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Despite the fact that the words “diplomacy is the continuation of war” by Zhou Enlai, the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of communist China” is widely accepted by many, it is extremely debatable in my opinion whether the war is the continuation of policy, or the policy is the continuation of war. Presumably, the more logical approach would be to accept the fact that both propositions could be right or wrong according to the circumstances.

This diplomacy definition made by Zhou Enlai back in 1954 is indeed pragmatic, and also far from a diplomatic attitude, the definition still was not considered an outsider towards the reality in the field. In fact, the definition turned the hierarchy and the chronology of the troubleshooting process upside down. Because, the diplomacy, which mostly takes place earlier than a war, is the art of problem solving of any debates or conflicts before proceeding to use any kind of force.

Theoretically, when we consider the fact that the ultimate purpose of the wars is establishing a peace environment under the desired conditions, the functionality of diplomacy also continues during the conflicts when the forces and the war machines take the field, although it is far from being effective as it is prior to the conflicts. As for the immediate transition to the war phase after the diplomacy seems like yesterday. Because, there is another chapter in between now. Although it is possible to find examples in the old ages, embargos and sanctions take place between the diplomacy and war in the modern ages.


Formerly named as “embargo”, and widely known as “sanction” nowadays, was quite popular back in the Cold War, when the terror balance dominated the relations between two enemies, and the history of the sanctions dates back to the beginning of 1800s in the history of modern diplomacy. The sanctions, which are “constraining methods” carried out by both the states and the international organizations, aims to weaken the other party, and drawing them to the desired position without the need of a war. The sanctions are generally imposed before the war, meaning they are effective during peacetime. The powers, who apply sanctions and believes that the attitude of the other party violates their interests or the law, punishes the other party and forces them to change their attitude with this method. When the subject is sanctions, the relationship between the powers bears an asymmetric qualification, rather than mutuality. During this process, the discourses and the practices of the weak party against the sanctions might be even objects of derision from time to time

The sanctions might be “global”, just like the international institutions such as the United Nations impose, or “regional”, just like the European Union imposes, or “ex parte/private”, just like the US, which impose sanctions the most. There is no guarantee to achieve what is desired after the process of the sanctions, where the compulsive precautions and diplomacy take place together. The history of sanctions is full of unsuccessful examples without any results. Besides, the possibility of the sanctions ending up with the exact opposite results should not be underestimated.

The sanctions, which aimed to punish the whole population of the targeted country, tempered the nationalist movements, liberation movements, and also radicalization just as seen in the examples when the US and England imposed economic sanctions on Mexico in 1938, the US sanctions on Sri Lanka in 1961, and the sanctions of France on Tunisia in 1964. Or just like in the example of Cuba and Iran, the countries facing the sanctions were able to choose to follow their own way by developing a whole different socio-economic and political culture of life, instead bowing to the countries which imposed the sanctions.


The sanctions, which may very well sound more elegant than embargo, actually are not any different than the embargo. If we count the embargo in, even though the sanctions have a history of 200 years, the 1900s were actually the main century when the sanctions had a break-out. For instance, Argentina and Chile, two neutral countries in The World War 1, seized the German ships in 1918 and imposed an embargo on the country. While the US imposed an embargo on Spain in 1937 when there was a civil war in the country, Norway had prohibited the transportation of oil to Italy back in 1940. Then Italy retaliated with their own embargo on Norway.

Regarding our country, the most famous embargo known for Turkey is the US weapons embargo imposed between 1974 and 1978 based on the Cyprus Peace Operation. Narrow-scoped embargos such as the prohibition of selling weapons and ammunition by the US, some other European countries and Germany based on the Kurdish problem were brought to the agenda from time to time.

Although the embargo and sanctions could not manage to satisfy the desired goals, they were the most effective methods towards bringing the target countries to reason to achieve disruptive results without the need of a war. Without a doubt, the sanctions in question might be short-termed, and also might take decades just like the US sanctions on Cuba since 1963 until recently, and on Iran since 1979 until the present day.

It is predicable to claim that the modern-day embargo are rather more sensitive than the ones in the past. There are also differences between the sanctions today. The priority of the modern-day sanctions, which especially aims to damage the regime rather than the people, is the “smart sanctions”. Just like creating a buffer area between the diplomacy and war, which are continuations of each other, with sanctions/embargo, generally smart sanctions are prioritized before jumping into the full-scale punishing sanctions.

If we get under way with the information above, we can easily claim that the modern-day sanctions are middle-chapters between diplomacy and war. And we can categorize the process of sanctions as “smart sanctions”, which aims to compel the target names, and phase them as the embargo style full-scale sanctions. Therefore, we can reach the details of the phase of the crisis between Erdogan and the US, which had a break-out after the Pastor Andrew Brunson crisis that fit snugly into the incidents in many different clouded fields between the affairs of two countries.


The process of the sanction, which got into motion thanks to the signal flare tweeted by Donald Trump, the US president, has not been imposed with a content to hurt the masses. At the first shot, the aim was to give a very clear message to Erdogan regime through the names added on the sanctions’ list, who are worthless individually, such as Turkish Ministers Suleyman Soylu and Abdulhamit Gul. Although the case is not only the imprisonment of Pastor Brunson and the hostage exchange negotiation carried out by Erdogan, whether the message being actually received or not was measured through the attitude adopted in the Brunson incident.

Since the Erdogan regime insisted on not receiving the message, they tried to protect the “smart sanction” feature, and the sanctions on Erdogan regime were potentiated by increasing the tariff on aluminum and steel. Regardless, the sanctions of the US on the Erdogan regime cannot be identified as full-scaled sanctions yet. However, by force of the smart sanctions strategy, it appears that a progressive route will be followed until they get any results. Statements of the US Secretary of the Treasury about new sanctions on Turkey being ready, and the news published on the New York Times about the Turkish Airlines to be included in these sanctions are enough to give an overall idea about the itinerary.

Behind the decision of the US lies the concerns about the Turkish people getting hurt while in fact they wanted to punish the Erdogan regime for their bullying, so on the contrary to their statements in the beginning of the crisis, they revoked the visa limitation carried into effect after the arrest of the embassy workers back in autumn 2017. However, it is quite obvious this method will not last forever, and these sanctions clearly will not stay at a level of “smart sanctions” only.

Despite the national and international crimes against humanity, tortures, sins, and all the mistakes of the large masses, they will embrace the Erdogan regime against the sanctions of the US and it is predictable that the content and quality of the sanctions will be changed. It is also expectable for the sanctions to gain the full-scale qualification after leaving the “smart sanctions” chapter behind really fast. Make no mistake about it, the price that will be paid after confronting such sanctions, which will target everybody without discrimination, will be worse than estimated.


You might think that it is too early, but we must consider what would happen in case the sanctions would not provide the desired results even after they reach to full-scale qualification. Seeing that all the processes are dominated by some kind of progresses in our modern-day world, it is unlikely to go to war right away after the sanctions provide no results. Under such circumstances, a buffering process will intervene. Just like it did in Libya and Serbia.

If you remember, Bill Clinton administration imposed extensive sanctions on the Gaddafi administration, who was accused of producing weapons of mass destruction, and once the US could not get the results they desired, they had hit many strategic targets in Libya, including the palace of Gaddafi. Gaddafi did not have any other option but to play to the audience against such a move, which could easily be accepted as casus belli under normal circumstances. Thanks to the sui generis character of the Libyan regime, the intended results were nor derived, and the long process had continued until the total destruction of the country.

A similar practice had taken place in 1995, when some of the targets were bombed in Belgrade, while in one hand the sanctions on Serbia, and on the other hand the Dayton Accords were in effect to end the Bosnian war. The US and its allies had not declared war against Serbia directly, but had hit the strategic targets enough to bring them to reason. International forces with the leadership of the US had done a similar thing back in 1999 during the Kosovo crisis.

Against the rising Serbian threat against the Kosovars and the risk of genocide, NATO aircrafts led by the US started hitting the Serbian targets in Serbia and Kosovo in March 1999, and these attacks lasted for 11 weeks. The attacks in question caused Milosevic to falter, and turned him into a very heavy burden for Serbia to handle. At the end of this process, Serbians had torn down Milosevic and cleared the way for him to stand trial for crimes against humanity at The Hague.

Unfortunately, Turkey is being led a merry dance thanks to the clumsiness of the Erdogan regime, which was crystallized with the Pastor Brunson crisis, and it is nowhere near composed of until today. It is not a futility to expect Erdogan to cause even more trouble to the country at the same level of manner as he drifts apart civilized attitude and diplomatic courtesy. Eventually, one of the most basic rules of diplomacy described by Zhou Enlai, which we started to write about in the beginning of the article, is formed by synchronizing the interests of the country to the interests of the other powers to avoid the conflicts or dragging the country into a deadlock. Undoubtedly, this requires not a terrifying abdication of reason, but on the contrary it requires wisdom, comprehension, discernment, and foresight.

Erdogan, who lacks discernment, and is full of inconsistency, ugliness, and blindness, abandoned the golden rules of the diplomacy a long time ago. His replacement is a kind of craftiness including blackmailing over a hostage diplomacy, and ends up with threatening after the negotiations towards joining the EU.


Erdogan literally plays with fire, and drags Turkey’s strategic position, which was determined by the experiences formed by hundreds of years of tendencies, anywhere he wishes according to his own daily political needs. But he forgets one thing. The change of axis of the countries such as Turkey, which weighs a ton in the geopolitical pendulum, is not decided solely by the individuals who somehow pestered the governing of the country. There are global stakeholders of such a decision, and these stakeholders generally do not tolerate statements like “I made it happen” and “it is over”.

Besides, the desire of the chess pieces to move independently over the geopolitical chess board sometimes causes the chest board to be turned upside down. Fate of the countries such as Turkey cannot be formed by the ambitions of a bunch of adventurist charlatans. Countries in such a position cannot change strategic partners however they wish everyday just like a wanton changing partners all the time. Because, one cannot abandon a choice before taking the risk, which is the cost of choosing a strategic partner. Turkey had built their strategic choices until today over the terrible results of the WWII and 300-year-old tendencies of the West. The establishment of any cyclical substructure, which will lead this choice to react in the opposite way, will require a similar process and scramble.

Let’s go back to the beginning and try to understand what kind of trouble they are inviting, who try to change the 300-year-old strategic axis of Turkey for the sake of their daily political interests. And then, let’s try to consider the position created with this mentality, and foresee what kind of trouble awaits Turkey ahead.

However, it should not be forgotten that Turkey is only in the chapter of “smart sanctions” of the whole process. Meaning we are only in the beginning of the journey. But still, I guess it will not be necessary to wait and see whether a nation of 80 million people will not wait to correct their mistake no matter what the cost is, or not.

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Dr. Bulent Kenes
Dr. Bulent Kenes
Bulent Kenes (Ph.D.) is an academic and journalist who has over 25 years of professional experience. He has managed multiple publications, both in Turkish and English. He has held top editorial positions at various media outlets such as Zaman daily (foreign news editor & news coordinator), Turkish Daily News (news coordinator), and Anadolu news agency (New York bureau chief). Kenes was editor-in-chief of Bugün daily (2006) and founding editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman (2007-2016; the paper was seized on March 4, 2016, by the Erdogan regime and formally closed in July 2016). Kenes was among the founders of the Stockholm Center for Freedom. He served as a voluntary chief editor from 2017-2019. He is based in Stockholm, where he lives as an exiled Turkish journalist and academic. He is also among the founders of the European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS).


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