A century ago, the Ottoman Empire was ridiculed as the sick man of Europe. This is no longer the case. Among the great powers which I have detailed as likely to return to the scene, Turkey is one I am especially bullish on.
The main justification for Turkey as a returning great power is simply the neighborhood in which it finds itself and the fact that nature abhors a vacuum, especially in political life.
To begin, Turkey is surrounded by failed, or failing, states which in a post-American-led world would easily fall to the influence of a regional great power. Iraq and Syria have been chaotic regions ever since the war on terror. Although Iraq has somewhat stabilized, with its own elections, the recent departure of the American military signals an opportunity in the next three to five years for another more regional power to seize control of the situation. Turkey has already taken action to this effect by damming up Iraq’s water supply, thus leveraging control over Iraq’s heavy dependence on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Meanwhile, Syria is far from achieving stability; it consistently is determined as a failed state by several official measures which often invites the meddling of other countries. This has been demonstrated by Russia’s attempts to attain strategic depth in the region, and Turkey’s own military actions, which would suggest that Turkey has already situated itself to enforce its influence in much of the Northern Levant.
Second, the Balkans and the Caucasus are both facing deep crises that may put them in the same situation as that of Iraq and Syria as states ripe to be seized. The Balkans and Caucasus both face depopulation crises which, as I’ve discussed, can debilitate state power through things like loss of labor. The same can be said for the political side, with the Balkans facing the possible disintegration of Bosnia-Herzegovina and deep conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Turkey is already making moves to secure a position in those regions in the aftermath, choosing to ally with Azerbaijan and sending mass shipments of drones while also making power plays in the Balkans.
Finally, neighboring states which are normally seen as strategic challenges are, in reality, too weak to do anything about any of this. Russia, the “bear,” has had its system revealed as a fraud. Its population is in terminal decline, characterized by diseases of despair. Moreover, its military faces strategic defeat in Ukraine. Additionally, the parts of Russia which stand in contrast to this average of mass population decline are all Muslim or Muslim adjacent, like Chechenya and Tatarstan, which could all join a Turkish sphere of influence over the long term. Meanwhile, the Saudis and Egyptians both have weak militaries that could do little in the face of Turkish expansionism.
All of this, on top of Turkey’s favorable demographics and strong military, set it up as a probable future regional power. Moreover, the “West” will likely allow Turkey to rise to regional power given that, in comparison to the fundamentalist Saudis and Iranians, Turkish nationalist ideology is more favorably moderate. Further, as time goes on, strategic interest in the Middle East will diminish, and Turkish expansion could be allowed by the international community as long as it stops at Belgrade’s Iron Gates, which could mark a new “gate between the Islam and West.”
The main challenge faced by Turkey is its current leadership under Erdogan which has generated a dangerous debt burden. However, this could be turned around in the 2023 elections, where the more effective opposition parties have effectively agreed on a pact to get Erdogan out of power and stand a legitimate shot at defeating the current autocratic government. Ultimately, only time will tell if Turkey is able to establish the kind of competence at home necessary to sustain an empire abroad.