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Why doesn’t the road from India to Europe pass through Turkey?

Selim Kuneralp*

The most notable event at the G20 summit was the agreements signed by the leaders of the United States, India, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in New Delhi, targeting a new project that rivals China’s Belt and Road corridor, aiming to connect India to Europe through a new network. Turkey’s exclusion from this project angered those in power. In fact, considering Turkey’s geopolitical situation, it is unfortunately impossible for a corridor connecting India to Europe to pass through our country. It’s well-known that India’s first neighbor is Pakistan, and beyond that, there’s Iran. Given Iran’s relations with the outside world, it’s not possible for them to be a part of such a project. A corridor reaching our country through Saudi Arabia would have to pass either through Iraq or Syria, and that is clearly not feasible. Furthermore, it seems that there is currently little interest in the corridor proposed by Turkey, which would pass through Iraq.

I believe the purpose of the agreement signed in New Delhi is simply to give a nod to Indian Prime Minister Modi and distance him from China. If it does happen, the project would need to connect Saudi Arabia to Israel through Jordan, which is highly likely to hit a wall amidst the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Moreover, it’s worth questioning why India, which is currently connected to Europe via the Suez Canal by sea, would need an alternative and costly route. The fact that the West, which praises our government for regularly highlighting Turkey’s strategic importance to India, does not extend similar gestures is also thought-provoking.

In fact, the G20 is primarily an economic entity rather than a political one. If we look at its history, it was established in 1999 as an initiative by the finance ministers and senior officials of Canada, Germany, and the United States to address the financial crises that occurred in Southeast Asia and Russia in 1997 and 1998. In principle, it aimed to bring together the world’s largest twenty economies, but it has not actually achieved this. If it had, Spain, the Netherlands, and Switzerland would have become G20 members, while Argentina, South Africa, and Nigeria would have been excluded due to the size of their economies. However, the goal was to create an inclusive organization. Turkey, although geographically located on the border, was said to have been invited to the G20 at the insistence of the then-Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin. If a simple ranking had been followed, the composition of the organization would have remained Western-centric, and no African country would have been able to participate. This would have undermined its inclusivity. It should be noted that there is no direct correlation between G20 membership and the size of a country’s economy, which is a reassuring factor for us. Since its establishment, no country has been expelled from the organization due to a decline in its ranking. There have been attempts to remove Russia from the G20 for political reasons after its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, but they have been unsuccessful.

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Before the G20, there was the G7. Founded in 1974 in response to the oil crisis, the G7 brought together only the seven most developed countries. As expected, all of them were Western countries. Although Japan is not geographically a Western country, it is politically aligned with the West, so it was included in the G7 from the beginning. For a while, the G8 included Russia, but it returned to being the G7 after Russia’s aggression in Ukraine in 2014 and the annexation of Crimea.

In the first ten years of its history, the G20 meetings were held at the level of finance ministers and central bank governors and did not attract much attention. During this time, the G7 continued its activities, holding annual summits. Various countries were invited as guests to these summits, and we made efforts to be invited regularly. However, we were not successful in this regard. Turkey was never invited to any G7 summit during the 50-year history of the organization.

Then, in late 2008, a new financial and banking crisis, originating from the United States, erupted. The crisis quickly spread worldwide. Banks failed in many countries, governments began printing massive amounts of money out of concern for the collapse of their economies, and monetary liquidity expanded significantly. However, inflation did not rise as the global economy entered a sharp slowdown.

In this environment, outgoing U.S. President Bush convened the first G20 summit in Washington in November 2008. It was an interesting period for the U.S. administration. Due to the two-term limit, Bush could not run for re-election, and the Democratic Party candidate, Obama, had been elected, but the Democrats had not yet formed their team, while the Republicans were preparing to leave power in a few weeks. As a result, there was a leadership vacuum in the U.S. government.

However, the goal was not to make binding decisions but to show the public that world leaders were adopting a common stance against the economic crisis and to reduce panic in economic circles to some extent. Despite being more inclusive and democratic than the G7, the G20 did not have the ability to make decisions that would bind all countries. In a world made up of sovereign nations, it is not possible to impose decisions made by others on one country. Therefore, the function of the G20 would be to provide guidance and make recommendations.

For us, however, the G20 was a rare opportunity. After years of unsuccessfully knocking on the door of the G7 and emphasizing with other excluded countries that the G7 was not a representative organization due to its limited membership, the fact that it did not represent most of the world’s population, only a small part, and was not a democratic organization, suddenly presented us with an unexpected opportunity.

I participated as a special envoy (sherpa) for the Prime Minister in the preparatory work for the first G20 summit held in Washington on November 14-15, 2008. I don’t remember receiving any specific instructions for this role. At that time, the Undersecretary of the Treasury, Ibrahim Çanakçı, who was more qualified than me to assess the financial dimension of the crisis, also attended the preparatory meetings with me.

At the first sherpa meeting, the U.S. representative, perhaps because he did not want to bind his successors, or for some other reason I don’t know, began by suggesting that the G20 summit was related to the financial crisis and that the G20 should return to its traditional format of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors once the crisis was resolved and the world economy returned to normal. Of course, this was a proposal that countries outside the G7, including Saudi Arabia’s representative and myself, rejected. We argued that the role of the G20 could not be limited to addressing the financial crisis, and it should have a much broader scope. I even remember adding the fight against terrorism to the emerging agenda. The U.S. did not insist, and the G20 took on a permanent form.

In the early years, summits were held twice a year, and there were no other activities apart from these and their preparatory work. Starting in 2010, the number of summits was reduced to one per year, but in return, G20 ministers, including Foreign Ministers, began meeting separately. Foreign Ministers naturally address political issues as well. However, as seen in the last meetings in New Delhi in March 2023, a common declaration could not be accepted due to different views on the Ukraine war, and only a presidential statement was made.

So, it’s not possible to say that the G20 is a very effective organization. However, this formation, which brings together countries with two-thirds of the world’s population, 60% of its land area, 75% of world trade, and 80% of its income on a regular basis, has become indispensable. It should not be expected to compete with other forums where countries with similar views come together. For example, during this period, the G7 did not disappear, and it was also possible for a new forum like BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), which shares a common anti-U.S. sentiment in the economic and perhaps to some extent in the political field, to emerge. Therefore, there will always be a need for a forum where different views are expressed and harmonized as much as possible. However, it is also necessary to always keep in mind that what they can achieve is limited.

This article originally was published in Serbestiyet.com and translated by Politurco.com.

*Selim Kuneralp was Deputy Secretary General of the International Energy Charter, Head of the Permanent Delegation of Turkey to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Head of the Permanent Delegation of Turkey to the European Union. Prior to that, Selim was Chairman of the Energy Charter Conference. Throughout his career in the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Selim was the Turkish Ambassador to South Korea and Sweden and the Deputy Undersecretary for Economic Affairs, Director General for Policy Planning and Director General for the European Union.

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