Ismail Cem (1940-2007) was a famous Turkish social democrat politician, journalist and writer who also served as the Foreign Minister of Turkey between the years 1997 and 2002. His book “Turkey in the New Century” is a collection of Cem’s speeches, interviews, comments and memoirs about his tenure in office as the Foreign Minister. The book has certain aspects of an autobiography but also carries the qualities of an academic international relations book since Cem from the first-hand knows important details about Turkey’s foreign policy. The book is published from Rustem Publishing Company in 2000 but Cem revised the book every year and added new chapters.
In the book, Cem offers a new approach to Turkish foreign policy by criticizing certain aspects of classical Turkish politics and diplomacy. Cem believes that Turkish foreign policy had been alienated from its cultural roots and historical past (Cem, pg 3) and it must be replaced with a new understanding which was based on the awareness of Turkey’s rich identity and historical assets coming from the Ottoman state. He assumed that the end of Cold War, the phenomena of globalization and the development in technology (Cem, p. 5) created many new opportunities in the foreign policy. He wanted Turkey to be confident of herself, not ashamed of its past and bold and peace-seeking at the same time for the future. He criticized Turkish politicians’ habitude of perceiving foreign policy in the form of idealistic prescriptions such as friendly countries or hostile countries and offered a more flexible and rational approach to problems (Cem, p. 12). Cem defined foreign policy as “a mathematical equation of a country’s interests” (Cem, p. 13). He tried to create a convenient environment to be more flexible and active in foreign policy. Cem was not afraid to consider diversities in the country as richness and tried to overcome the forced alternatives (Cem, pp. 14-15). By forced alternatives he meant the concepts often presented as contradictions such as Islam-secularism or West-East. He thought that these dichotomies are exaggerated considering their relevance in both Turkey’s domestic and foreign politics. He defined Turkey as both European (Western) and Asian (Eastern) (Cem, p. 19).
Cem in the next chapters tried to explain his views and analyses on Turkish-American, Turkish-EU, Turkish-Eurasia and Turkish-Middle East relations and offered a new rational and multi-dimensional approach to these relations in order to increase Turkey’s benefit. Especially he focused on Turkey’s full accession to EU and energy agreements made with Eurasian countries such as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project. In his view, Turkey should develop a rational and peace-seeking multi-dimensional relationship style with all important organizations and countries based on protecting and developing Turkey’s profit. Becoming totally engaged in EU or USA would be a big mistake in Cem’s view. He later concentrated on international war against terrorism and the ways through which Turkey could solve its own terrorism problem. The last parts of the book are separated to Turkish-Greece and Turkish-EU relations. Cem points out that with a liberal understanding in international politics, Turkey could never be successful and would always give concessions to EU. He offers a more rational and interest-based approach to EU relations and claims that if this happens EU would approach Turkey in a different manner. Cem also labels JDP officials and diplomats as inexperienced and incompetent in foreign policy.
Ismail Cem’s “Turkey in the New Century” is really a valuable book that points out the late reconstruction of Turkish Foreign Policy after the end of the Cold War during his tenure in office. Cem, who died very recently, will always be remembered with his contribution to Turkish foreign policy and his important books.
– Cem, Ismail (2001), TURKEY in the New Century, RUSTEM
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ