Hurriyet Daily News
Dec 1 2010

How high a diplomatic cost should a country be willing to pay for
continuing to embrace a widely reviled or inconvenient ally? As the
cost rises, what's the price for decoupling from the ally? How do
you calibrate the damages of scaling back the relationship?

Those are questions that China, the U.S. and Turkey are facing now.

For China, the problem is how to continue to relate to its rambunctious
dependent North Korea. Over the years, Pyongyang's behavior has
dragged China into scrape after scrape, unbefitting a responsible
major power. Chinese credibility nose-dived last March when it had
to step in to shield its ally after the deadly sinking of a South
Korean warship. Last Tuesday all Beijing could do was to urge calm and
express "pain and regret" when North Korean cannon fire on a South
Korean Island killed four and wiped out numerous civilian homes -
this after, earlier in the month, Pyongyang had startled the world
by disclosing a new nuclear enrichment plant.

Shudders must be running through China's upper ranks today as they
contemplate the prospect of working with the untested 20-something,
Kim Jong-un, once his clearly ailing father, Kim Jong Il, dies.

Although the U.S.'s outlay in embarrassment may be less, Washington
is also paying a painful credibility price for its relationship with
Israel. The ante rose with the Gaza flotilla incident. The costs
continue to climb with Tel Aviv's stonewalling in the peace talks. How
much longer can Washington afford to give Israel the indulgence it
has become accustomed to? How many more times will Israel's leaders
be allowed to pull the rug out from under the White House? Israel's
intransigence on the settlements issue - the government's fear of
the settler bloc in the Knesset - has brought President Obama's
much-heralded peace negotiation process to a full stop. In effect,
the tail has again proven its ability to wag the dog.

Some in the isolationist wing of the Tea Party Republicans just elected
to Congress will wish to cut support to Israel, but not much can be
expected to come from it.

Turkey's relational calculus today is not so different. It's clear
that a close embrace of Israel did not fit into Ankara's new set of
regional designs, and so the series of ruptures, from Davos to the low
sofa to the flotilla to harsh high-level language, was fated to play
out. But now that the government is making nice with Iran, has anyone
considered, for example, that Turkey's most cosseted regional ally,
Azerbaijan, is in effect Iran's enemy? Iran gave robust military
support to Christian Armenia, against Azerbaijan, in the 1991-93
Nagorno- Karabakh war, won by Armenia. The Armenia-Azerbaijan border
skirmish in two months ago that killed five soldiers from the two
sides - one wonders if that clash has brought about any re-thinking
in an Ankara that has looked toward reconciliation with Armenia? It
will be remembered, further, that efforts toward that reconciliation
were scuttled in 2009 mainly by Turkey's fears of escalating outrage
in Azerbaijan.

It seems that now the Azerbaijanis are distancing themselves further
from easy friendship. On the back of surging oil income they have
built up a $3 billion military budget, and seem to be spoiling for a
war to take back Nagorno-Kabarakh, so as to reclaim their 1 million
co-nationals who are internally displaced there. Either imminent war
or actual fighting would bring Ankara headaches on several sides.

Turkey would rile Azerbaijan if it pushed to dissuade it from an
armed solution; Baku has waited 17 years for the world to do something
about Nagorno-Karabakh. A war would wreck any diplomatic bridges with
Armenia. Turkey would have to stand up for Azerbaijan in the face
of widespread global rebuke. Most critically, an Armenia-Azerbaijan
conflict would put at risk a vital Turkish future interest, the
Nabucco pipeline.

Should Ankara begin to decouple from Baku? Could it?

If China and the U.S. followed the doctrine of greatest prudence
in international relations, which is that nations have no permanent
allies, only permanent interests, Beijing and Washington would have no
qualms. North Korea and Israel would be squeezed into obedience. But
there are too many contingencies to allow things to work out that way.

North Koreans by the hundreds of thousands would force the Yalu
River border bridge and turn northeastern China into a refugee camp
if Beijing used its only real coercive tool - a food and fuel cut-off.

Even more ominous for China, drawn-out unrest and desperation in North
Korea, possibly paving the way to regime collapse, could foreshadow
unification with the South - inevitably meaning a new Korea built
along southern socio-political lines: in other words, a close ally
of the United States along more than a thousand kilometers of Chinese
border. Beijing would be looking at Uncle Sam over its backyard fence.

In reality, all China can do is hope for a less adventurist regime in
Pyongyang when Kim Jong Il's death brings on the likely triumvirate
of his untried son, the son's sister, and the son's uncle. Now,
given Pyongyang's shelling of the South Korean island, such a hope
seems far-fetched. The bombardment may in fact foreshadow a more
militaristic turn by North Korea.

For its part, the U.S. can never be expected to seriously shake its
alliance with Israel. U.S. domestic politics, quite apart from the
Zionist lobby, are powerfully pro-Israel, and will be at least as
long as there is a perceived jihadist threat. Fundamentalist American
Christians, led by the Baptists, see Israel as an untouchable uptake
base for the End of Days, when the righteous will be whisked to glory
from the soil of the Holy Land. As regards U.S. power protection,
Israel is the "unsinkable aircraft carrier" of John Foster Dulles's
words, a formidable military and intelligence partner.

So China and the U.S. will go on putting up with their trying
co-dependents. As of now the alternatives have no appeal. Turkey,
having burned most of its bridges with Israel, executed (up to now)
a nimble dodge with U.S., and launched relationships with neighboring
others, will learn, not necessarily to its long-term loss, that its
new friends are seasoned friendship traders, more apt than most to
jilt at convenience.

Being or becoming a power, rather than just an ally, is like divorce.

It requires nerve, it is messy and risky, it leaves angry dependents,
and it holds no certainty. But for some that is better than a status
quo that settles for less than autonomy.

From: A. Papazian