In order to understand the foreign policy of the German Government and the SPD on Turkey, it is important to look at international – as well as foreign and domestic policy – aspects.
Since 2019, we have been facing a global economic crisis. In such big economic crises, “world wars” or deep structural changes in the sense of capital as well as a concentration of money with monopolies are the means of choice for those in power. The 1st and 2nd World War, as well as the neoliberal change from the 1970s onwards, were the consequences of the previous major crises of capitalism.
At the moment there is war in Ukraine, Yemen, Libya, Rojava and Northern Iraq, among others. War always means great suffering, death and systematic human rights violations. The wars mentioned must and could be ended immediately. If peace was wanted politically by the NATO countries – with the US government at the head – and corresponding pressure were built up, negotiations on a ceasefire in Ukraine could take place today just as the immediate end of the attacks by the Turkish army in cooperation with Islamist mercenaries in Rojava and northern Iraq, which are against international law, could be enforced, including the end and legal prosecution of the systematic Turkish use of chemical weapons against the civilian population and the PKK guerrillas in Northern Iraq.
The US government began implementing its strategy for controlling power and resources in the Middle East at the turn of the century, the Greater Middle East Project: the destruction and division of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran along religious, ethnic, tribal and other lines of division, with the help of compliant militias (such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State) and the respective escalations into war. In Iraq and Libya, this worked out and left lasting scorched earth, i.e. destroyed states and regions. According to these neo-colonial ideas, after the war and the colonial subjugation, a compliant ruler should not take over power again, but as many smaller groups as possible should fight against each other in the long run. It is easier to rule economically and exploit resources due to this strategy.
Syria, China and above all Russia opposed this in the UN when the US government tried to stage a scenario in the country similar to that in Iraq and Libya after social protests. Russia also intervened militarily alongside the Syrian government in order to support its own ally in the region and to retain access to the Mediterranean. The Kurdish movement has been able to use the power vacuum to build grassroots democratic structures in Rojava and develop a largely autonomous region in which the different religious and population groups live together respectfully. The protests in the whole of Syria were militarised, mainly supported by the USA, Qatar and Turkey with the help of jihadist groups. Now there is some hot and some frozen conflict zones in the country and in Rojava. The US Government was mainly interested in securing access to oil fields in this conflict and to bring forward a regime change.
However, the USA is now planning to escalate the confrontation with Russia and China in order to re-establish its sole geopolitical supremacy. The USA has already lost its economic supremacy vis-à-vis China and the BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and its geopolitical supremacy has also been challenged by the failure of its own plans to completely destabilize Syria. Accordingly, there have been US strategy papers for quite some time that envisage the destabilization of Russia via an escalation of the proxy conflict in Ukraine, the destruction of economic relations between Central Europe (mainly Germany) and Russia and a subsequent military conflict with China. Because otherwise China could become a new global hegemonic power and the world as a whole could become multilateral, also militarily and in terms of the distribution of power. The aggressive strategies outlined in the strategy papers for maintaining global power have been implemented stringently and at a rapid pace since Biden took office.
In order to try to push through his neo-ottoman plans in this situation and to whitewash the domestic political crisis for re-election in 2023, R.T. Erdoğan is playing the NATO countries and Russia off against each other as best he can. In the NATO admission procedures, he forced Sweden and Finland with blackmail to criminalize the Kurdish movement. With blackmail, he threatens the German government to open the borders for refugees. By cooperating with the Islamic State and other jihadist groups, Erdoğan can use the latter as a threat potential against Europe and Russia at the same time. By supporting Azerbaijan in the conflict against Armenia, he unleashes threat potential in the Caucasus. With the help of the threat of leaving NATO or turning away from Russia, Erdoğan bought the green light for the current attacks on Rojava and Iraq from the USA and Russia.
Apart from that, the imperialist forces would much rather have a dictator like Erdoğan as the force of order in the forecourt of the Middle East than a self-confident, self-determined movement like the Kurdish movement.
The EU governments, including all the last federal governments, support the described strategic policy for several reasons.
German foreign and domestic policy
In its foreign policy towards Turkey, the German government is of course acting within the framework of NATO, but also with its own interests in mind. Germany was Turkey’s “helping” power when Turkey was admitted to the military alliance. Military and security cooperation between the two countries has therefore been very close since the 1950s. Massive arms exports, the export of F-type prisons, the donation of tanks and weapons from the stocks of the NVA (Army of socialist Germany, DDR) at the beginning of the 1990s, the establishment of licensed production of German weapons in Turkey, intensive economic cooperation and the criminalization of the Kurdish movement in Germany are some important coordinates here. Whether it is the military coup in 1980, the destruction of villages in 1993, the abduction of Abdullah Öcalan in 1999, regular use of chemical weapons since the end of the 1990s, more than 30,000 political prisoners under the Erdoğan regime since 2002, regular war crimes or, most recently, the occupation of Afrin in violation of international law – the federal governments have always let the Turkish governments have their way, largely without criticism, and supported them in criminalizing and fighting Turkish left-wing organizations and the Kurdish movement.
In the current government of SPD, the Greens and FDP, the Greens are the central war-mongering actor in foreign policy. It doesn’t matter if it’s about arms deliveries to Ukraine, a forced peace in illusion of a total defeat of Russia in the conflict, the new enemy image against China or a total unreflective fighting and acting at the side of the USA within the framework of NATO. In this respect, the Greens are the most aggressive party in government. The fact that Annalena Baerbock and co. are believed to be able to achieve something positive for the Kurds in the German foreign policy on Turkey or to stand up for human rights, international law, women’s rights or even feminism beyond geostrategic calculations is therefore a dangerous delusion.
In the meantime, the CDU and SPD have, among other things, caused Germany to once again strive for an imaginary great power role as a hegemonic power in the EU step-by-step since the so-called reunification in 1989 and growing more aggressive with the development of the strategy “New Power-New Responsibility” in 2009. On the economic level, the Merkel government and its coalition partner, the SPD, have also succeeded for the time being. However, since the Bundeswehr (German Army) is a relative poorly equipped and understaffed army, the SPD in the lead now used the war in Ukraine as a pretext to realise long-cherished dreams of military hardliners with the 100 billion package for rearmament, at least in rudimentary form. Arms lobbyists such as the leading SPD politician Lars Klingbeil are now calling for a rapid expansion of the arms industry in order to quickly become combat-capable themselves. There is no difference in between the CDU militarists and those in the SPD.
If a CDU-led government under Merkel was able to strengthen Germany economically, a red-green government in combination with the inclusion or elimination of the Left Party is necessary for the acceptance of war and militarization, because otherwise red-green and left actors support the peace movement “too much” to conduct wars. This was the calculation of the rulers during the war in Yugoslavia, and now it is the case again with the aggressive foreign policy in relation to Ukraine or the “defense of German interests in the Indo-Pacific” and a new role as a great power in a “turning point”. In addition, some of the Die Linke party’s leading actors are oriented towards a supposedly possible participation in government and want to give up the previously consistent peace position, even in opposition. Thus, these forces further weaken the peace movement.
With regard to the completely unacceptable reaction of the German government to the current bombardments of Rojava by the Turkish army, several aspects come together. It is of course cynical to ask Turkey to act proportionately in the bombing. Even the Scientific Service of the Bundestag has repeatedly stated that attacks by Turkey on Rojava or other targets in Syria or Northern Iraq are in any case illegal under international law. And attacks that violate international law cannot be proportionate, they are crimes.
Also cynical is the visit of Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, a few days after the start of the bombing of military and civilian targets in Rojava. The German government is acting here within the framework of NATO and in the context of the described world situation, as well as in awareness of the threatening potential of the Erdoğan regime. The government, and in particular the SPD, is also aware that some of Erdoğan’s supporters regularly vote for the SPD and that the Kurdish movement, with its grassroots, self-determined organisation and dynamics, is more of a danger for the implementation of its own neo-colonial claims.
The SPD leadership is also aware that after the resistance in Europe and the Federal Republic at the time of the liberation of Kobani – which was successful – and the resistance against the occupation of Afrin – which despite clear violations of international law and the systematic war crimes by the Turkish army and its allies documented at the UN, did not lead to a rethinking by the rulers in the West – a noticeable feeling of powerlessness can be seen among the Kurds living in the diaspora and their internationalist supporters.
Around 2 million people of Turkish origin and 1 million people of Kurdish origin live in Germany. Even if individual politicians from the ranks of the SPD or the Greens are sincerely in favour of peace and human rights, both parties have nothing to do with a policy oriented towards human rights and international law. The SPD for long time is a party that serves the interests of big companies and the weapons industry. The party mainly serves geostrategic and economic interests and has essentially instrumental relationships with the Turkish and Kurdish communities as well as with countries without great power claims. The Greens are neither green nor feminist, they are mainly liberal and transatlantic, they serve the interest of big companies and of the privileged. Both parties lost the positive parts of their roots.
We are confronted not only with a world economic crisis, but also with a deep crisis of capitalism and its legitimacy and a phase in which the redistribution of the global balance of power is taking place. In the best case, the oppressed and the people and peoples affected by centuries of colonialism will manage to assert themselves better in a multipolar world; in the best case, the people in the “global south” and the damned of this earth – the workers and those excluded from social justice – will manage to organize themselves and put an end to the neoliberal formation of capitalism, which has become too static like the Roman Empire before the fall. In the worst case, fascism and barbarism could emerge from this – in the best case, a social order could prevail which, like democratic confederalism, benefits the majority of people and makes a dignified life possible. For the latter, however, the left and humanist forces worldwide and especially in Europe must free themselves from their deformation caused by increasingly autocratic neoliberalism and their isolation and powerlessness exacerbated by the Corona measures.
*Martin Dolzer is a journalist and former German parliamentarian, and has written for Junge Welt and Neues Deutschland. He is the author of ‘The Turkish-Kurdish Conflict. Human rights, peace, democracy in a European country?’