Antony Blinken Commits $100 Million for Earthquake. Assistance to Turkey and Syria following their devastating earthquakes, showing how this once independent nation has now become dependent on foreign assistance after years of building power through humanitarian and military endeavors abroad.
On Thursday, April 11, 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and top U.S. diplomats held a summit to discuss earthquake relief efforts as well as both countries’ support for Ukraine during its conflict with Russia.
One day earlier, Mr. Blinken had flown into the earthquake zone of southern Turkey and landed at Incirlik air base where American and Turkish military personnel collaborate to control air-traffic for cargo flights carrying supplies daily.
Mr. Blinken took Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on a helicopter tour of the earthquake damage area, who expressed his appreciation for the solidarity shown. Mr. Blinken thanked all American aid workers–including dogs–involved in this effort for their dedication and hard work.
On Feb. 6, six devastating earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria, leaving more than 47,000 dead across both countries. Millions were uprooted from their homes, overwhelming the government which immediately appealed for international help within hours of the tragedy. Yet citizens say Ankara’s response left thousands stranded without assistance during those initial hours after the seismic shock.
Turkey has long been a major force in international humanitarian relief, responding to natural disasters and wars around the globe with government-affiliated groups. More than three million refugees from Syria were accepted by Turkey before it closed its borders to new arrivals fleeing a decade of civil war there.
Turkey has leveraged its position of relative peace in a region plagued by wars to expand its international influence. Mr. Erdogan was particularly instrumental in diplomacy surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, mediating for grain export corridors and prisoner exchanges.
Turkey has received assistance from more than one hundred countries since the earthquakes struck, including rescue teams and relief workers from the U.S., Russia and Ukraine. Furthermore, rescue workers and volunteers from Turkey’s traditional foes like Greece, Armenia and Israel also flew in to provide assistance.
Soli Ozel, a Turkish political analyst and lecturer at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, asserted that Turkey “was not in a position to decline aid from other countries”.
Mr. Blinken’s pledge of $100 million in humanitarian relief to Turkey and Syria brings the U.S.’ total contribution to humanitarian relief there to $185 million, as estimated losses from earthquakes amount to an estimated $84 billion – or about 10% of Turkey’s entire economy in 2022, according to a report from a leading business association there.
Mr. Blinken’s visit provided a vivid example of the differences between Turkey and other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
These earthquakes occurred as negotiations between U.S. and Turkish officials over a $20 billion sale of new F-16 jet fighters were underway – something Biden administration officials hope to use as leverage against Mr. Erdogan to pressure him into admitting Finland and Sweden into NATO.
Mr. Erdogan has threatened to block Sweden’s entrance into NATO due to fears that it is harboring Kurdish militants. According to Sweden, the U.S. and NATO leaders, Sweden has upheld an agreement signed last year which required it to deal with Turkish extradition requests for suspected terrorist suspects.
On Monday, Mr. Blinken informed reporters of his strong support for Sweden and Finland’s entry into NATO; however, he did not provide an exact timeline for that process.
Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, insisted that the F-16 sale and NATO expansion were two separate negotiations and should not be tied together.
“The U.S. Congress should not be obstructionist but instead take on a role of support,” Mr. Cavusoglu declared regarding the warplane sale.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an outspoken critic of Mr. Erdogan, declared that the U.S. was providing “significant assistance” with regards to the earthquake disaster, adding that after an immediate response is complete “there must be a discussion about bringing Finland and Sweden into NATO,” hopefully by July’s summit meeting at NATO headquarters.”
Mr. Menendez, who has some influence over the sale of F-16 warplanes, warned Ankara against using Finland and Sweden’s NATO bid as leverage to gain concessions. “Use this as blackmail is something we should not accept,” he declared at the Munich Security Conference in Germany over the weekend.
“Turkey must take a different route if they want the F-16s,” he stated. “They need to cease threatening their neighbors.”
The earthquake has added another layer of uncertainty to Turkey’s timeline for approval of NATO expansion. Turkish officials have indicated they cannot risk a political battle with opposition lawmakers before an important national election scheduled for May, and opposition leaders are urging the government not to postpone it.
Mr. Erdogan’s hardline against Sweden has gained widespread support in Turkey, giving him an opportunity to promote themes of nationalism and religious solidarity before the election. But now it appears that a major earthquake could alter that dynamic.
Mr. Ozel, an analyst, observed that due to the massive infusion of goodwill money and aid into this earthquake and to personnel working day and night, conducting a campaign with strong anti-immigrant sentiment would be extremely challenging.