.
The pandemic shook this system. The retreat from globalization and increase in nationalization in the economy is more likely since nations will look for more stability in their supply chains, and they will invest in more strategic industries. Domestic backup plans and strengthening reserves will be a priority. This policy will not be limited to the healthcare sector but will include telecommunications, high-tech industries, and defense industries. All nations will try to upgrade their national institutions’ capabilities.37 According to Shannon K. O’Neil from the Council of Foreign Relations, profitability may fall but supply stability should rise. Laurie Garret also shares the view that global supply chain and distribution networks are vulnerable to disruption. Richard N. Haas anticipates greater moves toward selective sufficiency, greater opposition to large-scale immigration, and reduced willingness and commitment to tackle regional global issues.38 Doubts about pre-coronavirus global supply chains and the safety of international travel as well as concerns about self-sufficiency are questions to be answered. O’Neil reminds us that we observe increasing management of trade by means of tariffs, licenses, quotas, product standards, export bans, and bring home manufacturing subsidies, especially for goods and services deemed essential on national security grounds or have a risk of disruption.39
The presidential system enabled Turkey to take quick decisions and implement them effectively during the pandemic
As in the field of geopolitics, the U.S. superiority in the global economy has also been challenged. According to Cooley and Nexon, two developments helped accelerate the illiberal turn in the West preparing the ground for the post-COVID-19 order: the Great (economic) Recession of 2008 and the refugee crisis in Europe in 2015.40 The Chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke said September and October of 2008 was the worst economic-financial crisis in global history including the Great depression. Gross capital flows around the world dived by 90 percent between 2007 and 2008, and millions of people lost their jobs.41 The 2008 crisis devastated the U.S. economic reputation, if not its financial system, as Karabell advocated. Another challenge to U.S. supremacy was the Chinese economic success.
The Turkish economy before the coronavirus had to adapt itself to the changing world. In the post-Cold War years, the Turkish model of growth was based on foreign investments, foreign debt, and a growing construction sector. Starting in the 1980s, under the leadership of Turgut Özal, Turkey started a fast liberalization process in its economy to integrate with the international economy.42 Turkey started a privatization process to attract foreign investment and signed agreements with the IMF.43 Economic liberalization was followed by political liberalization as well. Turkey changed its economic and political structure with reforms to become a free market. Liberalization was further strengthened by opening private television channels and newspapers, full of liberal columnists supporting the free market economy, private universities, and establishment of NGOs. Consecutive coalition governments under different party leaders in the 1990s kept this line. President Süleyman Demirel said: “we need to close our deficit in democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. The Turkish Constitution must be amended to adapt to the European Council and international treaties, especially articles related to basic rights and freedoms” when he was leaving office in 2000.44
In the 1990s and 2000s, Turkey had at least two severe financial crises. Turkish Lira was devaluated in 1994 and 2001, and this model was vulnerable to international liquidity. This was clearly experienced when the U.S. Federal Bank changed its policy and ended monetary expansion in 2013, foreign investments to Turkey slowed down leading to economic problems. In 2018, Turkey suffered fluctuations, speculations, and the Turkish Lira lost its value.45
The COVID-19 has posed a greater challenge to emerging economies like Turkey. The cost of a halted economy, subsidies, and public-health expenditures has put these countries under more pressure. Declining exports and slowing down of international tourism have also great financial consequences for many countries including Turkey, which was also hit by a massive capital flight. According to Özkan, in just four weeks at the beginning of the crisis, a third of the investments into emerging nations’ bonds over the past four years were sold. This was four times the capital outflows of the 2007-2009 financial crises. It has spelled disaster for these countries, which rely on this capital for financing domestic investment and hence economic growth.46 Turkey also suffered great pressure on its economy due to the geopolitical risks and security operations plus a refugee crisis.
In order to overcome the monetary crisis in 2018, Turkey tried to control and protect the value of its currency and raised reserve requirement ratios for lira deposits. Turkey also tried to reinforce its tight monetary policy stance, raised borrowing costs, and adjusted liquidity, without resorting to outright policy rate hikes. It also started to change its economic model to be based more on national production. Recently, domestic production in the defense industry rose from 20 percent to 70 percent.47
To respond to the COVID-19 crisis, Turkey took fiscal, monetary, and micro-financial, balance of payment, and exchange rate measures. As of March 2021, Turkey’s estimated fiscal support package reached ₺638 billion (12.7 percent of the GDP). These measures include ‘o budget measures, loan guarantees, loan service deferrals, tax deferrals for businesses, equity injections into public banks, and short-term work schemes. Value Added Tax (VAT) has also been reduced on certain goods from 18 percent to 1 percent, and the policy rate has been cut by 300 bps. The Central Bank introduced a program of outright purchases of sovereign bonds and has substantially increased its liquidity facilities to banks. In December 2020, the bank regulator tightened the maximum tenure of retail auto loans and credit card installment plans for purchases of certain types of goods. Turkey’s measures include suspension of debt enforcement and bankruptcy proceedings, restrictions on dividend payments by banks and firms in 2020, and establishing a new Turkish Lira lending facility for SMEs in the export sector to support trade finance. The Central Bank announced that the overall limit of the bilateral swap agreement between Turkey and Qatar was increased from the $5 billion to the $15 billion equivalent.48 These economic decisions in the direction of self-sufficiency in critical sectors and production-based economy are also in line with the developing order. But it is disputable whether Turkey acts within a theoretical framework to adapt to the new situation of the world or whether the steps are more reactionary.
Role of the International Organizations and the Nation-State
When the COVID-19 outbreak took place, international organizations were slow to respond and could not garner support from their members. The World Health Organization was criticized for not warning governments on time so that they could declare the pandemic earlier and be better organized. The U.S. President Trump accused the WHO of protecting China and consequently suspended funding.49 The United States failed to show leadership within these organizations. Kori Schake points this out saying: “The United States will no longer be seen as an international leader because of its government’s narrow self-interest and bungling incompetence.”50 Nations started to look for new financial, trade, and security organizations by passing western, or U.S.-dominated institutions. The international organizations have not reflected the change in the balance of power therefore China felt underrepresented in organizations like the IMF. In 2014, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries created the New Development Bank, which is dedicated to financing infrastructure projects in the developing world. China and Russia have each also established new regional security organizations. Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Chinese-run Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and the Russian-backed Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) were established. India and Pakistan joined Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2017 as full members.51
The decline of trust in international organizations started much earlier. In 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq, without a UN mandate, based on false accusations of having weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against Saddam Hussein. Although the American army had an easy victory against Saddam Hussein, the operation created a vacuum that was filled by extremist groups. The U.S. has lost 4409 military men and women in Iraq according to its Defense Ministry.52 Iraq and Afghan endeavors not only harmed the security situation in the two countries but also the image of the U.S. as ‘the gatekeeper of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.’ Lack of commitment to the liberal and democratic ideals during the Arab uprisings in 2011 made the situation worse. The Security Council’s five permanent members failed to protect principles of human rights and democracy when they were violated in Egypt, Yemen, or Libya.53
The EU also failed to respond to the needs of its members. People burnt flags of the EU. The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the Union before the pandemic is a symbol and proof of the growing ideal of returning to the nation-state. The pandemic strengthened this trend and reinforced nationalism. Stephen Walt says that the pandemic will accelerate the shift in power and influence from West to East and that the world will further retreat from hyper-globalization. He claims that the globe will be less prosperous and less free.54 G. John Ikenberry shares this view and states that economic and social collapse is unfolding, and it is hard to see anything other than a reinforcement of the movement toward nationalism, great power rivalry, and strategic decoupling.55 During the pandemic, governments have assumed new powers to trace, track, and control at the expense of international organizations. New tools of disease control and workplace management have been introduced, for some, the era of big government is returning.
As growing problems of international terrorism, immigration, economic crisis, pandemic, and nuclear proliferation forces nations to rethink their positions. Weak or failing states are more open to the risks
As the COVID-19 outbreak showed, the nation-state tries to regain control over the economy and sovereignty. The flow of refugees from the South and Southeast to Europe forced many European nations to abandon their internationalist approach and to start building new barriers, physical and legal. This trend was triggered before the pandemic, following the refugee flow and the terrorist attacks in France and Germany. The EU decision to give access to personal information by adopting a directive on April 21, 2016, to share Passenger Name Record (PNR) data with local security organizations56 was a step back from the freedom of movement. Defensive nationalism against refugees strengthened right-wing parties in Europe. EU enlargement, one of the key policies of the neoliberal order, slowed down and even regressed as the UK left the Union.
In the post-Cold War era, Turkey cared about its relations with international organizations and tried to join the EU, supported international organizations, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and even initiated the establishment of the Black Sea Cooperation Organization, hosting the CSCE Summit in 1999. Turkey also initiated the D-8, an organization of developing countries. Turkey supported Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process as a facilitator57 and supported newly established independent states’ struggle to integrate into the international system. Despite several problems and setbacks, Turkey signed the Readmission Agreement with the EU on March 18, 2016, to provide humanitarian assistance to 4 million refugees.
But with changing priorities, the failure of international organizations to address Turkey’s concerns, and disappointment with the EU’s double standards towards Turkey, Ankara tried to consolidate its sovereignty and solve its problems alone. To consolidate decision-making processes, the Turkish political system was transformed into a presidential system in 2017 following a national referendum. The idea was to centralize decision-making and prevent the occurrence of a coalition seeking parliamentary system, which provided fragile and unstable governments in the past.58 Changing the system triggered a debate about authoritarianism in Turkey. But in most cases, the critics ignored Turkey’s struggle with terrorism and the attack on Turkish legal and security systems by the FETÖ terror network, which initiated a failed coup attempt.
The presidential system enabled Turkey to take quick decisions and implement them effectively during the pandemic. The President’s office effectively coordinated with the ministries and constantly informed the public. After the first corona case on March 11, 2020, Turkey suspended education and quickly initiated online education. Restaurants, cinemas, malls, and many activities were also suspended. Many private and public hospitals were converted to pandemic hospitals. Turkey’s borders were closed, and lockdowns were implemented. Turkey’s measures can be summarized as precautionary steps, health and logistics, economic, and social support.
Turkey was also able to manufacture mechanical ventilators domestically within a very short period of time after the government decided to do so.59 Turkey, due to the pressure on its borders, sovereign rights, and territorial integrity started to adapt to this new world earlier than many other states. Having been held in limbo by the EU in its membership application, not supported against anti-democratic attacks to its democratically elected government, and not assisted militarily when it came under attack, Turkey realized that the new rules were ‘self-help,’ and started to consolidate state institutions. Security became a priority and diversification of relations was essential. During the coronavirus pandemic, Turkey proved that it is aware of the changes and accordingly adapted and prepared for the new era. Turkey’s successful digitalization of state institutions and citizen affairs also helped to contain the virus and control the activities of the people. With the application of ‘Life Fits Home’ (Hayat Eve Sığar, HES), Turkish authorities can easily monitor and track infected people and their movements.
The world has entered a new era in the 2020s and the COVID-19 pandemic has a crucial role in this change. However, the signs of the change came much earlier. The American retreat started earlier as the leading patrons of the previous order have given up on it, as Ikenberry suggested. When the former U.S. President Donald Trump declared in 2016 that “we will no longer surrender this country … to the false song of globalism,” he actively undermined 75 years of American leadership. Others in the U.S. foreign policy establishment have likewise packed their bags and moved on to the next global era: that of great-power competition.60
Many analysts believe that the liberal international order ended with the rise of China and the election of Donald Trump as the president of the U.S. However, previously the 44th President of the U.S. Barack H. Obama prioritized nation-building at home and began the retreat from global leadership.61 In 2012 he declared: “it is time for a little nation-building at home,”62 and it was the time that the U.S. started retracting from its global responsibilities. After Obama, Donald Trump won the elections with his slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ in which he promised to make the U.S. pull out of unnecessary wars. He even underlined that the U.S. will not pay for the security bill of other nations. He forced NATO allies to increase their defense spending. He even withdrew from agreements like the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA) to control Iran’s nuclear program, Transpacific Partnership (TPP), Paris Climate Accord, UNESCO, UN Human Rights Council,63 and the World Health Organization. In fact, the liberal world order was already in decline long before the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not clear how much role or dominance Russia and China will have on the system, but it is clear that geopolitical rivalry has already started.
The new political system and strong executive structure seem an asset for Turkey to overcome the challenges of the post-COVID-19 world
As growing problems of international terrorism, immigration, economic crisis, pandemic, and nuclear proliferation forces nations to rethink their positions. Weak or failing states are more open to the risks. Countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen do not have the infrastructure and capacity to face these challenges.64 Turkey has been feeling all these challenges and restructured its political system accordingly. Turkey has also been dealing with an undeclared policy of ‘soft containment by the EU.’65 Countries competing with Turkey, like Greece, Greek Cypriots, Egypt, and Israel formed a coalition to limit Turkey’s space in the Eastern Mediterranean, attempting to build energy cooperation networks bypassing Turkey.
Turkey’s recalibration of its foreign relations also enabled it to overcome many problems and helped it to solve security problems in Syria and Iraq. Turkey also supported Azerbaijan in its struggle of liberating its occupied land in 2020. Turkey’s ability to construct its own warships and submarines has also added to its power in the disputed seas. But there are still many challenges ahead of Turkey. The strength of the Turkish economy is far from being secured and there are still vulnerabilities especially in terms of the value of the Turkish Lira. Turkey’s efforts to produce its own fighter jet and tank engines require more time. Moreover, as the COVID-19 vaccine issue showed, Turkey still needs to develop proper technologies to be self-sufficient. But the new political system and strong executive structure seem an asset for Turkey to overcome the challenges of the post-COVID-19 world.
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