Alwaght- Tensions between the US and Turkey have been escalated recently as Ankara keeps detaining American pastor Andrew Brunson for espionage charges. The pastor, who has been living in Turkey for over 20 years, was detained in 2016 as the Turkish government accused him of links to the Gulenist movement which Ankara blames for orchestrating the July 2016 failed military coup.
Since the attempted power grab, the two sides engaged in a range of diplomatic spats. Their embassies, for example, stopped issuing visas last year. Ankara also arrested the US embassy’s personnel on spying charges. Furthermore, the two allies are at odds over Syria war.
Their row has now developed from diplomatic spats to economic conflicts, where the two are flexing muscles for each other. On Monday, the Trump administration said it was reviewing Turkey's duty-free access to the US market, a move that could affect $1.7 billion of Turkish exports. Turkey had already responded to the White House imposing tariffs on Turkey’s steel and aluminum exports to the US. Soon after the US administration announced the new limitations, the Turkish government said it will reciprocate in response.
On June 21, Turkey implemented $266.5 million in tariffs on the US goods, a day before the European Union will launch its own retaliatory measures against President Donald Trump’s duties on steel and aluminum.
“The total tariff burden today being imposed by Turkey on the US is commensurate with the additional costs Turkey faces due to the tariffs imposed on it by the US,” Turkey’s Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said in a statement.
The Turkish tariffs affect American imports of coal, paper, walnuts, almonds, tobacco, unprocessed rice, whiskey, automobiles, cosmetics, machinery equipment and petrochemical products.
It appears that the trade war, already started with China and the EU, is now finding its way to the US-Turkey ties, with Ankara strongly resolved to respond. The confrontation stems from the US President Donald Trump’s economic policy of picking fights against partners.
Turkey sanctioned, too
But not all of the recent escalation between the two countries is related to the tariffs imposition. Tensions have political roots. Last week, the US Department of Treasury sanctioned two Turkish cabinet’s officials, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu.
A week before the war of tariffs started, the US warned it will sanction the justice and interior ministers over their role in the imprisonment of the America pastor.
The American sanctions unleashed waves of fiery remarks by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey against Washington. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talked over the phone to his Turkish counterpart to calm the situation.
The reality is that the anti-Turkish sanctions are not as trivial as Pompeo tried to pretend. At least in NATO level, this is the first time a NATO member announces sanctions on another fellow member. By imposing a ban on Ankara, Washington has violated the spirit of the military organization members’ commitment to each other’s security, though these days sanctioning others appears to be a normal policy of Trump administration.
US addiction to sanctioning
The sanctions on the Turkish officials come as Washington prepares to re-impose the embargo on Iran, a measure Trump promised to take following his withdrawal from the nuclear deal on May 8. The European powers, France, Germany, and Britain have come against the US unilateral steps against Tehran, insisting that they, along with other signatories of the 2015 nuclear agreement China and Russia, will take measures against the anti-Iranian embargo.
Beside Iran and Turkey, these days Russia is the target of the American restrictive measures. The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that it would soon impose new sanctions on Russia to punish Moscow for “violating American and international laws” by attempting to assassinate a former Russian spy living in England using a nerve agent, according to the New York Times. Earlier this year, the US pushed with sanctions against Russia over Ukraine crisis.
The long-lasting ban on North Korea considered along with the Iranian, Turkish, and Russian sanctions give an understanding of how sanctioning has become an ordinary path of the US foreign policy.
The Atlantic website, a think tank based in the US, has recently shed light on this Washington policy, saying that addiction to ban on Iran, Turkey, and Russia, and many other states, only pushes the US into deeper isolation as Washington increasingly loses its allies. The website further said that the US sanctions are being recognized as a common issue on the world stage and their rejection and circumvention is becoming a global tendency.
Sanctions run into impasse
According to media reports, Ankara aims to send within days a delegation to the US to discuss a set of issues, especially the economic tensions, with Washington. The news has opened the door to a question about if Ankara leader will step back from confronting the American demands to avoid further sanctions and punishments.
To answer the question, the point should be taken into consideration that there is not a single issue that generically drives all of the sanctions on various countries. When it comes to Turkey, for instance, the US is at loggerheads with the country over Syria, tariffs, espionage, and other cases. The same cases also motivate the American sanctions on Iran and Russia. So, Washington’s dispute range with these countries is wide. Therefore, the White House cannot solve its issues with the opposite countries simply by holding or lifting a single ban.
On the other side, the unilaterality of the punishments is their Achilles heel. The partners’ decision to not side with the US punitive measures, like EU rejection of Iran embargo reinstating, in practice leaves the sanctions ineffective, or at least inefficient. With these in mind, under the current conditions, Trump can hardly force Erdogan into yielding.
Some suggest that the pastor’s case is serving as an excuse for Trump administration to introduce bans on Ankara in a fierce commercial battle and for the Turkish president’s independent foreign policy which does not appeal to the Americans. Still, pressures are unlikely to wrest any change in the Turkish foreign policy, or at least they will not force Erdogan into making a quick about-face in policy.