by Patrick Fearon-Hernandez, CFA | PDF
When talking about international relations, it’s tempting to describe each country as a monolithic, rational decisionmaker with a settled set of concerns, goals, strategies, and tactics. Examples of such descriptions include: China wants to solidify its claim to the South China Sea; Russia is trying to undermine Western democracies; and the U.S. has tired of global hegemony. This convenient shorthand makes it easier to talk about geopolitics, but it can mask the reality that a country’s behavior is driven by the decisions and initiatives of powerful individuals. Those decisions and initiatives may reflect the country’s traditional perspectives, lessons from history, and habits developed over centuries. They may incorporate today’s popular opinion or the preferences of the ruling classes. But a country’s policies still reflect the decisions of individuals in power as constrained by their personal, political, and bureaucratic environment. Without Napoleon, it’s unlikely that post-revolutionary France would have embarked on its aggression against the rest of Europe in the way that it did. Without Adolf Hitler, neither would post-World War I Germany have done so.
If leaders and leadership really do count, a good example today is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the way he’s deploying Turkey’s power in Asia Minor. In Part I of this report, we provide a deep dive into Erdoğan’s perspectives, goals, power, initiatives, and constraints. Next week, in Part II, we’ll show how Erdoğan is trying to make Turkey a player in the newly discovered, rich natural gas fields of the Eastern Mediterranean. Since that initiative could lead to a confrontation with other countries, Part II will also explore the potential implications for investors.