Foreign Policy Analysis of Turkey

Ayesha Abdul Maalik Abbasi.
Fatima Jinah Women University.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) was re elected to a third term in June 2011. This remarkable achievement was mainly the result of the opposition’s weakness and the rapid economic growth that has made Turkey the world’s sixteenth largest economy. But Ankara’s growing international profile also played a role in the continued public support for the conservative, Islamist party. Indeed in a highly unusual fashion Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began his victory speech by saluting friendly and brotherly nations from Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Amman, Cairo, Sarajevo, Baku and Nicosia. The Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans have won as much as Turkey he claimed, pledging to take on an even greater role in regional and international affairs. By 2023 the republic’s centennial, the AKP has promised that Turkey will be among the world’s ten leading powers. At the same time Turkey’s growing profile has been controversial. As Ankara developed increasingly warm ties with rogue states such as Iran, Syria and Sudan while curtailing its once cordial relations with Israel and using stronger rhetoric against the United States and Europe it generated often heated debates on whether it has distanced itself from the West. Turkey continues to function within the European security infrastructure although more uneasily than before but has a rupture with the West already taken place and if so is it irreversible?

AKP Changes Focus from West to East

The basic tenets that guided Turkey’s foreign policy since the founding of the republic included caution and pragmatism especially concern the Middle East. An imperial hangover from the Ottoman era drove home the lesson that Ankara had little to gain and much to lose from interjecting itself into the acrimonious politics of the region. Notwithstanding occasional differences with the Western powers, Ankara concentrated on playing a role within Europe. The AKP appeared to maintain this course during its first term (2002-07) as seen in its focus on EU harmonization as a means to join the union. But in its second term (2007-11) it departed significantly from this approach. Guided by the concept of “strategic depth” elaborated by Erdogan’s long-term advisor-turned-foreign-Minister Ahmet Davutoglu Ankara increasingly focused on its neighborhood with the stated goal of becoming a dominant and stabilizing force one that would function as an honest broker and project its economic clout throughout the region and beyond. The official slogan, which could be called the Davutoglu doctrine was zero problems with neighbors. Ankara rapidly developed relations with the Syrian government to the level of a strategic partnership Turkish officials also began cultivating closer economic and political ties with the Iranian and Russian governments both large energy providers to the growing Turkish economy. It also reached out to the Kurdish administration of northern Iraq a previously unthinkable move. In another bold but ultimately failed move the AKP leadership sought to mend fences with Armenia its predecessors had never established diplomatic relations with Yerevan due to its occupation since the early 1990s of a sixth of Turkic Azerbaijan’s territory including the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh. These moves were generally welcomed in the West. Critics in Washington deplored Ankara’s overtures to Tehran and Damascus but the incoming Obama administration went on to develop rather similar outreach policies of its own. The AKP argued that it could function as an interlocutor with these regimes on Turkey’s border with which Brussels and Washington had only limited ties and that a more active Turkey would also benefit the West. Ankara’s eagerness to mediate in regional conflicts also brought goodwill. The Turkish government offered its good offices in bridging differences between Syria and Israel, Afghanistan and Pakistan and between the rival Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas. Western leaders generally gave the AKP the benefit of the doubt as it assured them that its outreach could help moderate rogues and bring them within the international system.

Conclusions; While there is much to suggest that Turkey’s role in the world is likely to grow, confidence appears to have turned into hubris. At the bureaucratic level Turkey’s state apparatus especially the Foreign Ministry is hardly equipped to handle the load of initiatives coming from Davutoglu office and expanding the foreign policy machine can only happen gradually. Thus many Turkish initiatives have been less than well prepared, suggesting a top-heavy approach rather than balanced and serious planning. This was true of the opening with Armenia and similarly, Turkish leaders appeared truly surprised when the Turkish-Brazilian deal on Iran failed to prevent new sanctions against Tehran at the U.N. Security Council. Nonetheless Turkey is now an active and independent player in regional affairs whose clout is likely to continue to grow in coming years. It is also a less predictable force than it used to be and one whose policies will occasionally clash with those of the West. This is in part a result of Turkey’s economic growth of the mistakes made by the West in alienating Ankara and of Turkish overextension which is in turn related to an inflated view of its newly found role in the world. But the role of ideological reflexes and grand ambitions in particular those of Turkey’s two foremost decision-makers Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu must not be underestimated. These impulses are likely to continue to have policy consequences as Turkish leaders will interpret events from a distinctively different and Islamic ally-tinged viewpoint than their Western counterparts. While a cause for concern Ankara’s changing foreign policy is not necessarily a cause for alarm. On many issues Turkey is a power with which the West can work As the Libyan operation showed suspicions of Western motives notwithstanding Ankara came around to join the undertaking. The reaction to the Syrian crisis and Turkish cooperation on missile defense are further examples of this possibility. But significantly whenever Turkey and the West will cooperate it will be because their interests happen to align rather than as a result of shared values. Where the values of the Turkish leadership do not align with those of the West most prominently concerning Cyprus and Israel Turkish behavior will continue to diverge from the Ankara the West used to know inevitably have far reaching implications for Turkey’s role in the Euro Atlantic community.

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