Why we need to hear regional perspectives on global questions
The last three visitors to join the debate at this semester's Comparative Foreign Policy Class at FGV could hardly have been more different from each other. On May 24, the students briefed Turkey's Consul General Mustafa Kapucu on how the Turkish government should deal with the crisis in Syria. On May 29, Great Britain's former Ambassador to Uzbekistan and human rights activist Craig Murray joined our class to speak about his time in Central Asia. On May 31, the students briefed Russia's Consul General Mikhail Grigorievich Troyansky on how Russia should position itself in the 21st century. What unified the three speakers, however, was that they all offered very particular and alternative perspectives that - in some way or another - challenged the global consensus on important international questions.
In their briefing to Consul General Kapucu from Turkey, students presented a series of options regarding Syria. One of their most elaborate options (and the one they ultimately recommended) was that Turkey should seek to incentivize Russia to stop protecting the Assad regime, for example by convincing the United States to make concessions about missile systems in Europe. Kapucu liked the idea, but doubted whether Ankara would have the diplomatic capacity to bring the United States and Russia to the table.
More interestingly, after the briefing, he vividly argued that the Syrian Crisis was far more important to Turkey than to the rest of the international community, as a Syrian civil war and refugee crisis could pose serious challenges to Turkish national security and territorial integrity. While stopping the large-scale killings is urgent of great importance, Turkey needs to keep regional geopolitics and economics in mind: Turkey depends on Iran and Russia (both friends of Syria) for close to 85% of its energy consumption. The border with Syria is almost 1000 kilometers long, and most of Turkey's exports to the Gulf go through this border. Military intervention may sound like a quick fix, but Turkey will pressure the international community to think hard about the long-term implications of such a move.
Craig Murray, the author of Dirty Diplomacy, spoke about his time as UK Ambassador in Uzbekistan, where he was exposed to the incongruencies of the War on Terror in the years after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. His government's unwillingness to deal with Murray's criticism of human rights abuses in Uzbekistan (a major ally to the West as the War on Terror unfolded) showed, if anything, how much countries struggle with aligning larger goals (such as combating terrorism) with protecting human rights around the world. His account was thus essentially questioning the West's genuine commitment to promoting human rights.
Finally, the students briefed Russia's Consul General Mikhail Grigorievich Troyansky on what his country's foreign policy priorities should be in the 21st century. Ultimately, they recommended that Russia should seek rapprochement with NATO, given that the West no longer represented any serious threat to Moscow. Rather, China's economic and demographic rise in the East should concern Russia, and NATO could help Russia deal with this threat. While sympathetic in principle to this idea, the Consul General provided great insight into Russia's world view, arguing that seen from Moscow, the West was simply not ready to truly embrace Russia as an equal partner. The West, according to Troyansky, had done far too little over the past two decades to indicate that it prized Russia's friendship.
On the other hand, he rejected the narrative that Russia and China were bound to clash at some point as wishful thinking in the West, citing President Putin's recent visit to China. Joining NATO was therefore simply unrealistic, and the BRICS or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) are seen as institutions with great potential in Moscow.
Whether Kapucu's, Murray's and Troyanski's challenges to common wisdom are legitimate and successful remains to be seen. In any case, hearing their perspectives is a crucial element of having a rich debate and essential to understanding all sides of the argument.