Turks have recently been receiving an unexpected geography lesson as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has stepped up its campaign to secure a seat on the UN Security Council when five places come up for election in October 2008.
In recent weeks Turkish newspapers have entertained their readers with photographs of government leaders, particularly Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, meeting a succession of dignitaries from little-known states in far-flung corners of the world, many of them exotically dressed in their local costumes. The AKP appears to have chosen April as the month of small island states. Last week, the leaders of leaders of Nauru, the Republic of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of Palau, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Samoa and Tonga arrived in Istanbul for a conference on how to improve Turkey’s almost non-existent ties with the Pacific. This week Foreign Minister of the Maldives Abdullah Shahid was in Ankara for discussions with his Turkish counterpart (Radikal, Turkish Daily News, April 17).
Turkey last served on the UN National Security Council in 1961. On July 21, 2003, eight months after it first came to power, the AKP formally submitted Turkey’s candidacy for election to the Security Council when a vote is held on October 16, 2008. If chosen, Turkey will serve a two year term starting on January 1, 2009.
Although Turkey would undoubtedly stand to benefit diplomatically and politically from being a member of the UN Security Council, it is likely that the AKP is at least as attracted by what it regards as the prestige and the boost to national pride that would accrue from serving, albeit temporarily, on one of the most powerful decision-making bodies in the world.
The AKP launched its campaign for Security Council membership in June 2004, when it vigorously lobbied members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) for their support during a summit meeting in Istanbul. In the first six months of 2006, officials from the Turkish Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA) visited 30 countries to ask for their backing. Another 27 countries were visited in the first eight months of 2007. In September 2006 Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener unexpectedly attended the 14th Summit Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Cuba. Speaking after the Turkish Embassy in Havana had hosted a breakfast for the leaders of Caribbean states, Sener told Turkish journalists: “I had never heard of the names of some of them before, but they all have a vote at the UN” (Radikal, April 17).
A study by the Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies (ASAM), a think tank based in Ankara, reports that the MFA has been allocated a budget of $50 million dollars. Some $20 million of the total has been assigned to pay off the debts of smaller nations to the UN in order to ensure that their failure to pay their membership fees does not prevent them from voting in the election in October (Stratejik Analiz, January 2008; www.asam.org.tr). In 2007 Turkey established a $15 million fund to support underdeveloped, small island states, of which $5 million has been assigned to Pacific countries. Turkey recently announced that it would establish diplomatic relations with the Marshall and Cook Islands for the first time (Radikal, April 16).
Turkey has also sought to bolster its ties with Africa, announcing that it would dispatch its first ambassadors to 10 countries: Angola, Chad, Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Niger and Tanzania. In August, just two months before the UN vote begins, it will host a conference in Istanbul on Turkey-Africa Cooperation.
In addition to aid and closer diplomatic ties, Turkey has also been offering promises. Small island states have been among the most vociferous supporters of international attempts to slow the pace of global warming, not the least because several of them stand to disappear if sea levels rise. On April 9, at a press conference following his meeting with the leaders of Pacific island states, Babacan emphasized the AKP’s commitment to environmental issues. “We are doing whatever we can to ensure that the world is a better place for our children and grandchildren,” he said. “There are studies on the impact on the world of a rise in water levels. Turkey is very sensitive about the issue of the environment. We shall continue to contribute in this regard” (Ihlas Haber Ajansi, April 9).
Turkey is, however, one of the very few countries has yet to sign the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Several of Babacan’s Cabinet colleagues have repeatedly insisted that they believe that Turkey’s economic development takes precedence over the environmental considerations addressed by the agreement. In April 2007 Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler explicitly dismissed suggestions that Turkey should sign the Kyoto Protocol, which he described as “not being in the national interest” (Today’s Zaman, April 21).
There is currently no indication that Guler or any other member of the AKP government has had a change of heart over Kyoto, nor has Turkey put forward any alternative proposals to address global warming. It is currently unclear whether the island states being so vigorously courted by the AKP will be swayed by the largesse and attention currently be showered on them or by Turkey’s refusal to address issues that could, quite literally, see them wiped off the map. The worry for Turkey is that whatever expressions of support are made now will not change the fact that the October 16 vote is by secret ballot.