AMU Middle East Original

Turkey, Earthquakes and the Geopolitics of Natural Disasters

By now, most people around the globe have heard of the horror resulting from the Feb. 6 earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria. According to ABC News, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that over 35,000 people have perished in Turkey. About 105,505 people were injured, according to PBS.

Along with Syria’s earthquake victims, the death toll for the quakes is well over 41,000 people, notes the Times of Israel. Unfortunately, the victims’ suffering will not find alleviation anytime soon.

In addition to the human cost of the Turkey-Syria earthquakes, over 110,000 buildings in Turkey alone have been leveled, according to WSAZ. Turkey, along with numerous nations and nonprofits, has brought humanitarian aid into affected areas, but the international effort is falling short in the face of such widespread devastation.

There are historical examples of nations – or at the very least, governments – falling in the face of natural disasters and occasionally reordering the regional balance of power, but that is not always the case. Nor does this disaster portent a change in national interest of the affected nations, though it may bring about reprioritization. For Turkey, its rising power will continue despite the destructive earthquakes.

Geopolitics’ Influence on National Systems

Geopolitics, simply defined, is the study of complex human societies organized into a geographically defied system. These geographic areas, however, are defined by political or natural boundaries. They also have political systems with local and international concerns.

turkey geopolitics 2 Tucker
Geopolitics focuses on the influences that guide national systems.

Today, we generally call these areas nation-states, regardless of the political nature of the state. In other words, a nation may call itself a republic, a people’s republic, empire, and so on, but these entities ultimately behave in a certain way due to geographic constraints that influence the lives of their citizens.

Geopolitics, however, focuses on the influences that guide national systems, as opposed to just politics. Concerns – or interests as they are commonly called – have political, economic, and security dimensions intertwined in such a way that they are inseparable spheres that influence or define the national policy of these nation-states. In the case of a natural disaster, the influences on the nation-state do not diminish; instead, they become more acute.

Related link: NATO Membership: Why Turkey Opposes Sweden and Finland

The Locations of the Earthquakes in Turkey Affected Humanitarian Aid

Due to geography, some areas of devastation will be more accessible to humanitarian aid and support from local governments or international organizations. Turkey’s earthquakes were close to the Mediterranean coast, so despite the devastation, some roads and airports were still accessible and allowed aid to flow into affected areas.

If the earthquakes had struck further inland in the more mountainous regions of Turkey, the aid response would have undoubtedly been delayed. Though aid arrived quickly it is geared more towards rescue and support of the injured, but the long-term aid that Turkey and Syria need will trickle in over the coming months and years.

However, the rebuilding of communities in Turkey and Syria will affect the economy. Government facilities and housing, for instance, will require a lot of raw materials that must come from somewhere, and this increased demand will inevitably increase prices.

Turkey is already under the burden of high inflation. Rebuilding the country will have a significant economic impact with some economists predicting a contraction of around 1% of Turkey’s GDP, according to Reuters.

Many Syrians Could Emigrate to Turkey

Many Syrians have not received aid at all. They will likely emigrate to Turkey, bringing an additional challenge to an already stretched economy.

Turkey will respond to the immediate needs of providing food, water, and shelter to its citizens who were displaced by the quakes, and Turkey’s government already has an eye on what will need to happen next. Permanent housing for the displaced and a restarting of the affected regions’ economic drivers will have to happen in short order.

Turkey’s goal is to reinvigorate the expansionist tendencies of its Ottoman ancestors and replace direct governance with economic influence. Turkey is still a member of NATO, and its security concerns are more in the vein of non-state actors as opposed to any competing nation-state, especially now that Russia is bogged down in Ukraine.

Turkey had become an economic center of gravity in the Middle East before the earthquakes. Though it will struggle in the near term, Ankara is still well positioned to become an energy and manufacturing hub, consistent with Turkey’s long-term goals.

Though natural disasters have left nations open to exploitation or conquest in the past, Turkey will not need to worry about that threat. Ankara will not necessarily change its foreign policy or even adapt its domestic policy too much to deal with the quakes’ fallout. But in the future, however, Turkey may be more open to handling diplomatic disputes with its neighbors as a result of the humanitarian aid it has received.

For instance, Greece and Turkey have not always been on the best of terms, but Greece was one of the first nations to respond to the earthquakes with rescuers, medical supplies, and financial support. Armenia, another longtime foe of Turkey, sent rescuers and other forms of aid, using a border crossing that had been closed since 1988.

Obviously, such efforts to alleviate the suffering of victims are welcome and needed. Though the aid to Turkey cannot erase years of animosity, it may provide a foundation for better relations if elected officials follow through. Better relations can lead to better, stable neighborhoods.

In the modern era, natural disasters have rarely led to the dissolution of a nation-state despite high levels of destruction. This situation may not always be the case in the future, but for the most part the destruction caused by the earthquakes is being managed and has not changed the overall imperatives or geopolitical interests of most affected nations.

Monitoring the People Affected by the Earthquakes Will Be Key

Watching the people affected by these earthquakes will be key. Small nations that suffer heavy losses among their people may not survive some disasters because a nation is nothing without its people.

If survivors are forced to migrate and abandon an area because the level of destruction is too great, then we will likely see a shift in both national and regional politics. But that will not happen with Turkey at this point, even given the immense level of destruction and the significant loss of life.

William Tucker serves as a senior security representative to a major government contractor where he acts as the Counterintelligence Officer, advises on counterterrorism issues, and prepares personnel for overseas travel. His additional duties include advising his superiors in matters concerning emergency management and business continuity planning.

Comments are closed.