Why Erdogan Is Watching Modi's Seduction Of The West So Closely
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was received warmly in the U.S. and in France — visits which must have provoked some jealousy in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces many of the same anti-democratic criticisms as Modi, can't expect the same kind of red-carpet welcome in Washington.
ISTANBUL — It has been a pretty good month for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which included greenlighting Sweden's NATO membership and holding a one-on-one meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.
Based on these news, and not long after Turkey's recent presidential election, it looks like Erdogan is taking steps to straighten out his relations with the West. Finally, a chance to leave the tension-filled recent years behind, despite numerous ongoing issues.
However, some on the other side of the world are waltzing through the doors Erdogan can barely crack open. While Ankara deals with weapon embargoes, alongside political and economic pressures, some leaders with similar policies are welcomed on the red carpet.
I’m talking about the kind reception Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi received recently,first in the U.S. and then in France. Modi’s visit to the U.S., about a month ago, was shadowed by the Wagner mercenary uprising in Russia, but it was a development that was worth talking about.
A warm welcome for Modi in Washington
The Prime Minister of India, whose country maintained a special relationship with Russia during the Cold War, despite not being a part of the Eastern Bloc, was welcomed in the U.S. at the highest level. He was honored with a state dinner (with a vegetarian menu prepared specially for him), and had a one-on-one talk with Biden.
The Western public is questioning this courtesy to Modi, not because of being close to Russia.
This treatment of Modi calls for a comparison, considering Erdogan has been waiting for a long time for a meeting with the U.S. president to discuss backed-up agenda items.
India remains a country in which the public is sympathetic towards Russia, even after the attack on Ukraine. Things don’t end there. India's purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia, which has been a headache for Turkey for years now, is being ignored by the U.S.. New Delhi made the same purchase but faced no sanctions, unlike Turkey. It’s not much a problem that they do not participate in the economic sanctions the West imposes on Russia either. Washington doesn’t publicly criticize this approach, while they are eager to send weapons to New Delhi. A deal has been made for manufacturing jet engines in India already.
The Western public is questioning this courtesy to Modi, not because of being close to Russia, but because India is one of the foremost examples of a country taking steps backward from democratization and leaning towards increasing authoritarianism. Modi, with his Indian nationalist policies, has suppressed the opposition and reduced democratic competition at the ballot box. Criticism towards New Delhi is especially on the rise due to increasing pressure put on the country’s more than 100 million Muslims.
A double standard?
So, what makes India so valuable for Washington right now?
Surpassing China this year as the most populated country is not a sufficient reason by itself. As American attention in global competition focuses more on China, cooperation with other actors surrounding the Asian giant has become more important. The U.S. has been shifting their foreign policy priorities towards Asia since the time of President Barack Obama. China is now a frequent topic at NATO.
The quad, an alliance founded 15 years ago with the goal of providing stability in the Indo-Pacific area, consists of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. The structure, which had shortcomings at first but saw an attempt at revival during the presidency of Donald Trump, clearly aims to encircle China.
Modi is popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
India needs such an alliance, since they have a historic rivalry with China. The two countries even went to war in 1962 over their disputed border running through the Himalayas. India may have surpassed China in population, but lags behind in terms of its economy and military. This makes a regional alliance headed by the U.S. the perfect opportunity for New Delhi. India has responded positively to American moves towards them, despite their close relationship with Russia since the days of the Cold War.
The U.S., meanwhile, is willing to use whatever means necessary to encircle China. While India's economy continues to face challenges, they are not a player which can be ignored in the competition with China. India’s special relationship with Pakistan is also another reason for the American willingness to do whatever it takes to have New Delhi on their side.
Turkey's Erdogan pictured at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Thomas Trutschel/dpa via ZUMA
Rights violations ignored
Meanwhile, rights violations in the largest democracy in the world, or the purchase of weapon systems from the Russians, are easy to ignore. Turkey, on the other hand, has the same issues, but doesn’t get the same credit, because Turkey’s influence in international politics is not that great.
Modi is popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The Indian President was hosted by President Emmanuel Macron of France at the Bastille Day festivities, right after the NATO summit. The French public started to debate New Delhi’s majoritarian politics and the oppression of the opposition, Muslims foremost. Such issues were left in the shadow of the high-level politics, just as in the U.S..
If one is holding the right cards, they may receive a special dinner in Washington.
It seems like Macron’s priority is selling weapons to India. While India receives a significant portion of their weapon supplies from Russia, it can be assumed that they are taking note of the Russian military’s performance in Ukraine. India is not likely to pass a willing France by as they look for alternative suppliers. Therefore, a deal was made for the purchase of French-made Rafale fighter jets and submarines. This is sort of a consolation for the French since they lost the submarine deal with Australia. Whether they aim to have political influence on India with this deal or not is another question.
It may be said that the talks with Modi are more of a pragmatic move with limited goals, compared to the encircling maneuver of the U.S., given Macron’s recent positive statements on China. France is not a global power like the U.S., and they know how to keep their expectations in check. But, they intend to make the most of the opportunity while the U.S. is not there yet, and as long as Russian weapons earn a bad reputation. This deal is not that big of a surprise, since France has introduced itself to the Indian market in the 80s with the sale of Mirage fighter jets. Items such as democracy and human rights are being swept aside, in favor of relatively moderate goals.
These two important visits by the Indian Prime Minister in one month have meaningful messages for countries like Turkey, which draw parallels between domestic democratization and foreign policy. While it seems like concepts like democracy and human rights are still valued by the Western public, at the end of the day, policy-makers are motivated by solid gains. These choices are made even easier when state actors are positioned so strategically in terms of international politics.
Erdogan must have noticed the courtesy paid to Modi in that light: if one is holding the right cards, they may receive a special dinner in Washington. Ankara must have dreams of such an à-la-carte menu in the future as well.
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