Interview with Murat Parıltı (University of Northampton, Free Lance Researcher)
Subject: TURKEY’S SOFT POWER STRATEGY
Ali Koca: We witness profound changes when we analyze Turkish Foreign Policy between the years 1923-2013. As a matter of fact, Turkish FM Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu left a mark on Turkish Foreign Policy in the last decade. What is your opinion about Mr. Davutoğlu’s implementation of policies?
Murat Parıltı: Many scholars concur with the idea that there is a ‘new’ Turkish foreign policy direction in the 2000s. This ‘new’ foreign policy direction is related to certain conditions. The changing international political structure after the end of the Cold War led Turkey to revise its ‘traditional’ foreign policy. Turkey’s neighbouring regions are zones of high level conflicts, that’s we name as ‘prone’ due to the inextricable actors involved in, and diversity of the questions confronted. Turkey has become capable of revising its ‘traditional’ foreign policy, only when it could sort out its domestic political and economic problems, and immediate security concerns that emerged in 1990s. Nonetheless, there has been major international events that shaped the new international system, such as 9/11 terrorist attacks and also a new political context at home that successfully responded to the new regional and global order. Turkey established a foreign policy pattern which did not exist till the arrival of Mr. Davutoğlu’s term of office. Another crucial development was Turkey’s path to the Europe so as to accord its foreign policy in line with the Union’s.
Considering the proactive foreign policy making of Turkey in the recent years, with a polycentric understanding of international relations and multilayered understanding of diplomacy, Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu’s doctrine of the ‘Strategic Depth’, unarguably, conducted this new line. In his influential book “Strategic Depth and Turkey’s International Position”, Mr. Davutoğlu provides new theoretical grounds and parameters of Turkey’s power. Turkey’s strategic assets are derived from these power parameters, historic and geographic depth. By this means, Turkey has became a trend-setter country thanks to the strategy combining these two elements; that is ‘historical geography’.
Ali Koca: How do you define the concept of ‘central country’ which has been the linchpin of Turkish Foreign Policy in recent years? With regard to its geopolitical status, what should be the steps that Turkey must take, in order to become a ‘central country’?
Given the Turkey’s geographical location lying in between the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East, Turkey holds both potential risks and advantages at the same time. One of these advantages is that, it is situated in the intersection of the energy routes where Turkey can capitalize this central location. Turkey is the first neighbouring country adjacent to rich natural gas and oil reserves opening to Europe. Therefore, Turkey is a vital asset for both Europe and the resource rich regions. Up until AK Party took power in 2002 accompanied the advisory of Prof. Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign policy was determined through out the definition of ‘corridor country’ which referred to its sovereign land as a base for transmission. Thus, Turkey had no active role in the decision-making paradigm of its region. Nevertheless, Turkey needs energy to run its flourishing economy and increasing population. In this vein, economy is another field that Turkey targets to be central with respect to its assertive trading volume, defining export as its prior element.
Other aspects of ‘central country’ vision are political and cultural. Turkey has common borders with Iran, which is in deep crisis with the West. Allowing to position the radar station on its borders, Kürecik, aiming to neutralize Iran’s missile threat, Turkey acted in accordance with NATO requirements. Another problematic area is Iraq, where its Northern (Kurdish) Regional Government acts indepently of the Iraqi Central Government’s policy directives. This area, named as ‘Southern Kurdistan’ it also constituted a debate among Turkish nationalists and the Government, where the PKK militants used it as a passage for terrorist activities. Finally, Turkey has been one of the countries in question after the Syrian Crisis. Turkey hosted the Syrian National Council in exile meetings. Moreover, Turkey have faced a major dispute with Israel, because of its explicit political support to Hamas in Gaza. All these capabilities and perils diverge at Turkey’s area of influence, which makes it ‘central’.
Ali Koca: Does relations between states constitute the concept of ‘soft power’, if we address the concept of the ‘promotion of peace’ in Turkish Foreign Policy through the principle of interdependency? How does the use of soft power help in resolving the regional conflicts?
Murat Parıltı: As you know, ‘soft power’ is a concept coined by Joseph Nye, which denotes a state’s attractiveness employed as a leverage as a mean to influence the other actor/s through non-military instruments. According to this definition, military coercion is seen as a non-profitable and obsolete way to make the others abide by the conditions that a state imposes. Political culture, doctrines, strategic impact of its policies, economic interests, social values may constitute the soft power that a state possesses. Therefore, the changing international status of Turkey, in addition to its increased value of its regional capabilities brought by post-9/11 and post-Arab Spring international environment, led TFP to mobilize its soft power as a global actor. It is impossible to explain the ‘new’ TFP under AKP rule without Nye’s theoretical parametres. However, engagament of TFP through the socialization process was an output of the elements inserted by the structural change. Opportunities offered by the system order stimulated Turkey’s long-standing dynamics and activated Turkish Foreign Policy initiatives under this new vision.
Soft power approach to international relations does not imply a total abandonment of the military impact on the conflicts. Especially, the world after 9/11 is marked as relations with relatively higher degree of mutual fear and suspicion towards each other, ambiguity of the great power intentions in the long run, and more frequent clash of their interests. It is a difficult task to carry on within this context, and a total marginalization of the military couldn’t be an option. Due to the deterrence function it undertakes, Turkey needed a stronger armed forces than ever, when we take into consideration the terrorist activities along its borders. In contrast, emphasis would be on the new dimensions such as expansion of international trade, active role in multilateral organizations through dialogue, spreading democratic and liberal economic values through intensified interaction and diplomacy.
Mr. Davutoğlu has stated that Turkey has to intensify its political, economic and cultural influence, and performance, by means of developing “transitivity and interdependency” through those regions. In this sense, connecting the East and the West in a geo-political framework locates Turkey in a strategic position. According to this aspect of strategic depth the Balkans, the Middle East and the Caucasus has regained its historical value, and Turkey got involved in the events taking place in these regions. Turkey abandoned its traditional policy of non-intervention in regional conflicts within this theoretical necessity.
Ali Koca: How do you comment about ‘Rhytmic Diplomacy’, as one of the constituent corner stones of Turkish Foreign Policy?
Murat Parıltı: FM Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu states three mechanisms as instruments of Turkey’s new foreign policy vision. Monolithic -integrative- foreign policy approach and a proactive foreign policy line, bolstered and enforced by ‘rhythmic diplomacy’ as the third mechanism. This proactiveness ideally aims at creating a problem-free relationship with its neighbors. Turkish Foreign Policy makers believe that there is always hope and room for arriving at consensus,and military action is the last resort only for defensive causes. Diplomacy makes sense, only if only it occurs regularly between states and before a crisis breaks out. This reflects a ‘preventive’ vision of Turkish Foreign Policy. Turkey’s proximity to the problems of Balkan countries is the best example of the implementation of rhytmic diplomacy adopted as a preventive measure.
Turkey’s major diplomatic connections generally are initiated by high-level official visits by President Mr. Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu. They operate in coordination and cohesion throughout an intensive agenda, on a large scale of landmass, generally accompanied by businessmen. Turkey’s diplomatic activities can be listed in a wide range of involvements. Turkey has regularly hosted various international summits and invites the leaders in conflict such as Israel-Palestinian and Afghanistan-Pakistan to Turkey for moving forward in their peaceful efforts. With regard to Middle East, Turkey’s diplomatic activities lost a relative momentum especially during the Mavi Marmara Crisis with Israel in 2010 and the Syrian Civil War in 2011. Turkey also has acquired a non-permanent seat in UN Security Council in 2011, and an observer status in the African Union, the Arab League, the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the Organization of the American States (OAS).
Ali Koca: What do you think of the adoption of soft power principle in Turkish Foreign Policy?
Murat Parıltı: In addition to aforementioned political and economic Turkey’s soft power attributes, religious and cultural relations has got a distinct place in its foreign policy. Shared history and spirituality inherently motivates people living in remote geographies. The Ottoman past plays an important role in establishing Turkey’s cultural ties in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East, North Africa, and even in Central Asia. All these domains have been an integral part of the Ottoman State. What seperated their populations can simply be described as the twist of fate deriving out of politics, which has not been under the control of their will. Caliphate did not carry a symbolic, however, it was a protective umbrella for the Muslim populations. These spiritual ties still combine the ‘relatives’ who have been anticipated to forget each other.
There are non-conventional actors of Turkish Foreign Policy who works in collaboration with other international organizations. Turkey Presidency of Religious Affairs, Diyanet, is one of the major instituion who plays an important role in the integration of split Muslim realms. It participates in the ‘Eurasian Islam Shura’, bringing Islamic administrations of 38 countries together. Diyanet provides assistance and service to other Muslim communities, in the framework of the organization of the ‘hajj’, the education of religious scholars, publication of books as well as translation of the Qur’an in other languages. The major institution of cultural diplomacy is the Yunus Emre Cultural Centres which began functioning in 2007. It aims to promote the Turkish language and culture through opening language courses, organizing film screenings, exhibitions, conferences and concerts. From Beirut to London, there are ever increasing numerous branches. Another major pillar of Turkey’s soft power projections operate through the institution of Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency, TIKA, a state found organization during the former President Turgut Özal era. It is engaged in a wide range of activities such as health, education, agricultural and infrastructure projects.With its budget exceeding $ 1 billion, TIKA overreaches remote societies in need, contributes by giving development aids, and building up intercultural bonds, beyond this. Cohesive and integrative collaboration of these three major institutions are orchestrated by the Turkish Foreign Ministry. Combined altogether, they appear as the projection of Turkey’s soft power strategy.
Interview: Ali KOCA