By Mehmet Bildik
Before World War I , Britain had enjoyed almost a century of unparalleled peace and prosperity. Despite rapid advances of Germany, Great Britain remained the most technologically advanced nation on Earth. The scope of the Industrial Revolution and the greatest inventions of the age were making up pax-Britannica. Thus Britain became the manufacturing centre of Europe, importing raw materials from trading partners to be turned into goods for sale. British shipbuilders were busiest in the world, constructing thousands of vessels for trade and defense. Within Britain itself, a vast network of channels allowed longboats to move cargo and in the mid-1800s channel boats were superseded by trains and railways leading to other transportation advancements of the British Empire, a vast sprawl of territories and possessions named “the empire sun never set”.
In Germany, Wilhelm I generally left matters of foreign policy to Bismarck, his trusted chancellor. A brilliant statesmen with an astute understanding European politics, Bismarck skillfully steered Germany through a quagmire of tensions and pressures. Bismarck’s main aim was to give the new Germany a ‘breathing space’ by avoiding war, particularly a two- front war where Germany might have been confronted by both France and Russia. The crowning of young Wilhelm II spelled trouble for Bismarck and his foreign policy regime. The new Kaiser was ambitious and full of grand designs for building German prestige and expanding him empire’s great influence. He believed that new colonies could be obtained in Africa, Middle East and Pacific, while German influence could be boosted by taking advantage of the Ottoman Empire’s weakening hold over the Balkans and Eastern Europe. To further the agenda, The Berlin-Baghdad Railway also known as the Baghdat Railway was built to connect Berlin with Baghdad, with Germany pursuing to establish a port in the Persian Gulf.
The unification of Germany boosted industrial growth and railway construction. Iron ore mining and foreign investment all spiked during the mid-19th century. German banks formed and grew quickly, providing credit and investment for new ventures. With respect to Berlin-Baghdad Railway, funding, engineering and construction was mainly provided by German imperial banks including Deutsche Bank and companies which in the 1890s had built the Anatolian Railway. Germany wished to maintain its control of Arabian peninsula and expand its influence across the Red Sea which had been under British military control. If the railway had been completed, the Germans would have gained access to suspected oil fileds in Mesopotamia as well as connected to the port of Basra and the Persian Gulf. The railway became a source of international disputes during the years preceding World War I, although it has been argued that international disputes on railway route were resolved in 1914 before the war began; it has also been argued that the railway was a leading cause of World War I.
Right after oil fields were discovered in Mosul, Germany’s imperial banks and companies accelerated the construction of Berlin-Baghdad railway en route to Mosul. In an attempt to bring together competing British and German interests in the region, a British Company known as African and Eastern Concession Ltd, was formed. In 1912 this company become the Turkish Petroleum Company, formed with the purpose of acquiring concession from Istanbul to explore oil fields in Mesopotamia. The owners were a group of large European companies including Deutsche Bank, the Anglo Saxon Oil Company and National Bank of Turkey. While this consortium received a promise of a concession from the Ottoman government, Balkan War broke out in which Bulgaria and Greece waged war against the Ottoman government, therefore leading the Balkan section of Berlin-Baghdad railway to collapse. Breaking out of second Balkan War ensured Germany’s halt in the Balkans on its path to Mosul oil fields. Balkan wars also gave the upper hand to Britain in securing Mosul fields.
Exactly one hundred years ago, two diplomats, one British and one French, concluded the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided the Middle East into two zones of influence. The agreement became one of the cornerstones of the policies in the region and gave the core area of the Middle East the shape it has assumed since the end of World War I. “Sykes-Picot” refers to the agreement reached in May 1916 between the British war-time diplomat Sir Mark Sykes and the French diplomat François George-Picot, regarding the future of the Fertile Crescent, the Levant and Mesopotamia at the end of war, on the assumption that the Ottoman Empire, Germany’s war ally would be partitioned. The system that emerged from the final phase of the war and the peace time diplomacy was quite different from reality envisaged by Sykes-Picot in that Mosul and Northern Iraq were transferred from the French to the British area of control. Mosul was the cornerstone of the Berlin-Bagdad railway and Britain was wiping out the Middle Eastern section of Berlin-Baghdad railway through Sykes-Picot Agreement. It should be noted that Britain launched its Dardanelles Campaign with an intent to stop Germany’s access to Mosul oilfields by taking Istanbul, a city through which passed the Berlin-Baghdad railway.
Mosul is located in the middle of Silk Road and is important as far as world geopolitics are concerned. The Treaty of Sévres, signed on 10 August 1920, was one of a series of treaties that nations constituting the central powers signed subsequent to their defeat in World War I. The Sévres Treaty marked the beginning of partitioning of the Ottoman Empire; it promised the Kurds their own state and scheduled to have a referendum to decide its fate, which according to section III Articles 62-64 was to include the Mosul Province. At that point, The terms of the treaty brewed nationalist feeling among Turks. Even the signatories of the treaty were stripped of their citizenship by the Grand National Assembly led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and treaty ultimately led to the Turkish War of Independence following which Turkey signed the new Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. This effectively brought into being the secular modern-day Republic of Turkey.
In the 21st century, a new project originated: The Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road also known as One Belt, One Road is a development strategy and framework proposed by China. It focuses on connectivity and cooperation among countries primarily between the People’s Republic China and the rest of Eurasia, which consists of two main components, the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” and offshore “Maritime Silk Road”. The strategy underlines China’s push to take a bigger role in global affairs. Essentially, the belt includes countries situated on the original Silk Road through Central-Asia, West Asia, the Middle East and Europe. At this point, Turkey, Syria and Mosul formed the Middle Eastern section of China’s Silk Road and Mosul is in the middle of it. This led to infrastructure investments in Turkey which makes up a vital part of world geostrategy: numerous mega infrastructure projects are at the construction or design stage, such as the third airport in Istanbul, the third Bosphorus Bridge, the bridge over the Dardanelles, and under-the-sea passages for trains and other cargo across the Marmara Sea. At this point, it should be noted that during the failed coup in Turkey on July 15 of 2016, the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul which connects Europe and Asia became the scene of a confrontation between soldiers and people, the struggles for this symbolic landmark on Silk Road Economic Belt.
Mosul is an important link for United States and NATO’s supremacy against Russia and China. In the rimland, the most important waterways are located in the Middle East. According to World Island theory of Mackinder “Who controls the Rimland rules Eurasia, who rules Eurasia controls the destinies of the world.” Furthermore NATO’s Adana Incirlik Air Base was used for “The Operation Northern Watch” in January 1997 with the task of enforcing the United Nations-sanctioned “no-fly zone” north of the 36th parallel in Iraq. It should be noted that, NATO’s successful operation through Incirlik Airbase in order control Northern Iraq and Mosul oilfields have eased the burden of United States in the Middle East by setting up balance which have paved the way for the implementation of NATO’s New Strategic Concept on Central Europe and Euro-Asia regarding the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo Albanians. NATO launched an air campaign on 23 March 1999 against Yugoslavia. Moreover, NATO’s Kosovo Air Campaign can be regarded as a positive watershed not only to protect stability of the Euro-Atlantic region but also can be regarded as an Euro-Atlantic security having more relations with Middle East, in general, particularly Northern Iraq and Mosul oilfields.
Russian expansion in the Middle East and Kurdish problem are still the main source of problem for Turkey and United States. Given the fact that United States passed through formidable election process dealing with domestic issues, the influence of Operation Inherent Resolve decreased. It follows that Turkey filled the vacuum by starting Operation Euphrates Shield, an ongoing cross-border operation by the Turkish Military in the Syrian Civil War. Turkish ground forces have been successfully fighting against ISIL since 24 August 2016. These operations created balance in the region until the day Donald Trump assumed office. It is interesting that President Donal Trump has signed on 23 January 2017 a decree on the withdrawal of the U.S. from Trans-Pacific trade partnership which may mean that Donald Trump will compete with China’s Silk Road Policy directly through Mosul Operation. At this point NATO’s Incirlik Airbase will be first foreign policy priority for the new U.S administration.
Mehmet Bildik is a political scientist and Research Fellow on Military and Strategic Affairs. He is research assistant at the military and strategic affairs cyber security program of the The Institute for National Security Studies under the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He received his MA degree at Bucharest National School of Political Science and Public Administrative Studies, Security and Diplomacy Scholarship holder under the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.