Author: Andrew Korybko
Freedom of speech no longer exists in Turkey, so it’s impossible to discuss the influence that any plurality of ideas may have on the national discourse. There are obviously a few vocal opposition groups that collectively represent nearly half of the country’s electorate, but they don’t have a national platform for sharing their ideas and are far from being united. Instead, word of mouth, social media, and alternative media are the only outlets for objectively learning about their positions, which in effect dilutes their message and makes it accessible only to individuals passionate enough to allocate the time (and sometimes the risk) in searching it out. Under this environment, the stringently pro-unipolar mass media in the country has a stranglehold on controlling the national narrative, although that isn’t to say that the prospective influence of non-official information outlets like social media and alternative platforms should at all be underestimated.
Turkey is in an interesting position because most of its exports go to Europe or its immediate neighbors, while it imports considerable amounts from Russia (energy) and China. The real-sector economy of international trade, however, is conducted mostly with the West and neighboring countries, which indicates that there are likely barely any economic elites that are directly dependent on Turkey’s economic relations with the two multipolar world leaders. Despite that, it doesn’t mean that average Turks aren’t affected by trade with Russia, since the economic restrictions that Moscow has put into place since Ankara’s downing of the Russian anti-terrorist jet in Syria last November have devastated the tourism and agricultural businesses.
Looked at in this manner, Turkey’s economic relations with Russia, while uncompetitive in a real-sector sense in relation to the West and neighboring countries, are of a much higher strategic value, though they appear to have not at all been a deterrent to Turkey’s rock-solid unipolar commitment to the US. It could in hindsight be alleged that Russia sought to cultivate these sorts of relations in order to restrain Turkey from future aggression, secure it as a pragmatic ally, and possibly lay the groundwork for a long-term geopolitical pivot, and while these objectives are still alive in theory, they seem to have died in practice under the reign of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Fortunately, the structural foundation still remains in place and could be resurrected in the future when he’s no longer leading the country, although it’s anyone’s guess for when this might happen.
Turkey is intimately tied in with NATO and the US’ campaigns of aggression in the Mideast, and President Erdogan is capitalizing off of the Immigrant Crisis that he helped create in order to force his country into the EU. If he succeeds in this dangerous gambit, then it will be extraordinarily difficult to extricate Turkey from unipolar influence in the future unless of course the EU liberates itself from American hegemony, which doesn’t seem at all to be on the horizon. The institutional leverage that unipolar forces have over Turkey is a strong deterrent to any possible multipolar shift, even in the event that Erdogan and his clique no longer preside over the country. Actually, it can be argued that the institutional influence of NATO and the pro-American EU combine with such intensity that they overwhelm the otherwise natural geopolitical inclinations that the country would expectedly have in embracing multipolarity, which in this way makes the institutional factor a disproportionately influential one in affecting Turkey’s unipolar or multipolar vector of development.
Turkey appears to be at a crossroads when it comes to the grassroots sentiment of its population. Around half of them support Erdogan’s AK Party, while the other half affiliate with a hodgepodge of opposition groups, including the ultra-nationalist MHP. The dismantling of free press within the country has made it difficult to objectively assess the true opinions of its citizens, but it can be understood that they generally correlate with the electoral results of the last election. Assuming that this is the case, then over half of the population (around 62% if one counts the AP Party plus MHP) are in favor of unipolarity while the remaining 38% or so (CHP and HDP opposition groups) might be in support of multipolarity, although of course this isn’t known for sure.
The author is skeptical about the HDP’s commitment to multipolar principles since the transnational establishment of “Kurdistan” is known to be a grand strategic objective of American and “Israeli” policy planners, so the pro-Kurdish party should be handled with extreme caution. Erring on the conservative side, then if only the CHP is considered as being multipolar (which itself remains to be seen), then only around 25% of the population shares ideas that complement Russia and China’s multipolar ones. Prior to the War on Syria and Erdogan’s authoritarian streak, there were hopes that AKP could be a constructive partner for the multipolar world, but these were quickly dashed and regrettably took much too long for Russian decision makers to realize, who had hitherto given their Turkish political counterparts the (too) optimistic benefit of the doubt in holding out the prospects for future cooperation on projects such as Balkan Stream.
To continue with the above tangent, the reason that Russia thought that Turkey’s geopolitical course was “salvageable” was because multipolarity is the most naturally occurring choice for it. Turkey is in such an advantageous geostrategic position that it could peacefully extend the positive manifestations of its influence (e.g. economic) far and wide in connecting the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Mideast, and North Africa via the shared center of gravity between them in Anatolia, and current Prime Minister Davutoglu had earlier written about as much in his keynote work about “Strategic Depth”.
A confident but responsible global pole of power emanating from Turkey would have been to the multipolar world’s collective self-interest, but the US saw to it that the expression of this policy was infected by unipolar directives in enhancing Washington’s hegemonic control over this broad transregional space. Too much blood has already been spilled and bad will engendered for Turkey to ever countenance practicing a peaceful form of “strategic depth” anytime in the near future, but after a couple of decades, it might once more be possible for responsible decision makers in Ankara to return to this policy in a restrained and selective manner.
In a double-edged sword of benefit and detriment, Turkey does not have a Western Democracy, but it can’t exactly be described as having a “Sovereign” Democracy yet either. Technically speaking in terms of its superficial process, the present Turkish model is purportedly a “democracy”, although Erdogan in no way treats it as such. To add to that, the political climate and accompanying characteristics typically associated with Western Democracy are lacking in Turkey. This would normally make the country a “Sovereign” Democracy, but the US and its presidential proxy, Erdogan, have abused the system to make it fully compliant with unipolarity.
Nowadays the country is more like a one-party autocracy that occasionally resorts to “democratic” motions in order to renew its international ‘legitimacy’ in the eyes of its Western partners, but if the internal arrangement somehow changed where Erdogan and his AKP were no longer fully in power, then the system itself (barring the autocratic advances of the past couple of years) could be amenable to incubating a multipolar candidate and their party for power. The non-Western political culture makes it possible, as does the lack of other non-Color Revolutionary levers of influence that the US could deploy, but then again, precisely for that reason, Washington might feel compelled to resort to a Hybrid War in order to offset the emergence of a multipolar alternative in the country.
Just as Germany is the US’ base of European control, so too is Turkey for its Mideast expression, although the latter has a more feasibly realistic chance of one day being relinquished and possibly per the US’ own grand designs in inflicting a dissolutive hit on the country by supporting Kurdish separatism. If a pro-US “Kurdistan” could be created in the heart of the Mideast, then Washington would have no need for the rump Turkish state that it would leave behind.
Like it was explained earlier, the Turkish political and economic elite are not too closely affiliated with the world’s multipolar forces, although there might of course be the potential for a multipolar breakthrough among some minor or obscure political voices. For the most part, Turkey’s elite is Westernized or aggressively Islamized (not peacefully as in the case of Iran’s), both of which create serious complications for the country’s possible incorporation into the multipolar fold. Considering this, however, under future circumstances it could be possible for Russia and China to more positively involve themselves in Turkey’s economy and through the cultivation of friendly accompanying political elites as well, though the current geopolitical environment of American-directed Turkish hostility towards both of them makes it presently impossible.
The Turkish Armed Forces have traditionally functioned as the ultimate check-and-balance actor in safeguarding the country’s secularism, but their independent role has been progressively dismantled under the long years of Erdogan’s rule. The brazen attempt to “Islamify” the Kemalist secular constitution would have been impossible just a few years ago without the military first stepping in, but this just speaks to the success of Erdogan’s years-long “silent coup” in neutralizing the military and transforming the country into an undeclared Islamic state. There’s a faint chance that the military might revolt against the Turkish strongman, especially if he stretches them even thinner than they currently are in waging the anti-Kurdish civil war and staying on standby along the Syrian border, but one shouldn’t get their hopes too high for that scenario at this point, though there’s of course no telling what sort of backroom deals and machinations might possibly be going on behind the scenes right now.
Turkey is a piercing example of a naturally multipolar state which was seized and co-opted by the unipolar world, with pro-American forces reengineering the entire national fabric in order to systematize their control and make it all the more challenging for any possibly pragmatic successor(s) to try to reverse the damage that they have inflicted. Without the institutional dominance of NATO, and perhaps even soon the US-controlled EU, Turkey would organically expand its ties with Russia, China, and Iran, but Washington has hijacked the Ankara political elite to the point where it’s almost impossible for any sober observer to countenance the possibility of the present leadership reversing their course and embracing Moscow once more.
The inevitable passing of the Erdogan government, however long it may take to happen, might create an opportunity to turn Turkey into a contested state on the long-term path to multipolarity, but it would be a herculean feat to correct the changes that the present government has made and turn this into a viable option. It shouldn’t be totally precluded that a post-Erdogan government could be much more pragmatic and possibly even friendly to the multipolar world, but in such a case, the US could unleash the multiple and complementary Hybrid War scenarios of increased Islamic terrorism, an intensified and more encompassing civil war, and the subsequent existential destruction of the Turkish state in preventing this eventuality from transpiring.
The Islamic Republic’s media outlets are very multipolar and reinforce constructive socio-economic and political messages. Tehran has noticeably warmed from its prior (but justified) “Orthodox Anti-Americanism” to a much more pragmatic form of cooperation with Washington in negotiating the landmark nuclear deal, but it still retains a high degree of suspicion about the US’ motives and regularly criticizes it on all of its mediums. At this moment in time, there are no unipolar media influences exerting pressure from within on the Iranian informational establishment.
Due to the extended Western sanctions against Iran, the bulk of the country’s international economic interactions are with Asia, though it’s expected to become more balanced in the proceeding decade after the removal of these multilateral restrictions. Iran already went on a multi-billion-dollar shopping spree in Europe in spending an impressive sum of money, and it’s succeeded in courting billions of dollars of Western investment into the country during this time. It can be forecasted that the Iranian strategy is to position the country as an economic fulcrum between East and West and a magnet of interest to both, expectedly reaping the pecuniary dividends of its advantageous geostrategic location.
As positive of a vision as that may be, Iran will still need to remain vigilant to the strategic danger that comes with an influx of Western economic influence inside the country, since the US has assuredly optimized its asymmetrical ‘lobbying’ efforts in ‘poaching’ high-ranking political and military elite since the last time that Washington and Tehran enjoyed mutually beneficial economic relations decades ago. Some European forces could also function in this capacity, so Iran shouldn’t be too naively trusting of its new “Western partners” no matter how alluring their investments or products may be.
Increased energy sales to the West will predictably lead to Iran holding a higher position in these countries’ strategic planning, but that reversely means that any possible disruption of sales (e.g. new sanctions) after Iran has already reestablished a dependency relationship with them might lead to negative economic consequences for Tehran. This could be dealt with by maintaining a strong energy relationship with India, which Iran already has and is on track to develop even further, but that also holds the risk of making Tehran dependent on New Delhi’s geopolitical whims. If India continues along its pro-unipolar path, then Iran, through its necessary energy links with the subcontinent in balancing its future European-destined exports, will be dragged along with it to an extent and function as an unwilling enabler of New Delhi’s disruptive actions, especially if it allows its territory to be used in assisting a potentially hostile India in accessing Russia and China’s shared Central Asian backyard.
Iran is not party to any explicitly pro-unipolar institutions or has any intention to be, and on the contrary, it wants to join the multipolar SCO as soon as possible. This was previously held up by the UNSC sanctions that Russia and China had agreed to, but in the post-sanctions reality, it’s possible that Iran might one day join this organization. There’s no timetable for accurately predicting when this might be, as the SCO still has to complete the accession of its new Indian and Pakistani members, which might not only take some time, but will also fundamentally alter the organization. It’s very likely that Iran will one day join the SCO, it’s just that there’s no set date for when the process will begin or be completed by.
The Iranian population is fairly young, and it’s a well-known fact that this sort of demographic is usually the most receptive to pro-unipolar information outreaches and active street protest movements. The failed “Green (Color) Revolution” of 2009 attests to the US’ ability to bring thousands of anti-government ‘protesters’ out to the streets, although there’s no reliably objective indication about what degree this is still possible today. Venturing to make an educated hypothesis, the rise of moderate political voices in the Iranian parliament seems to point to a mildly friendlier attitude that the population has towards the types of figures that the West usually likes to work with, thus indirectly facilitating American engagement (whether overt or covert, witting or unwitting) with part of the political elite.
Another developing grassroots issue that Iranian decision makers need to be aware of is the relative watering down of the youth’s Islamic identity. There’s no shame in embracing a comparatively more secular style of religious conduct, but the further that the nation’s youth drift from the unifying role that religion has held in their society ever since the Revolution, the easier it is for foreign (intelligence-guided) forces to influence them in embracing “Westernization” and subsequently generating resentment against their political establishment. Furthermore, if the youth shed the shared Islamic identity that unites all of the country’s disparate ethnic and regional groups, then it increases the possibility that these aforementioned characteristics of identity might take preponderance over the composite Iranian one and lead to an outbreak of domestic tension.
In the event that “moderate” (unipolar-tilting) and “conservative” (multipolar-secure) figures, represented nowadays by Prime Minister Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei respectively, end up in a public clash of some sorts (perhaps over the speed of sanctions removal or Western economic partnerships), the Western-indoctrinated youth might be susceptible to seditious suggestions that they organize a regime change movement in opposing the authorities, albeit one which incorporates destructive tried-and-tested Color Revolution technology that wasn’t available back in 2009.
Geopolitics suggests that Iran is one of the crucial multipolar global players, and it has all of the strategic credentials to fulfill this role in the coming future. Similar to Turkey, Iran lies at a transregional juncture that it makes it one of the most pivotal Eurasian states. Straddling the Caucasus, Anatolia, the Mideast, the Arabian Peninsula, South Asia, Central Asia, and the Caspian, its attractive position makes it the fancy of all Great Powers, including of course the US. It appears to be geopolitical destiny that Iran will once more reassert its influence all across these broad regions, but with the critical factor being whether its intention is multipolar or unipolar.
In the pan-Eurasian multipolar understanding of the world, Iran proudly sits alongside Russia and China in being one of the three anchors of the emerging global order, but this holds true only so long as the Ayatollah and the “conservatives” (multipolar patriots) remain at the helm of the Iranian state. If a coalition of “moderates” manages to displace the central decision maker and the military-intelligence establishment that stands behind him (represented most publicly by the Revolutionary Guards, and a monumental task to sideline), then Iran, if it’s not totally domestically destabilized by that time in the ensuing aftermath, could become a potent unipolar geopolitical force in dramatically threatening the multipolar world order.
It’s not to say that this is likely, but that it’s certainly the US’ grand strategy to see happen, and ideally, as Washington sees it, with as little domestic turbulence as possible so that Iran can remain as formidable of a future foe as the US would like for it to be against Russia, China, and their shared area of stable interests in Central Asia. For now, however, it looks like the Ayatollah and his “deep state” supporters are firmly in control of the state apparatus, even if they’re on the proportional decline in the parliament, and that Iran will uninterruptedly retain its multipolar trajectory for at least the near future, barring of course any sudden Hybrid War attempt against it.
Iran’s Sovereign Democracy is beginning to take on slight (key word) characteristics of the Western political culture that typifies its electoral process, standing out not in their intensity (which isn’t that strong), but in terms of just how much they contrast with the established order of business in Iran. While it’s always been true that there’s been a sort of “moderate”/”conservative” divide in the country, this has become more pronounced in recent years during the electoral cycle, especially as regards the first election in the post-sanctions reality. Iran’s parliamentary system is complex and incorporates internal checks and balances within it, but the undisputable electoral popularity of the “moderates” in the last election signifies that a paradigm shift might be approaching as Iran’s Western-inclined youth progressively begin to exercise their voting rights.
A future scenario could easily develop where the “moderate” youth feel slighted that the electoral system does not immediately result in the full political gains that they had expected in an immediate post-election environment, having fallen for the US-supported expectations of ‘radical change’ right after the ballots are cast and their desired figure achieves a crucial victory. The checks and balances built into Iran’s political system would then come off as being “restraints and suppressions” and could unwittingly play into a forthcoming intensified information war against the country. This possibility is wholly dependent on the ideological leanings of the burgeoning youth population, and whether they fall for the Western information charade and to what extent this happens if they do. Other than this destabilizing risk which does in fact have a substantiated chance of transpiring, then Iran’s Sovereign Democracy is actually quite stable and perfectly attuned to the country’s domestic conditions.
The country’s elite have traditionally been “Orthodox Anti-American” ever since the Islamic Revolution, but this seems to be on the cusp of partially changing in the new geostrategic environment that has been ushered in after the sanctions removal. The political “moderates” seem to be positively biased towards the West, if not the US in particular, and are in a perverse way “thankful” that the sanctions had been lifted instead of holding to the “conservative” attitude that this is long overdue and not something to be overly celebratory about. There’s a realistic chance that a pro-Western cadre of Iranian political elites are already being formed within the country, with the forthcoming economic re-opening to the West being sufficient enough in terms of scale and scope to foster a corresponding economic one as well, albeit of a much broader and more grassroots base.
Iran needs to be closely monitored for any signs of a more distinct break between its elite’s prior unity, since the current fissures are not large enough to warrant any immediate concern at this very moment. However, they shouldn’t be ignored either, and doing so is done entirely at Iran’s own peril. The US’ strategy of co-opting the elite of multipolar countries has been devastatingly successful before such as in Myanmar, and it’s a latent threat that Iran must be prepared to deal with in the future. Addressing it might be difficult since the responding establishment figures must take delicate care to not unnecessarily upset the masses by creating the perception of an “inquisition” or a split between the ranks that’s much larger than it actually is. Tact and discretion are advised, and it’s only by adhering to them that Iran could deftly avoid the inadvertent exacerbation of any prospective elite infighting in the event that the author’s scenario comes to fruition in any manner.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are the vanguard military units most pertinent to the analysis at hand. They’ve traditionally aligned with the “conservatives” in power due to their shared overlap of strategic vision, and this doesn’t look at all likely to change. Rather, instead of being a potential unipolar “regime destabilizer”, the Revolutionary Guards are a paramount multipolar “regime reinforcer” and ensure that society will not be substantially disturbed by unipolar interference. With that objective in mind, they’re at the forefront of the Democratic Security initiatives that Tehran has undertaken in recent years, be they its participation in the War on Terror in assisting Syria to the dispersal of the 2009 “Green (Color) Revolution” crowds. They’re not an independent actor in the sense that they arbitrarily decide to intervene at will, but rather a reliable instrument for supporting the state when called upon to do so.
After considering all of the examined indicators, Iran can be appraised as a multipolar state that’s at medium-term situational risk of becoming a contested country. Right now, everything appears to be superficially stable – the Ayatollah is in charge, the Revolutionary Guards are behind him, and the people are unified in their mutually reinforcing Islamic and Iranian identities, but below the surface, trouble is indeed brewing. Some members of the “moderate” political elite are vulnerable to being exploited as “useful idiots” by the US and its allies in the coming years, and the new cadre of economic elite that will be created through Iran’s renewed trade with the West might become positively biased towards the unipolar bloc. The gradual erosion of unifying identity among the country’s large youth bulge could lead to the emergence of ethnic and regional affiliations taking center stage among some groups, which in that case could spark tension and possibly even conflict within parts of society.
In order to remain a multipolar state, Iran will have to find a way to simultaneously manage the threats of a growing elite divide, (Western-supported) reinterpretation of identity among some members of the youth, and the birth of a unipolar-friendly trader class, all of which could dangerously blend together in unleashing a “Green (Color) Revolution” 2.0. sometime in the future if or when Iran refuses the US’ outward suggestion that aids the “Rimland Alliance” in “containing” Russia and China in Central Asia. That moment might not be until the next couple of years, but it’s obviously on the US’ upcoming agenda since there’s no way that it would have struck the nuclear deal with Iran without having had some sort of ulterior grand strategic purpose in mind for having done so. The US has never historically enacted any kind of perceived “concessions” like the ones that it just did without doing so for the advance consideration of preconditioning its target for accepting a deal that it “can’t refuse” somewhere down the line.