Pandemic, regional geopolitics and the Istanbul canal

Pandemic, regional geopolitics and the Istanbul canal

The Covid-19 pandemic has proven not only to be an earthquake cracking open political fault lines around the world, it has turned out to be nothing short of a revolution, the aftershocks of which will change the world in nearly every aspect. Given the severity of the changes within such a short period of time, it would be fair to describe the epidemic as akin to a World War without gunpowder. Wars are like fighting arenas for national powers. The nation’s power is reliant on the will of the people, a factor which significantly determines the course of a war. How has German Chancellor Merkel responded to this “war”? She described the outbreak saying: “Since German unification, no, since the Second World War, there has been no challenge to our nation that has demanded such a degree of common and united action,”

This is ultimately a conflict between nature and humanity, and nature appears to be the winner for the moment. This conflict has tested the capacities of the governments in preventing and fighting this pandemic, the discipline of the people, the ability of governments to organize and respond and the creativity and the production capacity of some areas. In short, the coronavirus has tested the national power of each country in a manner not unlike an actual war.


The virus has immobilized much of humanity and has proven itself to be a protector of nature, ignoring all borders and crossing through every kind of geography. Global, regional and national logistics have decreased by half. Carbon dioxide emissions, mainly plastic solid and liquid waste, have decreased. As people put their actions to a halt, it becomes clear that the virus has temporarily slowed the manic consumption habits of consumer society. This has significantly complicated the traditional relationships between power and wealth, affecting everyone regardless of race, class or creed.

The usual paradigms, doctrines and concepts of almost every area of human life and activity will have to be reconsidered. Those who stick to the old patterns will have difficulty responding to the scorching problems of the new era. Because the decisive parameters of the new era are determined by the unstoppable flux of history and nature. Despite how far humanity has moved forward technologically, it has still been brought to a halt by the creative and destructive power of nature.


But the truth which history shows us is obvious. Humanity has survived many wars and plagues in all ages, albeit at great costs. To be clearer, homeostasis and balance is always maintained. There is no doubt that the Covid-19 crisis will also end. At this point, governments are preparing not only to manage the Covid-19 crisis, but also for the geopolitical, economic, technological, sociological, cultural and demographic re-shaping that will follow it: doing so is a necessity for every state. As of now, the first priority of all governments is to minimize the number of deaths while preventing the further spread of this disease. On the other hand, it is also equally important to put the economic gears back in motion to prevent social unrest and guarantee the rule of the current regime. Just like during wartime, the security of resources such as food, water and energy as well as the financial security of the worker masses, will definitely be a priority.



While all this is taking place, the geopolitical struggle will carry on. No country will step back from the geopolitical arena, especially those dealing with issues of sovereignty. Since the struggle for power and material interests on earth will never end, governments will try to use the pandemic to strengthen their capability to fight in geopolitical terms. For example, the US administration has assigned $2 trillion to its market due to the collapsing service sector and the president has deployed the National Guard. Despite being in a crisis greater than the 1929 Great Depression, the US continues to put pressure on Iran, deploying two carrier groups in the Arabian Sea.

NATO, which has carelessly risked spreading the virus further with its limited actions and poor healthcare, has proven a failure in every aspect. Although curfews have been declared in many European countries, NATO is still going forward with the Defender EUROPE 20 military exercise. This shows that the alliance’s geopolitical priorities have not changed.


Events that took place after December 2019, when the Covid-19 outbreak first came broke out, have hinted at the dawn of a new geopolitical era. The United States, the EU and Turkey need to take lessons from Asian countries such as China, South Korea and Japan, which have prevailed over the pandemic with a limited amount of damage. This is a sneak peak of the coming “Asian century” and the transition to a multipolar world. We are looking at a war in which socialist countries use digital technology to expand their strength and promote their pro-people policies. The winners of this war will have the potential to affect many parameters of the global and the regional geopolitics of the near future.


Of course, those countries that had implemented neo-liberal economic policies have failed, especially when it comes to healthcare, compared to the countries that implemented Keynesian and Socialist policies. China’s statist policies are great examples that Turkey should learn from. Turkey, which established the Department of National Healthcare (Hifzisihha) during the fight against tuberculosis, trachoma and syphilis, produced vaccines for them within their national facilities and helped China with sending necessary vaccines when they experienced difficult times: today, China is returning the favor, sending medical supplies and advice for tackling the pandemic. It would not be wrong to say that China’s statist, popular and socialist model accompanied by its mixed economic model have made the country particularly successful. Turkey can do the same by adhering to Kemalism. Turkey’s return to this successful model is the most urgent requirement for the new era.

Kemalism, carrying the republic to a higher status, as a popular, productive, minimalist in consumption, secular, social, democratic and a judicial state, is the only recipe for a bright future. It is about time for both the party in power, which has remained in government since 2002 promoting a conservative democracic course, and the opposition party which pursues neo-liberal Atlanticist policies, to both return to Kemalism, the founding ideology of the Turkish state, and abandon these other imported policies.


The EU is facing the most critical existential crisis in its history. It was unable to help its own members, particularly Italy and Spain, despite the catastrophic level of crisis they experienced. Schengen, the symbol of a joint EU dream, is practically over. Turkey must decide whether to continue its relations with the EU as it stands on the brink of collapse, and especially reconsider the Customs Union in the post-Covid19 era.


Greece needs to make new decisions for the future as the EU continues cracking down while eliminating mutual aid and solidarity. The conditions are no different from the era of September 1922. By accepting Turkey’s regional power and dominance, Greece can restart the period of Turkish-Greek cooperation and mutual assistance period which was achieved between 1923 and 1955. It has to accept that the EU will not be able to act as a union for at least the next 3 years, which would make it wise to consider making a fresh start with Turkey. It is time to give up on the unrealistic policies and socio-political climates of Pan-Hellenism: Enosis with some Megali Idea ornamentation. This path could bring peace to future generations, allying with a reborn Turkey which has returned to its founding values in the post-Covid-19 period. Greece has to abandon the claims on the Turkish Blue Homeland, especially in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. Getting into a power struggle with Turkey and bringing the current problems to a point of crisis will negatively affect Greek development, prosperity and peace.


The Covid-19 epidemic has proven the strategic fragility of the island nations in all aspects. I hope that the people of the TRNC understand that if they had encountered such a pandemic under a unified federation of the Republic of Cyprus, there would be serious doubts as to whether they would be able to get basic healthcare in Greek majority hospitals, in parallel with the insufficient number of medical facilities. In this new period, the TRNC should separate completely from the Republic of Cyprus and start the process to establish the Turkish Republic of Cyprus. Therefore, the negotiations within the UN should be on the terms of this separation.


Turkey should accomplish its military goals in Syria as soon as possible to ensure the minimum requirements for a border security, the fight against terrorism and preventing the establishment of a so-called Kurdish Puppet State. These efforts should be carried out in cooperation with the Russian Federation through the Astana and Sochi Memoranda and with the Syrian government through the Adana Memorandum. After the pandemic, Turkey will have neither the extra energy nor the priority to waste on the Idlib black hole. By working with Russia and the Syrian government, the process of sending the Syrian refugees back to their homeland can be accelerated. Our current seismic and drilling activities must continue until Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt choose to abandon their political and military practices in our Eastern Mediterranean maritime jurisdictions against Turkey.

The presence of Turkish naval forces in the Western Mediterranean should be maintained in order to support our forces in Libya in the face of an emergency retreat, including the medical evacuation if necessary. In this context, maintaining and supplying our Navy as a dynamic, active and as a ready-to-operate force, should be among the top priorities of the government. The Turkish Fleet should be protected to the furthest extent possible from exposure to coronavirus and its consequences.


Under the protection of the Montreux Convention, we should prioritize a policy of continuing the existing maritime security in the Black Sea. In this context, our foreign policies based on balanced and mutual cooperation should be maintained in relations with Russia, without falling into traps like the one set in Idlib. The Covid-19 pandemic will increase the importance of close ties with neighboring countries and short trade routes across the border. In this regard, strengthening the relations with other Black Sea countries and the development of the trade in the Greater Black Sea region with the Kars-Baku-Tbilisi railway line and short-distance maritime logistics should be prioritized.


The Istanbul Canal project, which has met strong international opposition from the very beginning, was opened to tender in the last week, at a time when the United States and the EU are implementing the highest level of economic measures in response to the pandemic, so much so that emergency measures are being backed on a military scale. The tender was opened at a time in which the most serious pandemic of the last century has fatally and deeply affected our country, as a time when national unity and solidarity are needed most of all… and yet the tender process has been opened, pushing society to a breaking point. This decision has damaged the state’s prestige and broken our social contract at a time when a war is being fought on the medical and economic frontlines. This event should not be seen purely as a matter of state bureaucracy: this decision divides us at a time when unity and solidarity are most needed. Correcting this error by reversing the decision immediately is essential for the Turkish state’s continued reputation and credibility.

Cem Gürdeniz
Admiral Cem Gürdeniz graduated from Turkish Naval Academy in 1979. As a deck officer, he served in different in destroyers and frigates. He assumed the Command of guided missile frigate TCG Gaziantep and the Third Destroyer Division. He completed his education in Turkish Naval War College and Armed Forces College. He holds two masters degrees from US Naval Postgraduate School and Université Libre Brussels (ULB) in personnel management and international politics respectively.He was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral (lower half) in 2004 and upper half in 2008. He served as the Chief, Strategy and Agreements Department and then the Head of Plans and Policy Division in Turkish Naval Forces Headquarters. As his combat duties, he has served as the commander of Amphibious Ships Group and Mine Fleet. He retired in 2012 as a result of the Sledgehammer Bogus Case. He is the founder and Director of the Istanbul Koc University Maritime Forum. In addition to his native Turkish, he is fluent in English and French. Admiral GUrdeniz is the writer of numerous publications in multiple languages languages including ‘Bluehomeland Writings.’ He is a columnist at Aydınlık Daily and Yacht Magazine.

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May 2021