After the dismemberment of the Ottoman State, even though it lost a huge territory, Turkey chose not to pursue an irredentist foreign policy, and although it was a continuation of the Ottoman State, it did not want to maintain the Ottoman heritage. Instead the Republic of Turkey preferred to follow a pro status quo and a comprehensive Westernist foreign policy orientation. When the Soviet Union threatened Turkey in the wake of the Second World War, Turkey needed to officially be part of the Western world. Therefore, it had to accept the subordination to the liberal Western world and a dependent relationship with the United States due to the requirements of the bipolar world system.
In spite of the vertical nature of this relationship, both sides benefitted from this strong and sustainable alliance relationship. On the one hand, the Western alliance provided security against the Soviet threat, military and economic support, and political advantages to Turkey. On the other hand, the Western countries gained a great deal from Turkey, who served as the most important NATO ally in the southeastern European front and hosted military air bases against threats coming from the east.
Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Turkey continued to be a strategic ally of the West. However, after the changes in the global balance of power, the weakening of the American leadership, and the more assertive and competitive foreign policies of other global powers such as Russia and China, Turkey has decided to search for greater autonomy in its region. Furthermore, the Western states’ policies, especially those of the U.S., have forced Turkey to follow a more independent foreign policy in order to be able to counter the increasing political instability in its regions. More specifically, the Western countries have preferred to collaborate with some anti-Turkish regional actors that threaten Turkey’s national security. Especially after the Western support for the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and the Syrian branch of PKK (YPG/PYD), both of which are considered as terrorist organizations by Turkey, the credibility of the Western countries has decreased dramatically in Turkey, leaving no other possible choice than questing for a more autonomous foreign policy.
Thus, Turkey has begun to take necessary measures to search for a new and high-level status in the international system. Among others, Turkey has diversified its foreign economic relations and increased its material capacity. To this end, Turkey has begun to develop an Ankara-centered foreign policy and to oppose any developments that are detrimental to its national security. Turkey is still determined to maintain its alliance with the Western countries, but demands to revise the relationship, which became anachronic in the light of developments at a regional and global level.
In its search for alternative partners and an independent foreign policy, Turkey has improved its relations with Russia, the main alternative challenger and balancer against the Western/American hegemony. For instance, when the Turkish offer to buy Patriots was rejected by the U.S government, Ankara reached a deal with Russia to buy S-400 missile defense systems.
For many years now, Turkey has been asking for a comprehensive reformation in the international system and for a more inclusive approach in which multilateral international platforms such as the United Nations play a bigger role.
Furthermore, since the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, the power of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) was consolidated. Three successful operations (Operation Euphrates Shield, Operation Olive Branch, and Operation Peace Spring) were undertaken in northern and northeastern Syria and as a result Turkey has strengthened its position in the Syrian conflict and prevented the projections of other actors involved in the crisis, thus indicating that it is a game changer in the region
Moreover, Turkey has recently initiated the Operation Claw in Northern Iraq against the PKK and has sent two drilling ships (Fatih and Yavuz) and one seismic ship (Barbaros) to the Eastern Mediterranean. In short, when forced, Turkey will be able to take unilateral measures to find solutions for the crises it may face in the future.
Notwithstanding these developments, in principle, Turkey never questioned its longtime relations with the West. However, despite its membership of Western regional organizations like NATO, relationship with the Council of Europe and its EU membership process, the Western perception of Turkey has been extremely negative, and Western countries continue to take measures against Ankara. Fearing a loss control over Turkey, the Western powers have been trying to prevent Turkey’s quest for autonomy and punish any step taken in this regard. Furthermore, they have attempted to create an anti-Turkish regional bloc to contain Turkey’s regional effectiveness, i.e. the most recent rapprochement between Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. Lastly, Western countries consistently support anti-Turkish forces in the region, including terrorist groups.
It should also be noted that, at a time of multi-dimensional and multi-layered global threats and challenges, there is a high level of interdependency between Turkey and its NATO allies. European defense still starts from Turkey, especially when it comes to international terrorism and international migration. Therefore, it is very difficult to initiate a paradigm shift in Turkish-West relations. The only way for both sides to overcome the conflictual issues is to accept the new realities and to redefine the alliance relations. On the one hand, the Western countries should accept the new role that Turkey is determined to play in its regions and take the Turkish security concerns into attention. On the other hand, Turkey needs to continue its contributions to the NATO operations and to challenge the threats emanating from the Middle East, since Ankara cannot confront the regional threats by itself.
This new issue of Insight Turkey showcases the emergence of Turkey as a regional power in the changing international system and aims to guide readers through the assortment of obstacles within Turkey’s foreign policy and how Turkey’s new diplomacy has navigated the nation to a whole new international arena.
Turkey, in a volatile region, has plumbed the depths of autonomy in its foreign policy for the last decade and this has resulted in trouble with Turkey’s strategic and NATO ally, the United States. Ali Balcı’s commentary elucidates the quest of Turkey’s autonomy in the Middle East, where the collaboration with Russia and Iran consolidates its quest. Considering Turkey’s partnership with different actors for more autonomy, Balcı elaborates that the interests of Turkey and the U.S. are clashing in a region, where Turkey is a subordinate actor.
The Syrian civil war has been a cardinal phenomenon having defined Turkey’s relationships with its NATO ally, the U.S., and its neighbor and successor of the Soviet Union, Russia. William Hale canonically expounds how the U.S. has condoned Turkey’s security concerns, thereby allowing Turkey to work with Russia in order to ward off the eminent threats emerging from Syria such as ISIS and YPG/PKK. Furthermore, this commentary suggests the tense relationship between Turkey and the U.S. not be taken at face value.
As mentioned early, Turkey has been asking for a comprehensive reformation in the international system. The famous motto: “The world is bigger than five,” made famous by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan highlights the increasing need to reform the international system in favor of justice and fair representation for all members of the UN. The lack of social, economic, or humanitarian elements practiced within global governance continues to divide nations between the ‘center’ and ‘periphery.’ Berdal Aral delves deeper into the meaning of this motto and how domestically this idea emerged with the AK Party’s use of morality in governance and connecting more international ties to poorer countries in Asia and Africa. President Erdoğan envisages a more just multipolar world against the damage being done from the privileged few on the Security Council, by reintroducing necessary reforms advocating for peace over power.
The relationship between Russia and Turkey has been steadily improving since the fall of the Soviet Union. As cooperation continues to increase, a few hard internal and external challenges have tested whether the relationship between these two great powers can persevere over differing interests. The military-strategic threats these countries face is the main driving force maneuvering these two nations’ relationships. The greatest of these came in 2015 with the downing of the Russian SU-24 bomber aircraft over its violations of Turkish airspace, this example alone caused geopolitical escalations that were crucial to resolve diplomatically. Resolution has been found with partnership in Syria and over arms trade as Turkey sees Russia as a path of diversification away from the West. In this regard, Şener Aktürk explores the various challenges endured and the reaction Russia had to the various threats Turkey has faced in recent years.
The Eastern Mediterranean has remained one of the main focus areas of international attention due to the abundant amount of gas reserves around the Levant and island of Cyprus. Lately, Turkey has made sure to show its presence in the region at a time when energy security here has been an increasing issue as global actors compete over resources in the area. Mehmet Efe Biresselioglu discusses Turkey’s position in the contested energy-rich region as it continues to secure its interests in North Cyprus and diversify its own energy. As Turkey maximizes its energy potential, the reactions from surrounding states and the EU has hindered any sense of fair resolution to all regional parties. The unresolved dispute over Cyprus and respect for territorial sovereignty continues to be an ongoing dilemma that can see constructive progress made if Turkey is seen as a strategic partner, and not a part of the problem.
The Turkish Lira suffered one of its most severe economic shocks in 2018, sending waves of uncertainty of Turkey’s economic potential worldwide. Among speculation as to what factors inhibit economic shocks on the Turkish market, Nurullah Gür, Mevlüt Tatlıyer, and Şerif Dilek address the view that geopolitical issues and slowed down reform measures are the main culprits to the depreciation. With the decline of the currency against the dollar, the Turkish government swiftly set to decrease the inflation rate and instill real sector reforms with a developmentalist approach to remedy the situation. Turkey continues to develop financial alternatives with reducing reliance on imports and growing in the export market, learning to safeguard against economic shocks has been a testing ground for the Turkish economy in recent years.
Murat Ülgül introduces the importance of personal diplomacy, and how it is an effective tool in the modern world, thus making it no surprise that it has increased in practice within Turkey. Ülgül contends that personal diplomacy explains Turkey’s foreign policy better as it is most effective in crisis periods, when there is dominant leadership, and when the political leader is confident about his/her ability to shape policies, all of which are applicable in Turkey.
Turkish judiciary faced its biggest crisis on the night of July 15, 2016 during the coup attempt organized by FETÖ members who wanted to bring down the democratically elected government. They, however, did not succeed owing to the sturdy resistance of prosecutors and judges who were determined to uphold the rule of law against the coup-plotters. A prominent lawyer, Hüseyin Aydın, clarifies how the Turkish judiciary has even-handedly conducted the prosecution process since the night of July 15.
Convulsed by unrest, Iran has returned to the center of the world’s attention. Farhad Rezaei explores Iran’s aim towards increasing their militarization, as a means of survival even at the cost of destabilizing its regional neighbors, and international discomfort. Dividing Iran’s military doctrine between ideological-political and military-technological, Iran propagates its own notion as an Islamic protectorate and compensates for its military shortcomings, like its relatively weak air force, by bolstering its ballistic sector. To measure Iran’s military-technology by taking inventory of Iran’s military weaponry shows that they are at a disadvantage in the international realm. Therefore, they frequently resort to asymmetrical warfare with the use of proxy groups and cyberwarfare, where they have found limited success. While Iran is likely to continue to develop its weaponry, it is disadvantaged by richer neighbors partnered with America, economic sanctions, and the fact that its intentions on growth are seen more as a threat than domestic development.
The last piece of this issue brings attention to the Kashmir Crisis –a simmering conflict– which has long been glossed over by many countries and international organizations yet, it has to be addressed due to the human rights violations in the region. The Public Safety Act, which is a preventive detention law and required to comply with the international law, is used as a political tool to realize the objectives of authorities rather than its advocated primary aim of detaining people. Mohmad Aabit Bhat sheds a light on the covert intentions of the law, which has been “enforced” in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, with a discursive approach.
These past years have been a challenging test for Turkish diplomacy, as fluctuating relationships and conflicting interests have been at the foreground, whether it’s in the warzone of Syria or on the international stage at the UN. Insight Turkey’s last issue for 2019 “Turkey’s New Foreign Policy: A Quest for Autonomy” analyses how Turkey with great stamina has proven that it is a strong cooperative player and balancer between the polarities of the world, as a voice for the oppressed and a pillar of strength among the dominant forces in the world.