There is no denying that Turkish is one of the most important countries in the world due to its key geopolitical positioning between Asia and Europe and its unique identity composed of both Eastern (Muslim population, problems of democracy, patriarchal culture etc.) and Western (secularism, modern market economy, highly developed infrastructure) characteristics. In that sense, Turkey has a great potential in contributing to the global trends in politics and economy with its decisions. Turkish Foreign Policy is the most important arena where Turkish State’s decisions can be observed most clearly. In this piece, I am going to categorize 7 different stages of Turkish Foreign Policy by looking at the different periods during the republican history (1923-).
1. Isolationism: Similar to all other countries, Turkey can also adhere to Isolationism in its foreign policy from time to time due to domestic necessities. For instance, after the proclamation the Republic in 1923 and the signing of the Lausanne Treaty, due to the existence of a heavy agenda (revolutions and reforms in every aspects of life) in domestic politics, Turkey’s founding leader and first President of the Republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1923-1938) implemented a more isolationist foreign policy in the first decade of the republic throughout the 1920s. Turkey made its transition into a secular state in 1928 when the Article II of the 1924 constitution stating the “Official religion of the state is Islam” was removed from the constitution. Moreover, Atatürk tried to eradicate the monarchical and theocratic model of governance by his republican and secular reforms. He even changed the alphabet into Latin in order to closen Turkish culture with that of Western (European) countries. So, during the 1920s, the foreign policy of the country was more oriented towards domestic politics and in favor of status quo in terms of relations with the West and the USSR. After the military coups in 1960 and 1980 also, Turkey -for a while- implemented Isolationism as its main foreign policy inclination due to the priority of domestic political issues.
2. Regional Pacts Model: Regional Pacts model was implemented by Turkey in the 1930s, the second half of the Atatürk era. During this period, Turkey first established the Balkan Pact or the Balkan Entente in 1934 together with Greece, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Balkan Pact was a treaty of solidarity and mutual understanding against the irredentist claims of Bulgaria and Italy to secure each country’s territorial integrity. Second important step of this policy was to introduce the Saadabad Pact via signing the Saadabad Treaty in 1937. Saadabad Pact was a non-aggression pact signed by Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan on July 8, 1937 and lasted for 5 years. With this treaty, Turkey tried to secure its eastern borders as well. So, in a world open to new wars and aggressions, Turkey wanted to secure itself by establishing friendly relations with its neighbors and countries in its near abroad. In the meantime, by Montreux Treaty (1936), Turkey gained full control over the Straits.
3. Neutrality: Throughout the Second World War (1939-1945), Turkey’s second President of the Republic İsmet İnönü (İsmet Pasha) (1938-1950) implemented the policy of “active neutrality“. The neutrality policy was based on Turkey’s continuing relations with both the Allies and Axis powers including the Nazi Germany. So, in order to secure its territories from a possible Nazi invasion, Turkey continued to make chrome trade with Germany and did not engage in the war although it had previously signed the Anglo-French-Turkish Treaty in 1939. This policy was based on complete Realist interpretation of world politics and aimed at securing Turkish people as well as newly built Turkish cities by staying out of the war at all costs. Some observers of Turkish Foreign Policy resemble this policy to Turkey’s current attitude towards Russia and claim that Turkey tries to get the best possible for its people and its national interests during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
4. Transatlanticism: After Stalin’s unacceptable demands following the Second World War, a new era of Transatlanticism began in Turkish Foreign Policy with the “Missouri Event“, which symbolizes the new pro-American diplomatic inclination of Ankara. Turkey, in this new era of bipolarism, in order to survive against the giant USSR, began to look for a seat in the Western bloc and eventually became a member of NATO together with Greece in 1952. Ankara’s new superpower ally (that is the U.S.) helped Turkey in economic and military issues and Turkey benefited from the Marshall Plan. Thus, the first phase of Cold War (1945-1963) was kind of a “honeymoon” between Washington and Ankara as two allies were almost in perfect harmony in their foreign policy preferences. Transatlanticism was revived during Bill Clinton and Barack Obama periods but both ended again with the failure of two sides in agreeing on many issues including the Kurdish Question, Turkish democracy etc.
5. Multi-Dimensional Foreign Policy: Honeymoon period with Washington ended with the emergence of problems between two countries. First of all, Turkey realized that it could be treated as a pawn by Washington in events such as the Cuban missile crisis (1962). So, Kennedy administration secretly withdrew Jupiter missiles from Turkey in exchange to USSR decision not to implant nuclear weapons into Cuba following the American blockade. In addition, Ankara became very angry when President Lyndon Johnson wrote a disrespectful letter to then-Turkish Prime Minister İsmet İnönü and warned him not to interfere into Cyprus politics although Turkey was a guarantor state. So, as a reaction, between 1963 and 1980 (until the military take-over), Ankara began to implement a new strategy of multi-dimensionalism with developing economic relations with the USSR, becoming a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference (today’s Islamic Cooperation Organization), and attending to Non-Aligned Movement’s Foreign Ministers Conference.
6. Europeanization: After the Helsinki Summit of 1999, Turkey was given candidacy for full membership to the European Union (EU). In fact, accession talks began in 2005 during the early years of the AK Parti (Justice and Development Party) and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. During this period, Turkey tried to pursue a pro-European foreign policy by not accepting the 1 March memorandum in 2003 to join the American invasion of Iraq, supported the Annan Plan -proposed settlement plan by the then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan- in Cyprus in 2004, legislated new laws for becoming harmonious with Brussels, and intensified its political, economic, and cultural relations with all EU countries. Europeanization helped Turkey to embrace and adopt a more Idealist foreign policy first time in its history. However, as Turkey’s EU membership hopes faded in the 2010s, Turkey began to search for a new foreign policy.
7. Eurasianism: Starting from the 1990s, many Turkish soldiers, statesmen, and intellectuals began to dislike and openly criticize American foreign policy choices such as supporting Kurdish and Islamist groups under the name of democratization and commenced to look for membership into an alternative bloc. Although it began as a marginal choice, Eurasianism transformed into a reasonable option in the 2020s with Turkey’s transformation into a different and authoritarian regime as well as its endless political disagreements and problems with both Washington and Brussels. The contemporary Turkish Eurasianism has important pillars such as the use of the Organization of Turkic States as a leverage to increase Turkish influence in Eurasia, using developing relations with Russia and China to be an important actor in the region as well as to become a dialogue partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). So, as the global economy shifts towards Asia, Turkish Eurasianism gains more power day by day.
These are 7 main foreign policy tendencies in Turkey. Of course, as a large and important country, Turkey always makes use of many of them at the same time. However, one inclination often dominates over the others. Nowadays, it seems like Turkey tries to implement a multi-dimensional foreign policy with more Eurasianist accents and a kind of neutrality for Russian-Ukraine War.
Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ