Discord Becomes New Normal In Turkish-German Ties

Turkey has denied German lawmakers permission to visit German soldiers at an air base in the central province of Konya, adding a new layer of discord to already strained diplomatic relations.

The latest decision marked the culmination of a brewing dispute and signaled a new escalation in ties riven by tension. A previous round of diplomatic standoff over the issue of German lawmakers’ visiting their troops at the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey prompted Berlin to decide relocating its soldiers to Jordan.

After months of wrangling, the German decision was put into effect on Sunday, with Germany officially pulling out of its troops.

In Konya, NATO has an air base where German Air Force members serve in a mission of the Alliance. The latest Turkish ban drew a sharp rebuke from Berlin.

“We regret Turkey’s request to delay the journey of a parliamentary delegation. We are in intensive talks with all parties, including NATO, to set a new date as soon as possible” a German Foreign Ministry official said on Friday.

The showdown over lawmakers’ visit to German troops in Turkish bases constitutes only one component of a larger drama at play between the two countries.

Relations oscillated between two modes of relationship; understanding the need for cooperation over the shaky migrant deal and the plain reality of dissensions in relation to the government crackdown on opponents in Turkey.

“Germany and Turkey have a longstanding relationship that has been severely damaged in the last two years,” Kristian Brakel, a foreign policy analyst and head of Office of Heinrich Boll Foundation Turkey, told The Globe Post this week.

He, however, noted that “both sides have the interest to stabilize that relationship and come back to some kind of modus vivendi.”

Differences On Display

Whatever the form of bilateral relationship is at a given time, it is not immune to the fallout of domestic politics, especially in Turkey.

Having had the largest Turkish diaspora in the world, Germany always feels echoes of political upheaval back in Turkey, unable to emerge unscathed or uninvolved in internal Turkish disputes.

Last week, both countries were again on a diplomatic collision course after Berlin denied President Recep Tayyip Erdogan an opportunity to address Turks in Hamburg at a rally during a G20 summit in the same city.

Though the German foreign minister said the rally was “not a good idea” because “on the sidelines of the G20 we don’t have the police numbers to provide the security” that is needed.

President Erdogan excoriated the German leadership and said Germany was “committing suicide.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s remarks about the state of ties were no encouraging either. She said the meeting with the Turkish president on Saturday only underscored the deep differences between them.

“The many arrests, the overall actions in Turkey, and the failure to allow visits to Incirlik – those are all developments that show deep differences and we did not sweep them under the table,” the German chancellor told media in the aftermath of the end of G20 summit.

The air base saga has become a vexing problem that poisons the relations. But German Defense Ministry sought to downplay potential ramifications of the troop pullout.

In remarks to The Globe Post, a German Defense Ministry spokesperson said Germany will still use Incirlik Air Base for the reconnaissance mission.

“The current German military contribution to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria i. a. consists of multiple reconnaissance aircraft and a tanker aircraft, no strike aircraft,” the Defense Ministry spokesperson said.

With regard to fighting terrorism, the spokesman emphasized that both “Turkey and Germany are members of the coalition against ISIS,” underlining the continuity in military cooperation.

Although anti-ISIS cooperation would be preserved regardless of diplomatic spats, the tension still animates mutual mistrust and growing nationalist backlash back at home in both countries.

“If parliament can’t visit, the German army cannot remain in Konya. The government must quickly find a solution,” Reuters quoted SPD lawmaker Thomas Oppermann as saying. The upcoming election in September robs Mrs. Merkel of many options, lands her in a perilous state. Any meek stance against Mr. Erdogan’s unrelenting tirades would prove costly for her at the ballot box.

But overreaction would also backfire given the need for Turkey’s support to keep a fragile migrant deal working. What drove Turkey’s rage almost to a boiling point was Berlin’s dismissal of the Turkish calls for rejecting asylum applications by government opponents.

Germany granted asylums to diplomats and Turkish military officers who were dismissed by government decrees in a post-coup crackdown in Turkey.

For Mr. Barkel, Germany can’t stand aloof regarding internal politics of Turkey. “… as the deterioration in the domestic situation in Turkey continues, this has a backlash on the bilateral relationship, given that the German public and the German media take a much more heightened interest in Turkey than in any other autocratic partner the German government might have.”

To him, the relationship will likely “remain rocky for the foreseeable future.”

In this regard, he argued, the Incirlik withdrawal is only one example for a lose-lose situation this kind of status quo is going to produce. Mr. Brakel has reservations against a naive belief that strong Turkish-German economic bonds take precedence over anything else, and would ward off any serious diplomatic crisis.

“The assumption seems to be present within Turkish government circles that some PR efforts and the magnetic effect of the strong economic relations will be enough to preserve the relationship is misguided,” he said.

It “does not take into account that Turkey is far more than a strategic ally for Germany.”