Pipe Dreams or Dream Pipe? Turkey's Hopes of Becoming an Energy Hub

Article excerpt

Turkey's energy policy is closely tied to its tradition of geopolitical thinking. While Turkey has very few energy resources of its own, the country's policy-making elite is deeply committed to making energy a central aspect of its foreign policy. Taking for granted the uniqueness of the country's geography and convincing others of the same, Turkey is on the path to becoming an important part of the network supplying Europe with energy.

As with so many other parts of Turkish foreign policy, Turkey's approach to the Black Sea region has long been dominated by its twin ties to NATO, of which it is a member, and the EU, which it hopes to join. These two commitments seem to be continuously at odds with Turkey's interactions with its neighbors. On the one hand, there is the desire to internalize European practices of economic integration and to reduce conflict levels for economic benefit. On the other hand, some of Turkey's regional neighbors have an uneasy relationship with the West (most notably Iran) or are in competition with NATO (Russia). Cultivating economic relations with states that take an adversarial view of the security pact to which Turkey belongs (though not necessarily to Turkey itself) generates inherent problems of policy. Although policymakers may be concerned about this privately, such concerns are seldom voiced in public. In the Black Sea region, this means that Turkey is continuously trying to work out the best way to approach, and if one prefers, balance, the power blocs. Where the so-called "old elite" would rely on hard power - i.e., having a large army - the government that has held power since 2002 (and to some extent the one that preceded it) has increasingly sought to use softer tools of foreign policy such as trade and education.1 As Turkey could never match Russia on hard power, focusing on softpower has opened a space of political possibilities that was not previously available. It obviously also helps that cooperation with Russia is now less problematic to NATO than it was during the Cold War, and that Turkey's relationship to NATO is not as all-important as it once was. Meanwhile, the so-called Arab Spring and the tightening blockade of Iran's energy resources are making operations in the region more difficult for a country that now seeks trade and cooperation with as many of its neighbors as possible.

Even as EU membership seems to slip, Turkey is working hard to make itself attractive to the union. Whether this is in the seemingly vain hope that the EU will change its mind or in order to negotiate some sort of privileged partnership is a moot point. Energy cooperation is one way of making itself a valuable partner. Yet Turkey possesses few energy resources, and will suffer from energy shortages a few years down the line if it does not secure new sources. Instead, it tries to exploit its "geopolitical location." That Turkey has a unique geographical position has become an accepted social fact that is fundamental not only to Turkey's foreign policy, but also to how European states relate to Turkey. While it is taken for granted and omnipresent in Turkish politics, it is slightly less important in the foreign policy of various European states. The reasoning goes that Turkey's geographical position "between East and West" (or rather between the producers and the consumers of fossil fuels) is so valuable that the question is not whether Turkey should move into the field of delivering energy to Europe but what its role should be. As energy projects are generally huge infrastructural investments that tie states together in interdependent relationships, this will place Turkey between Azerbaijan, Iran, and Iraq on the supply side and Europe on the demand side for the foreseeable future. This could put Turkey in a difficult squeeze were the Europeans to come into conflict with one or more of these three states - which at the present time does not seem unlikely. The boon for Turkey is that this is one of the very few ways Turkey can obtain a steady supply of energy products at a predictable price for its own domestic needs. …