Turkey has alternately been a battleground or a bridge between the East and the West. Where in previous centuries the object was controlling shipping lanes or cultural domination, perhaps the issue of most salience today is the flow of energy resources from the Middle East and Central Asia - and whether those resources will go to the East or the West. If the EU is to feed its high-demand developed economies, and especially those of its voracious new members, it should support Turkey's efforts to serve as a growing energy transit hub, including by seeking its entry into the EU.
Turkey is surrounded by some of the most significant oil- and gas-producing states: Russia to the northeast, the Caspian Sea and Central Asian states to the east, and Iran and Iraq to the southeast. While serving as a key link in existing transit routes, the future of Turkey must only be set to grow in this regard given the expected doubling of energy demand in the next decades. A significant portion of any success will be built upon current infrastructure, but the most interesting developments may be yet to come as Central Asian hydrocarbons are divvied up between the East and the West, the West ends its untenable isolation of Iran, and control of the Iraqi state ceases to be a blood battle.
Russia now depends substantially on Turkey for transit services, given the former's much-reduced real estate on the Black Sea and uneasy relations with neighboring Ukraine. At the same time, Russia bears resentment toward the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and other similar ventures as they are expressly intended to avoid Russian territory and thus diminish its influence over energy provision to Europe.
The EU, as a result, has competitive options of receiving Caspian Sea and Central Asian energy resources via Russia or Turkey. In response, Russia is wooing Kazakhstan, especially given the magnitude of the latter's established energy reserves. However, increased opposition to the existing Kazakh regime and its developing alliance with Russia, as well as the greater attraction of a Turkey allied with the EU as a transit alternative, could spell future benefit for the EU.
Europe faces additional competition from the South for these resources. China is also courting the Central Asian states to feed its own burgeoning energy needs, especially in its underdeveloped western reaches bordering those countries. It has made and will assuredly continue to make efforts to guarantee that significant transit routes are installed instead toward the East. Meanwhile, India has its eyes set on development of Iran's resources, although this would likely entail some kind of hard-to-reach political understanding with Pakistan to achieve the most pragmatic routing.
The most effective pairing of resource state and transit state in the near future may therefore be Iraq and Turkey. While perhaps difficult to believe under the current circumstances of Turkey's unsettled Kurdish population and Iraq's still not fully determined domestic governance, both of which contribute to intermittent border skirmishes, substantial cooperation is already taking place out of northern Iraq. An eventual political settlement could cement the deal.
To take advantage of existing and future energy resources channeled via Turkey, the EU should support the country's efforts to build up infrastructure capabilities, establish a sound legal code, and ensure a stable security environment - all of which contribute to a more attractive environment for large-scale energy transit projects. Turkey is not mature in all of these respects yet, but possesses a good foundation from which to work.
The EU's welcome of Turkey would ensure the country's dedication to channeling energy resources into that continent. The access membership would guarantee to investment in transportation infrastructure, a body of respected law, and assured security, as well as the promise of economic and political stability, would be very attractive to resource-rich states seeking maximum profit from their oil and gas. The accident of geography placed Turkey in a very strategic position vis-à-vis energy distribution; a purposeful inclusion policy on the part of the EU could ensure that it reaps the benefits.
Leah Fenwick is Director for Financial Regulation and Capital Markets at Financial Services Volunteer Corps and a former Foreign Service Officer. In June, FSVC hosted a group of finance, energy, and security experts from the United States, Russia, and China in Istanbul. This article was written with financial support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and reflects the views of the author alone.
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