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Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Aftermath of World War I

“History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.” — Alexis de Tocqueville

In remembrance of “Armistice” Day I posted an entry stating my proposition that World War I had more impact on the current state of the world than World War II. I stated; “While it is important to teach the causes and aftermath of both world wars World War One’s aftermath had more impact on the world as we know it today. WWI began as a war of nationalism but ended as the beginning of the new world order — an order that affects us to this day.”

Dr. George Friedman, the founder of the global intelligence service — STRATFOR, agrees with me. In his new series of reports on “Borderlands” Dr. Friedman states; “I have been accused of thinking like an old Cold warrior. I don’t think that’s true. The Soviet Union has collapsed, and U.S. influence in Europe has declined. Whatever will come next will not be the Cold War. What I do not expect this to be is a region of perpetual peace. It has never been that before. It will not be that in the future. I want to understand the pattern of conflict that will occur in the future. But for that we need to begin in the past, not with the Cold War, but with World War I.”

About twenty years ago a series of programs was aired on television that explored the causes, prosecution and aftermath of the First World War. I found the series to be a very good depiction of the war to end all wars. It covered all aspects of the war including a segment of the Paris Peace Conference. The series is still aired today on the Military Channel and History Channel in various episodes. To my knowledge it is the only scholarly work on WWI that is available.

There have been numerous books written covering various aspects of the War, with Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August” being the best known. Tuchman’s book covers the run up to the war and how Germany, England, The Austro-Hungarian Empire and Russia (the four major powers) blundered their way into a global conflict that caused so much death and destruction. The consequences of WWI forever changed the world — changes that we live today.

The Second World War was a war of greater death and destruction due to the technology of war and the creation of weapons of mass destruction and racial democide. When WWI ended the world saw the same nations that had entered the war, but with different political alignments. Great Britain had lost all of its colonies, including India, and the world was divided into two spheres of influence — the United States and the Soviet Union. These spheres resulted in a Cold War that lasted 47 years. During that time there were numerous wars of independence and civil wars that created nation states that were either ethnically homogeneous or once colonies of European nations. It also saw the rise in power or the Islamic world due to their vast oil reserves.

Two of the regions that were the affected the most by WWI was the Austro-Hungarian Empires and the old Ottoman Empire. World War I created a radically new architecture in this region. The Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires collapsed, the Russian empire was replaced by the Soviet Union, and the German empire was overthrown and replaced by a republic. No region in the world suffered more or was left more impoverished by the war than this region. Indeed, the war didn’t end for them in 1918. It went on as the grip of empires reluctantly subsided and the new nations struggled within and among themselves.

The collapse of empires allowed a range of nations to emerge as independent nations. From the Baltic States to Bulgaria, nations became nation-states. Many of the borders and some of the nations were fixed by the victorious powers at Versailles. They invented Yugoslavia, which means “land of the southern Slavs,” out of a collection of hostile nations. They reshaped their borders. One of the nations that was affected the most by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was Turkey. Click here for a map of the region.

After the end of WWI and the Paris Peace Conference the old Ottoman Empire became one of the plums sought after by the victorious European powers. Great Britain wanted control of the Dardanelles with its access to the Black Sea, the old Mesopotamian Empire (present day Iraq), Iran and the Arabian Peninsula (present day Saudi Arabia). France wanted control over Syria and the Suez Canal. Greece wanted total control of the eastern Aegean and the new Soviet Union wanted the mineral rich areas of Armenia and Azerbaijan with its oil rich Caucasus Mountains and Baku on the Caspian Sea.

This left Turkey surrounded by competing interests for its fertile plains and access to the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Seas. From 1919 to 1921 the Greek Army occupied parts of Turkey to within 50 miles of Ankara and as far south of Bursa. After the Battle of Sakarya the Turkish forces, under the command of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, defeated the Greeks and became the leader of the newly formed Turkish Republic. Kemal established a secular state casting off all vestiges of Islam that ruled he Ottoman Empire even to extent of banning the Fez, the tradition hat worn by men.

Over the ensuing years Turkey became more westernized in its culture and education system. While 90% of the population claims Islam as their faith the nation is secular and adheres to no sanctioned state religion and allows the free practice of all religions.

After WWII Turkey became a lynch pin in the foreign policy of the United States and a bulwark against the expansion of the Soviet Union in he region. For this reason she became a stalwart member of NATO with U.S. bases in Batman and Incirlik. This placed U.S. air power within striking distance of the Caucuses and Iran.

Turkey is a place I have spent time both visiting and working over the past decades. I believe Turkey will be a great power in the next 50 years or so. I’m comfortable with my long-term prediction, but the next decade will be a period of transition for Turkey, from being one of the countries confronting the Soviets under the U.S. alliance system to being a resurgent power in its own right. It will be no one’s pawn, and it will be asserting its interests beyond its borders. Indeed, as its power increases in the Balkans, Turkey will be one of the forces that countries like Romania and Bulgaria will have to face.

Turkey is a member of the European Customs Union, an organization allowing for the easy import and export of good between its members. For years the United States supported Turkey’s entrance as a full member of the European Union.

When I began working with the United States Trade and Development Agency in Turkey, in 1995, Tansu Çiller of the True Path Party (DYP) was the Prime Minister. Educated in the United States at the University of Connecticut, Yale and the University of New Hampshire Çiller was close to the United States and President Bill Clinton. She was often called “Clinton’s Pet” by her detractors in Turkey. Our relations with Turkey at this time could not have been better.

In 1997 Çiller was replaced as Prime Minister by Mesut Yılmaz of the Motherland Party (ANAP). Yılmaz continued Çiller’s policies towards the United States, but had a differing view of the European Union. He spoke at a conference I attended in Washington, D.C. in 1998 where he called the EU and “Christian Club”, a club that Turkey would never be admitted to as a full member. His remarks were not widely reported in the US press, but they resounded in Europe and Turkey.

When Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 20, 2003, the Prime Minister of Turkey was and still is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the former Mayor of Istanbul, of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti). While the Turkish military supported the United States and was willing to allow our military access to Iraq through Turkey the Parliament did not. Our relations with Turkey went south and have not been the same since.

Erdoğan looks towards Europe and the Turks have been in negotiations with the EU for seven years with no movement towards full membership in the EU.  With today’s economic crisis in the EU and Germany’s resistance to financing he debts of Greece and Spain along with her growing alliance with Russia it is doubtful that Turkey will ever become a full member of he EU.

For the United States, Turkey’s emergence is beneficial. The United States is ending its wars in the region, and Turkey is motivated to fill the vacuum left and combat radical Islam. Those who argue that the Turkish government is radically Islamist are simply wrong, for two reasons. First, Turkey is deeply divided, with the powerful heirs of the secular traditions of Kemal Ataturk on one side. They are too strong to have radical Islam imposed on them. Second, the Islamism of the Turkish government cannot possibly be compared to that of Saudi Arabia, for example. Islam comes in many hues, as does Christianity, and the Turkish version derives from Ottoman history. It is subtle, flexible and above all pragmatic. It derives from a history in which Turkish Islam was allied with Catholic Venice to dominate the Mediterranean. So Turkish Islam is not strong enough to impose itself on the secularists and too urbane to succumb to simplistic radicalism. It will do what it has to do, but helping al Qaeda is not on its agenda. Still, it will be good to talk to the secularists, who regard the current government with fear and distrust, and see whether they remain as brittle as ever.

While the United States can welcome a powerful Turkey, the same can’t be said for a powerful Russia, particularly not one allied with Germany. The single greatest American fear should not be China or al Qaeda. It is the amalgamation of the European Peninsula’s technology with Russia’s natural resources. That would create a power that could challenge American primacy. That was what the 20th century was all about. The German-Russian relationship, however early and subdued it might be, must affect the United States.

It is not clear to me that the American leadership understands this. Washington’s mind is an amalgam of post-Cold War clichés about Russia and Europe and an obsession with terrorism. This is not a time of clear strategic thinking in Washington. Washington still thinks of Russia as the failed state of the 1990s. It simply doesn’t take it seriously. It thinks of the European Union as having gone over a speed bump from which it will recover. But mostly, Washington thinks about Afghanistan. For completely understandable reasons, Afghanistan sucks up the bandwidth of Washington, allowing the rest of the world to maneuver as it wishes.

If you want to understand the issues in this region you must be aware of the effects the aftermath of World War One had on the region. Alliances are changing in Europe and NATO is becoming less a factor in the region. The new alliances will be formed around energy and natural resources. France, Great Britain and Poland are already growing fearful of the German-Russian agreements on natural gas. Russia’s oil and gas must pass through Turkey to reach the Mediterranean. The United States must reassess its policies towards Turkey if we wish to maintain our influence in the region. The Cold War is over, but the effects of World War One linger on.

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