On the sidelines of last week’s United Nations General Assembly, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Elon Musk.
It was not the first meeting of the two billionaires.
In their New York meeting, Erdogan reportedly asked Musk to build a Tesla factory in Turkey.
It would not be their first time doing business together.
Musk’s SpaceX won a Turkish contract to launch Turkish satellites. It was an immoral deal as Turkey could use its satellites to expand the reach of drones it uses to kill Yezidis, Kurds, and Armenians, but it did bring the two men closer.
When it comes to Turkish Teslas, Musk would be crazy to oblige. Erdogan follows the China model: Attract foreign tech business to Turkey with lucrative offers or diplomatic pleading, and then siphon off the technology for Turkey’s own domestic industry.
Turkey developed its indigenous drones against the backdrop of leading American drones. As Turkey was still a part of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, it was simultaneously developing its own indigenous fighter-jet.
This is also a reason why Turkey should not receive upgraded F-16s. Diplomats and White House officials encourage technology trade with Turkey to assuage the mercurial Erdogan’s temper-tantrums or to win concessions. Erdogan could care less about NATO or Sweden’s membership, but he smells an opportunity to get advanced fighter jets, not only to use but also to copy.
So it would be with any Tesla plant. If Musk allows Erdogan to charm him or tempt him with Turkey’s 85 million-person market, he may win short-term gain. Still, he would end up paying the price when Erdogan suddenly announces his own electric car based entirely on Tesla technology.
In such a case, there would be no recourse. Courts in Turkey are under Erdogan’s full control, and Turkey does not abide by intellectual property rights.
Erdogan may embrace Musk now, but he will throw him under the electric bus in an Istanbul minute.
About the Author
Now a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).