We would do well to remember Edmund Burke’s oft-repeated phrase “ Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” On the 28th of June 1914, a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Franz Ferdinand, the archduke of Austria-Hungary. In the preceding years, the various major powers in Europe had gradually formed alliances. Britain, France and Russia formed the Triple Entente, while Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy comprised the Triple Alliance. A month to the day after the assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The Ottoman Empire and Germany signed a secret alliance five days later. On the 3rd of August Germany declared war on France and invaded the next day. That prompted Britain to declare war on Germany on the 4th, the same day Germany invaded Belgium. On the 10th of August 1914 Austria-Hungary invaded Russia. Essentially, the First World War came about because of the domino effect of each country coming to the aid of another.
In late February 1933, a month after Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, a fire burned down the Reichstag or German parliament. A month before the fire, Hitler had made it clear that his government could not work with the left-leaning parties in parliament. While the National Socialist Party (NAZI) was the largest party in the Reichstag, Hitler did not have a working majority despite his coalition with the German Nationalist People’s Party because of the combined power of the Social Democrat Party and the Communist Party. Since the Reichstag was set to have new elections in early March, Hitler’s party risked losing support.
Reichstag Fire, Germany, 27 February 1933
Hitler took advantage of the situation by telling President Hindenburg that the fire was part of a Communist plan to overthrow the state, and persuading him to issue a decree giving him powers to arrest those responsible. The “Reichstagbrandverordnung” or Decree for the Protection of People and State led to a one-party state. By arresting political opponents without charge, dissolving political organisations, closing down publications, and giving the central government the authority to overrule state and local governments, Hitler effectively ended democracy in Germany.
In October 1936, Nazi Germany formed the Berlin Axis with Italy, and annexed Austria in March 1938. Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939 prompting Britain to declare war on Germany, beginning the Second World War. Other countries joined both the Axis and Allied Alliances expanding the conflict across Europe, northern Africa and Asia.
Turkey’s Failed Coup: the 2016 version of the Reichstag Fire!
Is the same dynamic in play again? On the 15th of July 2016, an attempted coup in Turkey failed when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the public to take to the streets to save the republic. In the next few hours some 300 died and 2100 were injured. Erdogan declared a State of Emergency, which was followed by mass arrests, starting with a purge in the military. This extended to the civil service, and even into the country’s schools. By mid-August, Erdogan had suspended or fired more than eighty thousand civil servants, including three thousand soldiers. Some twenty-one thousand teachers were stripped of their licence to teach. Turkish police detained some thirty-five thousand people, half of whom were formally arrested under the orders of a government tribunal. Erdogan also issued a decree giving him, and a handful of government officials, authority to issue direct orders to the commanders of the army, navy and air force.
Erdogan blames the attempted coup on Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric who has been living in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1998. Gülen was a close ally of Erdogan until 2013 when Erdogan branded him and his followers terrorists, accusing them of being behind an investigation that uncovered several government ministers involved in corruption. Gülen denies any involvement with the attempted coup. Turkey issued an arrest warrant for Gülen, demanding he be extradited from the United States. Washington has asked for evidence to substantiate the allegations. A group calling itself “Peace at Home Council” claims responsibility for the attempted coup, accusing Erdogan of destroying Turkey’s constitutional order and secular democratic state.
It appears Turkish authorities may have known about the coup attempt in advance. Three days before the failed coup, Turkey issued an arrest warrant charging Vice-Admiral Zeki Ugurlu with being affiliated with the Gülen movement, which it accuses of trying to infiltrate Turkey’s armed forces. Ankara also asked NATO to terminate Admiral Ugurlu’s posting in Norfolk, Virginia and send him back to Turkey. NATO ignored the request. After the attempted coup, Turkey issued a second warrant charging Ugurlu with helping to plot the coup.
According to Al Monitor, a news website in the Middle East, there is a perception in Ankara that NATO was “involved in the coup attempt because of the active roles played by military units that are part of NATO’s Rapid Deployable Corps-Turkey.” This growing distrust of NATO comes amid Turkish and US involvement in Syria against rebels opposed to Bashir al Assad, against the Islamic State, the refugee crisis, and Turkey’s opposition to Kurds who claim part of Turkey as their homeland. In interviews with Russian and Turkish media, Turkey’s Minister of Defence, Mevlut Cavusoglu, expressed alarm at NATO’s unwillingness to cooperate with Ankara, and hinted that he was open to greater military, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation with Russia. He also accused the West of being responsible for the crisis in Ukraine.
Turkey has failed to be accepted into the European Union despite adapting its laws to European standards. One of the major changes to Turkey’s constitution was the abolition of the death penalty, as well as rewriting laws to ensure respect for human rights. With such a wide-reaching purge, and Turkey’s stated intent to rewrite the constitution, Turkey seems to be turning its back on Europe. If, as Peace at Home Council maintains, the attempted coup was an effort to prevent Turkey from drifting away from secularism, and into a more Islamic influence, it appears Erdogan’s actions are aimed at trying to re-establish Ankara as the capital of a new version of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey’s position on the Dardenelle Strait linking the Mediterranean and Black Seas, his disapproval of the European Union, his wariness of NATO and his openness to Russia, puts Erdogan is in an unusual position of power over one of the world’s most strategic waterways.
While Turkish and Russian forces purportedly battle Islamic State terrorists in Syria, Russian forces are also shoring up the regime of Bashir al-Assad, therefore ensuring Russia’s continued access to the port of Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. China has offered its support to the Assad regime in the form of increased arms sales. China imports roughly half its oil and gas from the Middle East, mainly from Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Since these countries back opposing sides in the conflict in Syria, China will most likely choose not to alienate them, remaining the only permanent member of the Security Council not involved in military operations in Syria.
Even though Turkey is opposed to Assad, its disenchantment with Europe and NATO, and China’s presence suggests a new dynamic, which could eventually result in Turkey becoming a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement. While China and Russia align their long-term strategies for a greater say in future political and economic decisions in the Middle East, Britain, Western Europe and the United States are fighting against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria, supporting rebels against the Assad regime, as well as trying to deal with isolated terrorist attacks from radicalised Muslims, and a growing disenchantment with immigration and globalisation.
Brexit – European Fault Lines Uncovered
Britain’s decision to leave the European Union revealed several fault lines in the United Kingdom and in continental Europe. The majority of those who voted to leave the European Union are from the small towns and cities of England, where factories closed as a result of globalisation and the transfer of jobs overseas. Jobs became even harder to find with the arrival of immigrants from Eastern Europe. The Brexit vote is forcing countries on both side of the European divide to think out strategies for the future. Germany, which has been plagued with isolated terrorist attacks and a growing backlash against immigration, is considering asking its citizens “to prepare themselves in the case of a large-scale terrorist attack or civil unrest”. This would involve stockpiling emergency food, water and supplies for at least ten days.
Europe Looks For New Options
France has been marked by several Islamist terrorist attacks including the brutal shooting of twelve editors at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the massacre at the Bataclan theatre where 130 Parisians were killed, to a Bastille-day attack in Nice when a truck was driven through a crowd killing more than 70 people. This has turned French public opinion against its Islamic population. Given the growing popularity of Marine Le Pen, whose platform is against immigration, a vote in her favour in the next regional elections in 2017 could lead to the end of the Schengen Accord for free cross-border movement in Europe. This could weaken other links in the union, hastening dissolution.
In the United States, Donald Trump has steadily gained support for his staunch opposition to immigration and international trade agreements that have had the same result in America’s industrial heartland as in England. The terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, alleged to be from an Islamist sleeper cell, has served only to strengthen an us versus them attitude.
As Turks, Germans, French, Brits, Americans and others speak out against globalisation and economic blocs, which have made more profits for large corporations than for ordinary citizens, societies once held together by a world order that respected people are breaking apart into clans. While Turkey’s secular government takes advantage of its own ‘Reichstag fire’ to purge anyone it disagrees with, geopolitical blocs are recalculating how to promote their own interests.
Growing numbers of people in Europe and America are turning away from a world order based on international trade and movement of people. Globalisation seems to be passé as countries head into a zero sum game where societies look inwards, pitting the diplomacy and compromise that enables societies and nations to work together against those who are perceived as a danger. The economic-political order the world has known since the end of the Second World War is dissolving, making it easier to demonise immigrants and others rather than to resolve differences.
Economic and defence blocs 2016
As events unfold seemingly in slow motion, we tend to view them in isolation, failing to see the overall picture. For those who recall history, it took five weeks from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to go from peace to the First World War, and the death of millions. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the conflict, contained the seeds of the Second World War by imposing severe war reparations on Germany. The Reichstag fire advanced the process eventually leading to the outbreak of conflict, and the death of millions more. No country is immune when the tipping point of negative logic is surpassed. Will growing disenchantment and opposition to western economic hegemony over the past 20 years result in a third world war? If history has taught us anything, it’s that war is prevented by extending peace and economic benefits to all, not to a chosen few. It’s a history lesson we would do well not to ignore.