Brazil and Turkey: Towards a Strategic Partnership?
The 7th Turkish-African Congress in Khartoum, organized by TASAM (a Turkish think tank) in late January 2012, was an impressive sign of Turkey's assertive and dynamic new foreign policy, and its desire to establish a strong presence in Africa. This week, Brazil's FGV received a group of Turkish foreign policy experts led by TASAM to assess the current state of Brazil- Turkey relations, which have gained momentum during the Lula administration. Trade between the countries surged, and political ties suddenly became relevant after a highly controversial attempt by Turkey and Brazil to reach a nuclear deal with Iran in 2010.
Turkey's foreign policy strategy under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been quite astonishing over the past years, as I commented in a recent post. Erdogan is wildly popular across the Middle East, and Turkey is bound to play a key role along with other emerging powers, such as Brazil and India, as Stephen Walt points out here.
Turkey has identified Brazil as a key partner in the region, and it has undertaken a significant diplomatic effort to strengthen its presence in Brazil. The Turkish Ambassador to Brazil, Ersin Erçin, is a high-ranking diplomat who played a key role in Turkey's accession negotiations with the European Union. His appointment reflects the importance Ankara now ascribes to Brazil. Erçin activley strengthens Turkey's public diplomacy in Brazil, there is a visible Turkish-Brazilian Cultural Center and a Turkish high school in São Paulo. Turkish Airlines now offers multiple direct flights from São Paulo to Istanbul. The Turkish community in São Paulo has grown over the past years, albeit from a relatively small base.
Strengthening economic ties between Brazil and Turkey is crucial: One of the most promising possibilities for collaboration presents itself in the energy sector. Turkey hopes that the hydrocarbon reserves beneath the Black Sea might meet its growing energy requirements and reduce its dependence on imports, and Brazil’s Petrobras offers one of the world’s most sophisticated offshore drilling technologies.
Yet in order to truly establish strong ties and follow up on the "Action Plan for a Strategic Partnership", Brazil and Turkey should focus on jointly tackling some of today's most complex political challenges. Their effort to negotiate with Iran to solve the nuclear impasse went wrong and cost both Turkey and Brazil some political capital in the West. But this should not deter them: Turkey and Brazil are well-positioned to assume regional leadership, and they enjoy impressive legitimacy among the developing countries.
Brazil's engagement in the Middle East may be criticized by many, but it is only logical if Brazil truly seeks to become a global player. Emerging powers need emerging projects, and as a former US Ambassador to Brazil once rightly predicted, the world will find Brazil active in many unexpected places, just as Turkey is present in many unchartered waters, such as Africa. To take an example, two of the most pressing international challenges - Syria and the Israel-Palestine conflict - require innovative solutions. Jointly elaborating proposals of how to deal with these issues would help Brazil and Turkey project their newfound power and turn into highly visible agenda-setters in the international discourse.
Photo credit: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR - Agência Brasil