Since the Turkish Republic was established, “Peace at home, peace in the world” principle has always constituted the basis of Turkish foreign policy originated by the founder of Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. As formulated on this principle of Atatürk, Turkish foreign policy can be analyzed in two terms. The first one refers to the traditional period which contains Turkey’s foreign policy until the end of the Cold War. The second terms includes the transformation process that has started in the late 1980s with Turgut Özal period and with the end of Cold War.
In order to understand classical Turkish foreign policy, one has to focus on terms like status quo and Westernization concepts as key points. To maintain the status quo refers to keep the things as the way they presently are. Status quo was the main principle in classical Turkish foreign policy. On the other hand, Westernization was the second most important dynamic in classical Turkish foreign policy orientation starting from 1920s until 1980s. Westernization has been a pervasive and accelerating influence across the world in the last few centuries. Some thinkers assume that Westernization is equivalent to modernization, a way of thought that is often debated. The overall process of Westernization is often two-sided in that Western influences and interests themselves are joined with parts of the affected society, at minimum, to change towards a more Westernized society, in the hope of attaining Western life or some aspects of it. To assume, however, Western societies are not affected or changed by this process and interaction with non-Western groups is misleading. These two concepts; namely status quo and Westernization are decisive in traditional Turkish foreign policy understanding. After the War of Independence, main purpose of Turkey was to provide national integrity inside and sovereignty outside. Generally, Turkey set sight on security oriented foreign policy in the early years. During the Cold War years, the world system policy has started getting into a transformation period towards a bipolar system led by United States of America and Soviet Union. In this period, Turkey tried to engage with USA and to implement Westernization policies. Change in classical Turkish foreign policy has started in Özal period in the 1980s. This change is called “revolutionary” in many aspects. Many of the classical policies of Turkey were revised during this period. This coincided with the economic growth of Turkey, which in total provided a kind of autonomy to the country in foreign policy unlike the previous Western-dependent policies of the past.
In 2002, Islamist originated Justice and Development Party (AKP) took majority of the votes in the country. This event was a precursor of the fundamental changes in the domestic policy and foreign policy that will take place in the years to come. Starting from AKP, Turkey has showed its willingness to act as the leader of its own region and with Foreign Minister Prof. Ahmet Davutoğlu’s principles, Turkey started to act more aggressively and in an assertive way in foreign policy. Balance between security and freedom, zero-problems with the neighbors, developing relations with the neighboring regions, pro-active diplomacy, multi-dimensional foreign policy are main principles of Turkish foreign policy during AKP term.
Analysis of Turkey’s “Soft Power” Strategy
According to journalist Cengiz Çandar, Turkey’s “soft power” strategy should be analyzed from a long term perspective because it is a policy based on long term plans. In his view, Turkey has a potential of changing the classical political balance, because it a country that has been emerging as a progressive and strengthening force in the most turbulent region of the world. The only thing that will keep in equilibrium this region is for sure the use of diplomacy. Only one state can improve relation between problematic states of the region; Turkey. New Turkish foreign policy based on soft power strategy, does not try to solve problems by using military force, but rather by diplomacy.
There has been a visible progress in terms of this strategy. For instance, Turkey recently signed about 48 agreements with Iraq and about 40 agreements with Syria on October 2009. During this period before the Arab Spring, this region had a lot of problems and conflicts and there was also potential of war, but Turkey still tried to improve these regions by economic agreements and using soft power. Many Middle Eastern states began to follow Turkey’s path. Besides, Turkey is located at the center of ambitious projects for the future including construction of pipelines for the transport of oil and natural gas that will enrich countries in the region and help Europe to reach safe energy resources. At the same time, Turkey’s dynamism covers countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, the heart of ancient Mesopotamia and the land of the Middle East. One important point to keep in mind here is that after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Iraq came under the strong influence of Iran and Syria became a strong partner for Iran. Turkey tried to develop relations with Syria in order to prevent this country slip into Iran’s sphere of influence but this strategy collapsed after the Arab Spring. Turkey tried to counterbalance radical Islamist Iran’s sphere of influence in the region by using “soft power” strategy that has a great potential to play around. Such a great mission should have been supported for other actors in the region but this was not the case especially for Israel after the Mavi Marmara crisis. Turkey’s efforts to counterbalance Iran led to “shift of axis” discussions in the international media. This “shift of axis” discussion caused “Islamist” or “neo-Ottomanism” labels for Turkish foreign policy, but in fact Turkey’s efforts were concentrated on counterbalancing Iran’s radical Shiism which was beneficial for the Western world and also for Israel.
The concept of soft power, as Nye developed it in 1993, suggests that countries’ powers are not only related to their military, political and economic power but also on their images and cultures which can boost also political and economic gains. Turkey’s soft power refers to the use of Muslim identity as an important part of Turkey’s culture in its foreign policy. Turkey with its secular state but also Muslim society could become a model for other Middle East countries only with the use of soft power. In fact, Turkey has proven to be very popular among the countries of the Middle East starting from 2003 according to some surveys conducted. The people of Egypt wanted to see their own leaders like Islamist Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and also wanted a similar political system that of Turkey. In addition to the use of Muslim identity, Turkey’s soft power strategy was followed up with the popularity of Turkish television series in the Middle Eastern, African and Balkan countries.
According to Mert Yunus Balcı, Turkish foreign policy has entered into the process of rebuilding itself in the last decade. Turkey with its moves in the last few years has become a regional power rather than a small country being directed by other global actors. Especially, during Ahmet Davutoğlu’s tenure in office as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, with some policies such as “zero problems with neighbors”, “rhythmic foreign policy” and the use “soft power” strategy, Turkey has gained a lot in foreign policy. In recent years, Turkey turned its face to all close regions as parts of Ottoman heritage. Even with the most problematic neighbor, Armenia, Turkey has made bilateral protocols and showed its good intentions for improving relations with this country. Moreover, Turkey’s partnership with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran increased in recent years especially in terms of energy politics. In addition, Turkey reinforces the African connections. While becoming a temporary member of the UN Security Council with the approval of 52 of 53 African countries just few years ago, Turkey renews its interest in this continent. As an example, we can give President of the Republic Abdullah Gül’s visit to Congo on 17 March 2010 and the recent opening of Turkish embassy in Cameroon. Turkish industrialists also started to invest in Africa which increased economic relations to 10 million $ in 2009 from 1.5 million $ in 2001. This is a striking example showing the improvement.
After the Cold War, developments in the international political system forced Turkey to change its economic, social and affiliations. In this regard, AKP came to power after the transition period in the 1990s, as a result of Turkey’s growing economy and changing strategy. That is why, the shift of axis discussions do not capture the whole picture about Turkish transformation, which is much bigger than a foreign policy orientation and represents a new claim for being a regional power with a new ideology and system based on the use of soft power strategy. This strategy is also in favor of the Western world, Israel and Middle Eastern countries as long as it promotes democracy, free-market economics and protects secularism as a state policy. Increasing authoritarian tendencies of the Erdoğan government in recent years overshadow Turkey’s success and in that sense show the necessity of more moderate and liberal policies and leaders (like President Gül for instance) for the success of this model. Post-Arab Spring events also showed that democracy in Middle East cannot be established in a few months by means of revolution but rather it requires a slow and gradual change that will be led by a role-model country like Turkey.
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