Mr. Kardaş is in the Department of International Relations at Sakarya University in Turkey. He is currently an associate instructor at the University of Utah, where he is completing his Ph.D. dissertation on Turkish-American relations.1
Basing its foreign policy on the principle of “zero-problems with neighbors,” Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) has embarked on several projects to achieve “limitless cooperation” with near-by countries. As Turkey became increasingly able and willing to play an assertive role in the management of security and economic affairs on its periphery, observers focused on two related aspects of its new orientation: Many of those good-neighbor policies, which developed momentum after the appointment of Ahmet Davutoğlu, the architect of what some call a “brand new doctrine,” as foreign minister in May 2009, frequently concerned foreign-policy activism in the Middle East. Also, while formulating its regional policies, Turkey has emerged as more self-confident and autonomous, and, most important, has deviated occasionally from the transatlantic political agenda. Turkey’s rising profile and ambitious agenda in regional affairs have elicited discussion of the causes of its realignment toward the Middle East. The debate, which is often centered on the provocative question, “Is Turkey shifting its axis?” is linked to a broader question: How will all these changes affect Turkey’s traditional Western-oriented foreign policy? While some observers emphasize the role of external factors in provoking these transformations — especially the patronizing behavior of some Western countries — others point to domestic forces, primarily the ideological leanings of the JDP and the growing conservatism of the public. They maintain that the difficulties in Turkish-Western relations are exacerbating religiously conservative and nationalist tendencies among the Turkish people, who in turn force their leaders to seek realignments elsewhere. Concomitantly, it is argued that the JDP’s ideological platform motivates the party elite to “Middle Easternize” Turkish foreign policy. Another argument, in contrast, welcomes the transformation in Turkish foreign policy as a positive new geopolitical trend, attributing it to a novel strategic doctrine developed under the guidance of Davutoğlu, first in his capacity as chief adviser to the prime minister and now as foreign minister.
Neither answer fully explains the complex transformation in Turkish foreign policy and its implications for the region and the West. Attributing Turkey’s realignment in its non-Western neighborhoods to its rejection by the West or the government’s populism overlooks the agency of the Turkish political elite. In contrast, explaining Turkish foreign policy solely in terms of strategic choices by or the identity of the ruling elite underestimates structural causes and is based on a problematic reading of Turkish domestic politics. Turkey’s new geopolitical alignment is a result of a process that predates the JDP’s rise to power and has its own unique dynamics.
The first part of this essay will evaluate the complex relationships among the structural, domestic-contextual and agency-driven causes of Turkey’s regional-power role, borrowing insights from the realist theory of international relations. The second part of the essay will assess the prospects and challenges of this new role and its implications for Turkey’s relations with the West. First, it will make the case that the sustainability of Turkey’s grand strategy will hinge on the government’s ability to both avoid overextending Turkey’s regional agenda and confine the new activism to a realistic sphere-of-interest policy. Second, it will be emphasized that it is the very same strategic outlook that simultaneously drives the redefinition of Turkey’s ties to the West, on the one hand, and its reorientation toward the Middle East, on the other. The essay will conclude with a discussion of the challenges to Turkish foreign policy from the domestic-reform process.
TURKEY’S REGIONAL POLICY
The changing dynamics of Turkey’s relations with the West, arguably its most precious connection — economically, politically and strategically — is said to be triggering new foreign-policy activism in the Middle East and the Greater Black Sea area. On the one hand, Turkish-EU relations, which have anchored Turkey in the Western political community and served as the prime engine of Turkey’s domestic transformation, have been going through difficult times. While the Turkish government is criticized by certain EU leaders for failing to maintain the pace of democratization reforms, Turks increasingly blame the EU for applying double standards and stalling Turkey’s membership process because of intra-European problems.
On the other hand, Turkish-American relations deteriorated rapidly following the invasion of Iraq and Turkey’s refusal to allow the United States to open a second front through Turkish territory. The downward spiral of this relationship was accelerated by the U.S. failure to address the threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity posed by PKK insurgents, who enjoyed a safe haven in Northern Iraq. The growing divergence between Ankara and Washington on regional issues became apparent once again during the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, when Turkey limited the passage of American warships into the Black Sea in order to avoid a confrontation with Russia. Despite the improvement of relations under the Obama administration, serious differences of opinion remain on the Iranian nuclear issue, the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and how to deal with a resurgent Russia. At any rate, “Western orientation” no longer occupies the central place in Turkey’s international relations, as Ankara has deepened its ties with its Middle Eastern neighbors and realigned its geopolitical agenda with Moscow.
According to the dominant narrative, the causes of this new foreign-policy activism in the neighborhoods, often dubbed “neo-Ottomanism,” are to be found outside: in Turkey’s problematic relations with the West. As a follow up to this argument, critics of the JDP’s growing involvement in regional affairs argue that Turkey has shifted its axis in foreign policy away from its traditional Western orientation. They maintain that, driven by concerns over domestic political survival or identity-based policies, the foreign-policy elite in Ankara have come to prioritize the Turkish and Arab streets over the transatlantic agenda.
Turkey’s assertive new foreign policy is the product of a unique combination of factors: the reconfiguration of power relations in the international and regional systems, transformations in Turkish domestic politics, the agency and identity of the ruling elite, and public opinion. In the remainder of this section, these factors will be studied in closer detail to demonstrate the pitfalls of simplistic explanations based on an action-reaction narrative and essentialist readings of the identity of the JDP’s foreign-policy elite.
Power Shifts and Systemic Transformations
“Turkey’s role … is likely to transcend well-established images and will be increasingly independent and assertive.... From the Western perspective, Turkey will become a more active, capable and, in some instances, independent ally.”2 These lines sound as if they were written in the midst of the new wave of interest in the so-called neo-Ottoman turn in Turkish foreign policy under the JDP. However, they are taken from a 2000 essay by Ian Lesser, a long-time Turkey watcher. Since he could not have predicted the JDP’s rise to power and “Turkey’s rejection by the West,” he must have taken into account the development of structural forces that have enabled Turkey to perform as a more capable regional actor.
The structural context of Turkey’s foreign-policy transformation lies in the shifting balance of power and the changing security perceptions of Turkey and its Western partners. Long-term power transitions in both regional and international systems have increasingly expanded Turkey’s relative economic and military weight in its surrounding regions. The military modernization programs Ankara has undertaken in recent decades make the Turkish armed forces a strong deterrent in the Middle East and other regions that the Turkish security elite traditionally considered dangerous. For instance, Turkey no longer perceives Russia as a conventional threat and shows more confidence in its diplomatic maneuvers in the Caucasus. Similarly, a major factor that forced Syria to abandon its strategic hostility toward Turkey and end its support for the PKK was Turkey’s effective use of coercive diplomacy backed by military power.
Declining threat perceptions have diminished an important rationale for Turkey’s Western orientation: the defense partnership. Turkey joined the Atlantic Alliance during the Cold War because this defense cooperation provided shelter against the Soviet threat. In the post-Cold War era, Turkey acted jointly with the transatlantic community in the Balkans, because this partnership was seen as an effective instrument for containing the threat of ethnic nationalism and instability in Southeastern Europe. Likewise, Turkey was eager to serve as a “pivotal”3 country to facilitate Western penetration into the Black Sea, Caucasus and Central Asia. The expansion of the Western security umbrella to these regions seemed the most effective strategy to stabilize them and ensure their peaceful transitions. It also provided Turkey an opportunity to expand its sphere of influence into post-Soviet geography.
No longer preoccupied with the issues of survival and existential security, Turkey has been less dependent on the Western community and more comfortable developing closer economic ties with its neighbors. Turkey’s major remaining security concern in the Middle East is the regional dimension of the PKK threat. Today, arguably the single most important factor in maintaining its alliance with the United States and Israel is its dependence on defense cooperation with these countries, specifically niche military technologies for tackling the PKK challenge. Moreover, Turkey’s resolution of conflicts with its Arab neighbors is inevitably altering its relations with Israel, for Ankara no longer perceives a need to enhance its security through an alliance with Tel Aviv. More important, Turkey increasingly feels that, working in coordination with local actors, it is capable of managing regional security, and that penetration by extra-regional powers, as in the case of the U.S. invasion of Iraq or American plans to secure a naval presence in the Black Sea, might create more problems than it solves. In the new security environment, in short, Turkey has strong incentives to readjust its strategic priorities and devote greater attention to institution building at the regional level, thus creating interdependencies among the regional countries outside the Western political agenda.
Domestic Context of Foreign-Policy Activism
It would be misleading to explain the transformation of Turkish foreign policy by reference to systemic forces alone. A proper explanation must involve the role played by various domestic factors, most important the reconfiguration of political elites, the consolidation of state power and public opinion.4
Since its coming to power in 2002, the JDP has launched major domestic reforms. Despite its core leadership’s roots in political Islam, the party now occupies a center-right position on the Turkish political spectrum, a consequence of a support base that includes exceptionally diverse constituencies: conservative Sunnis, liberal reformists, nationalists and Kurds. Dominated primarily by the agenda of this conservative-liberal coalition, the JDP has pursued neoliberal economic policies and has been a strong advocate of the further democratization of the Turkish political system. A corollary of this new domestic constellation in the foreign-policy realm was the revitalization of Turkey’s EU membership bid and the promotion of economic integration and cooperative-security policies vis-à-vis the peripheral regions.
It is true that since coming to power the JDP has done away with many taboos in Turkish foreign policy and introduced a fresh approach. Yet there are more continuities with, than deviations from, past practices. Some observers tend to over-emphasize domestic factors, especially the role played by the new foreign-policy elite in formulating a “geopolitical imagination”5 and equipping Turkey’s foreign-policy apparatus with fresh tools. Those analysts who hail the achievements of Turkey in normalizing relations with its neighbors maintain that the domestic reform process, in a short span of time, transformed strategic thinking in Turkey. As a result, they claim, Turkey has done away with power politics and increasingly embraced a new liberal foreign-policy outlook that emphasizes zero problems with neighbors and the use of soft-power instruments. The following quote from a liberal commentator reflects this mode of thinking:
Take the example of [Davutoğlu’s] policy of “zero problems with neighbors,” which marks a revolutionary change in the Turkish perception of the external world. I say revolutionary because it is a radical departure from the conventional view that Turkey is surrounded by enemy countries against which it should be prepared to defend itself…. The zero-problems policy has redefined Turkey’s relations with its neighbors. The avenues of mutual understanding, trust and cooperation were opened with this change of perspective. As such, a liberal approach based on cooperation instead of confrontation was inserted into foreign policy, embracing a non-zero-sum strategy benefiting all parties involved.6
One can indeed find empirical evidence in support of this assertion. For instance, while Turkey was almost on the brink of war with Syria a decade ago, it is now seriously considering economic and political integration with it. Nonetheless, any student of Turkish foreign policy in the last three decades will have a hard time agreeing with the argument that a brand new liberal foreign-policy approach has been unleashed by the coming to power of the JDP.
The reconfiguration of the domestic political context definitely plays a role in the new approach, but it has to be properly delineated. The changes in the Turkish domestic scene did not introduce a radically new strategic thinking. The elements of Turkey’s recent foreign-policy doctrine such as pursuing economic integration, spearheading regional organizations, and asserting Turkey’s regional-power position were present even before the rise of the new foreign-policy elite. Here is what has been inherited from previous foreign policy.
The major element of continuity in Turkey’s foreign-policy toolkit is the emphasis on “cooperative security.”7 As an extension of its pro-Western orientation in the early post-Cold War era, Turkey prioritized multilateral approaches and avoided unilateral activities, particularly exercises of military power in the Balkans and the Caucasus. This cooperative-security approach sought to use institution building, conflict-mediation tools, multilateral diplomacy and economic interdependence as instruments to realize Turkey’s regional-power ambitions. Multilateralism became such a defining feature of Turkey’s foreign policy that attempts to play a more assertive role were formulated within the context of existing multilateral platforms or through the launching of new ones. As a result, Turkey either facilitated the expansion of the Western security architecture and economic institutions into surrounding regions or initiated new arrangements to foster cooperation in economic and military affairs, so as to create and maintain stable neighborhoods in which it could play a leading role. This is not to suggest that Turkey abandoned military instruments or power politics; it continued to invest in the modernization of its military capabilities and revise its military doctrine to, for instance, incorporate forward defense. Thus, Turkey also improved its hard-power capabilities and sought to ensure that the West recognized its regional role.
If all it took were a “geographic imagination,” it was in place before the JDP’s rise to power. In many ways, the early post-Cold War rhetoric of the Turkish strategic elite was far more revolutionary than the strategic doctrine advocated by the JDP elite and surpassed its boundaries in terms of geographic vision. They conceived of a Turkic world extending from the Great Wall of China to the Adriatic. They also recognized the power of economic interdependence and cooperative security, and initiated the creation of many regional cooperation schemes, such as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC). The current government still has to develop a regional organization that matches the BSEC in scope. Its proposal for a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform, which it presents as a great accomplishment of its new approach, is no more than a recycled version of a proposal that former President Süleyman Demirel introduced in 2000 (this proposal has yet to be turned into an actual regional organization).
What has been taking place in Turkish domestic politics under JDP rule is not brand new strategic thinking, as much as the expansion of the state’s ability to execute a preexisting ambitious foreign-policy agenda that employs cooperative security and multilateralism as its main instruments. Here, theory has some insights to offer. As realist scholarship has long asserted, foreign-policy activism is usually preceded by an expansion of “state strength,” i.e., a government’s ability to mobilize resources from the national economy and society behind foreign-policy objectives. Indeed, although structural changes had already taken place to permit Turkey to play an extended role, and Turkish political actors were determined to assume it, a domestic-level catalyst was required. This was supplied by the consolidation of state strength during JDP rule, enabling a more effective implementation of foreign-policy objectives and the application of a liberal approach to a new region, the Middle East. As one Turkish scholar puts it, Davutoğlu is perhaps blessed with fortuna, for he controls a unique historic opportunity and many more resources than his predecessors to reconnect Turkey to the Middle East.8
The JDP has ruled as a single-party government for two consecutive terms; this has provided it with the opportunity to reduce governance problems and develop an effective administration. The expanded wealth at the government’s disposal has enabled Turkey to pursue an activist foreign policy, investing in the economic, social and military restructuring of surrounding regions through development and military assistance. Similarly, Turkey’s rapidly growing economy makes it a center of attraction. Neighboring countries view it as an important door to the outside world, further energizing Turkish foreign-policy activism. At the same time, changing perceptions of domestic issues — most notably Islamism and Kurdish separatism, which the Kemalist elites have considered internal threats to the survival of the state — have reduced the obstacles to Turkey’s relations with its neighbors. This has freed up essential resources — time, energy and funds — that can be channeled into foreign policy.
Involvement in the Middle East: Identity Driven?
What remains to be explained is why Turkish foreign-policy activism and the liberal agenda are being implemented largely in the Middle East. In the 1990s, the debate over Turkey’s regional role was mainly focused on the Balkans and Central Asia. Although Turkey refocused its attention on the Caucasus after the Russo-Georgian war and on the Balkans following Davutoğlu’s appointment as foreign minister, the Middle East has been its main concern. This was epitomized by Prime Minister Erdoğan’s walkout at the Davos economic summit over the Israeli war on Gaza in January 2009. This spectacular outburst plus Erdoğan’s public embrace of Iranian President Ahmedinejad have sparked a debate over Turkey’s foreign-policy orientation, particularly toward the Middle East, which was traditionally an area where the republican elites avoided active involvement. Partly for ideological reasons, they wanted to accentuate the country’s break with its Ottoman and Islamic past and its reorientation toward the West. But ever since Turkey, in the late 1980s, started to become involved in the region, its role has raised questions concerning identity and whether Turkey might abandon its European vocation.9
In the current debate, critics10 point to a series of developments — the JDP’s hosting of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal in 2006, subsequent visits by the Saudi King and the Iranian president, Ankara’s position on the Iranian nuclear issue, and its attempts to forge economic and political ties with Syria and Iraq — as strong indications that Turkish foreign policy has been increasingly Middle Easternized, reflecting the religious-conservative ideology of the JDP. They contend that the conservative identity of the ruling elite has become increasingly dominant in their handling of Turkish domestic and foreign policies, and that the reorientation toward the Middle East is yet another indication of the “creeping Islamization” of Turkish society and politics under the JDP. 11
An essentialist, identity-based explanation of the increasing weight of the Middle East in Turkish foreign policy fails to appreciate the unique combination of structural factors and interest-based motivations that undergird Turkey’s activism.12
First, regarding structural factors, a brief look at the changes in Turkey’s regional power role in different neighborhoods is warranted. What enabled Turkey’s pursuit of an ambitious agenda in the Balkans and Central Asia was the power vacuum in the wake of the dissolution of the Eastern bloc and the fact that Turkey provided an outlet for the new nations in these regions to the West. The early post-Cold War security environment enabled Turkey’s penetration into the Balkans, Black Sea basin and South Caucasus, where Turkey sponsored regional integration and promoted cooperative security initiatives. In contrast, in the Middle East, Turkey largely continued to act according to the dictates of Realpolitik and resorted to the instruments of hard power.13
Turkey’s recent activism paradoxically signifies a geopolitical retreat. Compared to the grandiose rhetoric of the early post-Cold War period, the renewed drive for regional-power status has been more realistic and pragmatic. The broader geopolitical developments in the intervening period forced a reconsideration of Turkey’s areas of influence and its pursuit of this dual strategic identity, based on both cooperative security and Realpolitik, within a more realistic assessment of the limits of its power and reach. The EU’s absorption of southeastern Europe and the stabilization of the region diminished Turkey’s relevance as a regional power in the Balkans. Turkey still exercises some influence over developments concerning Bosnia and other smaller Balkan countries; yet in this region it has already reached its limits.14 Similarly, it is difficult to talk about a proactive Turkish presence east of the Caspian Sea, due largely to Russia’s regaining its influence in Central Asia and Turkey’s limited access to the region.15 These transformations leave only the Middle East — and to a lesser extent the neighborhoods bordering Russia in the Caucasus and the Black Sea — for Turkey to play an active strategic role.
It is no coincidence that “revolutionary” foreign-policy initiatives in the Middle East stem from U.S. plans to withdraw from Iraq. This, along with the EU’s inability to play an effective strategic role in the region, sets the structural background for active Turkish involvement.16 A familiar combination of factors has facilitated Turkey’s move: a perceived security vacuum and the possibility that Turkey could serve as a conduit between Middle Eastern countries17 and the international system. It is no coincidence that Turkey uses the same liberal rhetoric of economic integration, institution building and cooperative security to advance its role in the Middle East. Among many possible examples, Turkey’s active contribution to the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon suffices to illustrate the similarities between Turkey’s involvement in the Middle East and its earlier activism in the Balkans and the Caucasus.
This last point bolsters the argument that the novelty of JDP foreign policy is not the invention of a new strategic doctrine. Rather, it is the extension of a liberal economic and cooperative-security approach to a new region where realist concerns traditionally determined Turkey’s conduct. Even in the Middle East, one has to recall the “regional policy” promoted by former Foreign Minister İsmail Cem (served 1997-2002), who emphasized the greater use of cultural factors and Turkey’s multi-civilizational identity, along with reconciliation with the Middle East. He worked to initiate a dialogue with Syria and Iraq, as well as among the countries neighboring Iraq, and sought to make greater use of cooperative-security instruments. Though he failed in some of his projects because of adverse regional and domestic political conditions, these initiatives were harbingers of things to come.18 Perhaps the JDP leaders can earn kudos for partially managing the security dilemmas in the region and fostering an environment conducive to using such preexisting ideas and instruments more effectively and on a more institutionalized basis. As such, they come close to realizing a thwarted objective of many of their predecessors since the 1950s who sought to reconnect Turkey with the Middle East.
Second, an identity-based, essentialist explanation fails to capture the interest-driven motivations and security concerns behind Turkey’s Middle East agenda. For example, the recent economic initiatives spearheaded by Turkey correlate nicely with its aspiration to become an influential actor in the region. The government’s desire to develop joint projects with neighbors, attract foreign direct investments, and gain access to new markets for Turkish exporters and contractors constitutes what one might call the geo-economic19 dimension of foreign policy. Ankara considers such flourishing ties as consistent with its new foreign-policy doctrine, which emphasizes avoiding disputes with neighbors and maintaining balanced relations with all stakeholders through multidimensional partnerships. This optimistic vision, not unlike the neo-functionalist foundations of European integration, is an outgrowth of the liberal tendencies in Turkish strategic thinking and complements the cooperative-security approach discussed earlier. As a result, Turkey acts as a “trading state”20 or a “benign regional power.”21 Ankara’s emphasis on the advancement of commercial interests through mutually beneficial positive-sum policies reduces strategic competition and contributes to a peaceful neighborhood.
By considering Turkey’s activism in the Middle East against the backdrop of this growing economic emphasis, its new foreign-policy agenda can be better comprehended. Turkey has signed various economic and trade agreements, including energy deals, with Middle Eastern countries, especially Iran, Syria and Iraq. Considering Turkey’s ambitions to assert its role as an energy hub, deepening cooperation with Middle Eastern producers has a rationale of its own, independent of identity-related considerations.
Moreover, Turkey’s efforts to forge closer cooperation with the Middle East are driven by its immediate security vulnerability. The threat posed by the PKK still remains the most immediate issue shaping the thinking of the Turkish security elite.22 Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while Washington maintained a hands-off approach to the threat to Turkey from the PKK bases in Northern Iraq, Turkey secured cooperation from Syria and harmonized its tactics with Iran, which also encountered security challenges in Kurdish-populated areas. After years of bickering with the Iraqi Kurds and the Baghdad government, Turkey has managed to establish a security mechanism, which the United States now supports with actionable intelligence, to coordinate the fight against the PKK. Although paranoia over the PKK has diminished, Turkey still has various security-driven reasons to remain engaged, not least to prevent the region from descending into instability following the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.
That said, the foregoing discussion does not negate the role of agency and subjectivity in the making of Turkey’s regional policy. What is unique in Turkey’s cooperative initiatives in the Middle East is perhaps that such engagements are given a broader meaning. For example, economic cooperation has been presented recently as the nucleus of further political integration with Syria and Iraq. JDP leaders state clearly that, through the spillover effect of economic interdependence, they seek to bolster relations among regional countries at societal and governmental levels, as reflected by the creation of the High Level Strategic Cooperation Councils with Iraq and Syria to institutionalize political relations. The stated desire for a greater political integration in some of the Middle Eastern engagements raises the issue of the “subjective” dimensions of Turkey’s regional-power perceptions.
The Role of Identity: Understanding Strategic Depth
There is no common identity that drives both the JDP’s domestic agenda and its foreign policy; rather, a unique “strategic identity” blends both ideology and Realpolitik. The JDP’s recent foreign-policy perspective and its perception of Turkey’s role as a regional power, formulated by Davutoğlu in his seminal book Strategic Depth and other works, flow from two interrelated influences: a geopolitical approach involving a desire to conduct international relations according to Realpolitik and nineteenth-century diplomacy, and a geocultural approach envisaging a leadership role for Turkey in the historical trajectory of Islamic world.
Davutoğlu sees Turkey as a “central country.” In his thinking, given its geographic location, Turkey cannot afford to pursue merely reactive policies. Since its security is closely interconnected with developments in the regional systems that Turkey is a part of, it should adopt proactive policies to shape external political developments in order to advance its interests and ensure its survival. Moreover, Turkey’s growing influence in its hinterlands will serve as a springboard for its power position vis-à-vis the West and the global powers. Soft power and instruments of cooperative security and economic interdependence constitute the basic elements of the Turkish diplomatic toolkit under Davutoğlu, despite the heavy influence of conventional geopolitical thought on his strategic thinking. The geopolitical views articulated by Davutoğlu have been widely discussed elsewhere,23 but it is worth briefly touching on his geocultural reading of international relations, as it also plays a major role in the restructuring of Turkish policy in the Middle East.
Davutoğlu’s geopolitical approach to international relations is complemented by his understanding of the role played by civilizations in world history. In his Weltanschauung, Islamic civilization needs to transform itself radically in the fields of economics, politics, culture and education to meet contemporary challenges. He links the evolution of Turkish domestic and foreign policies to this broader imperative and assigns the country a unique mission. The accomplishment of this mission requires that the Turkish political elite make peace with its own history and culture and then establish the country firmly in its geocultural context, as determined not only by geography but also culture, civilization and history. As a result, in addition to acting as a central country in geopolitical terms, he also expects Turkey to lead the revitalization of Islamic civilization.24
Both the geocultural and geopolitical dimensions of Davutoğlu’s thinking call for a proactive foreign policy beyond republican Turkey’s borders. The role of identity in the making of contemporary Turkish foreign policy can only be comprehended properly if one considers the ebb and flow between geopolitical and geocultural aspects of Davutoğlu’s strategic thinking and how they play out relative to other factors identified so far. In many ways, Davutoğlu’s belief that Turkey is under a cultural-historic responsibility to play an extended international role resembles the doctrine of “manifest destiny,” which was used to justify a secular strategic objective, i.e., territorial expansion of the United States across the North American continent.
In addition to economic and strategic considerations, Turkey’s Middle East agenda is driven to a certain extent by those identity-related dimensions of the JDP leadership’s strategic culture. As Erdoğan reiterated once again during his December trip to Syria, he views bolstering ties with the Middle Eastern neighbors only as “normalization,” not as a shift of axis, as critics claim. In the thinking of the JDP leadership, reconnecting with the Middle East through cooperative initiatives serves to resolve the anomaly created by republican Turkey’s one-directional Western orientation and the Cold War geopolitical conditions that erected artificial boundaries between Turkey and the Middle East, and hence represents the fulfillment of a historic mission. Likewise, the JDP’s growing assertiveness in advocating Islamic causes at international fora — such as defending the rights of Palestinians or expressing concerns over the election of Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the new head of NATO on the grounds of his unpopularity in the Islamic world — cannot be understood without considering the identity-driven aspects of Turkish foreign policy.
Ideology is only part of a larger set of factors that make up the strategic identity of the JDP foreign-policy elite, and it would be misleading to attribute their foreign-policy activism to a single, unchanging identity. The makers of Turkish foreign policy, including Davutoğlu,25 Erdoğan26 and President Abdullah Gül,27 have stressed on many occasions that Turkish foreign policy is based on both geographic and historical determinants or “constants,” and that Turkey would resort to both hard- and soft-power instruments to promote its interests abroad. So far, rather than pursuing a purely ideological agenda, they have chosen foreign policy options on the basis of a mixture of those elements. Their ability to successfully manage foreign-policy will come to depend on whether they can maintain a healthy balance between identity and Realpolitik. Nonetheless, this unique strategic identity is far from being embraced across the aisle in Turkey. The opposition parties object to many of its elements, though the rhetoric of grandeur implicit in this vision appeals to broad segments of society.
Public opinion presents JDP leaders with both opportunities and constraints while formulating regional policies. Recent opinion polls identify a growing self-confidence on the part of the public in Turkey’s international standing. They no longer see neighboring countries as significant threats. This supports a point made earlier that the Turkish elite has ceased to consider the neighbors as threats to national survival. Significantly, the Turkish public has demonstrated a preference for unilateral action and a skepticism towards the policies of Western countries and institutions. Turks increasingly question the sincerity of the EU regarding Turkey’s membership process, continue to view U.S. policies in their periphery as a threat to national security, and even question the utility of NATO to the country’s defense. Poll results show that “Turks across the political spectrum,” not just the “Islamists” or supporters of the JDP, share these opinions.
The Conservative and Nationalist Public
These poll results might give the impression that Turkey’s external conduct is driven by societal trends; as a matter of fact, the JDP elite often feed such perceptions. For instance, when questioned about Turkey’s harsh criticism of Israel’s policies in Palestine, especially the cancellation of joint military exercises in which Israel was scheduled to participate, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu often cite “popular demand” to justify their position. Some Western observers argue that JDP leaders are catering to the expectations of a growing religious conservatism and nationalism:
The party is caught in the dilemma that tends to snare those who traffic in populist politics. In an effort to secure the JDP’s position, Erdogan has tacked from one constituency to another. Yet his efforts to satisfy one group have tended to undermine support from another, further damaging the JDP’s efforts to lead broad sections of the Turkish public.28
The policy implication of such analyses is this: “If its Western partners do not act, Turkey… will drift away from the United States and Europe in the powerful undercurrents of authoritarianism and nationalism.”29
Public Opinion As an Opportunity
This reading underestimates the government’s control over public opinion and is based on an incomplete understanding of the Turkish people’s foreign-policy choices and priorities. Such explanations ignore the decision-making capacity and determination of the JDP government to initiate foreign policies and the strength of the Turkish state to implement them. They overlook the fact that the new foreign-policy agenda is largely a product of deliberate strategic choices. And, despite recent challenges to its uncontested rule at home, the JDP still is far from a weak administration and commands the backing of large constituencies, especially for its foreign-policy initiatives on Palestine, Iran, Syria and Iraq.30 Turks are not troubled by Iran’s possible acquisition of nuclear weapons, and they find Erdoğan’s harsh criticism of Israel justified. The Turkish people are overwhelmingly behind the government’s policy of deepening ties with neighbors, and reject the claim that these steps amount to a “shift of axis from West to East.”
Public approval provides the government with a valuable asset for initiating and sustaining policy transformations. Of course, the government has on occasion broken sharply with public opinion, as was the case during its path-breaking approach to the Cyprus issue in 2003-04. Its overture toward Armenia, despite negative popular reaction, demonstrates, moreover, that the government still possesses the power to go against the tide when necessary. The JDP’s reference to “public demand” in many cases has an instrumental value, allowing it to justify its foreign policy domestically and deflect criticism from outside.
Public Opinion As a Rational Constraint
The Turkish people’s foreign-policy preferences are more rational and prudent than Western observers concede. Western thinking is based on the following logic: since Turks don’t like the West and are becoming nationalist and more willing to support authoritarian leaders, they will want their leaders to pursue adventurous foreign policies, which will then destabilize the region and challenge Western interests. This is “threat inflation,” especially if one considers the policy implications of such analyses. There is no logical or empirical support for the assumption that nationalistic and conservative tendencies, provided that they exist,31 will lead to reckless external conduct. Even in the volatile 1990s, when the country was going through a period of fragile coalition governments, Turkish political elites preferred caution over daring. Instead of acting as a spoiler to take advantage of the instability in the Balkans and the Caucasus, Turkey played a constructive, “stabilizer” role, largely acknowledged by the West
The JDP’s track record also defies skeptics who warn that domestic instability will generate reckless foreign policies. During 2006-08, critics similarly argued that the JDP might cater to an increase in nationalism — the result of a recurrence of PKK violence, perceived American indifference toward PKK activities in Northern Iraq, and a stalled EU accession process. Powerful domestic forces favored unilateral intervention in Northern Iraq, but the JDP was able to resist such pressures and acted with restraint. Again, in response to the prospective American withdrawal from Iraq, Turkey has avoided revisionism and refrained from advancing a unilateral agenda. The government, supported by the military, has been working to manage the looming challenges of the transition period by seeking accommodation with the Iraqi Kurds, the central government in Baghdad and the United States through a recently launched trilateral process to coordinate security measures against the PKK.32
Moreover, recent poll data on the Turkish public’s foreign-policy orientations defy Western stereotypes.33 These polls were geared to Turkey’s unique conditions and did not employ the standard questions found in transatlantic surveys.34 Unlike Western representations, which portray a population strongly motivated by populism and nationalism and thirsting for reckless expansionist policies abroad, Turkish polls show that Turks formulate their foreign-policy preferences in a rational and objective manner.
As in domestic policy,35 bread-andbutter concerns prevail over ideology. This pragmatism suggests that support for the government’s agenda has to be understood as conditional.36 Turks overwhelmingly define the country’s international identity as “Turk” (72.73 percent), as opposed to European (13.64 percent), Muslim (6.55 percent) or Middle Eastern (5.27 percent). Considered in the context of the public’s support for JDP foreign policy, it appears that Turks back recent foreign-policy initiatives because they see the government as advancing “national interests,” not because of their nostalgia for an imperial past. This interpretation is supported by a related question, “How would you define the JDP’s foreign policy?” A plurality of Turks answered “national” (37.0 percent), followed by pro-EU (19.00 percent), pro-American (15.0 percent), Islamist (11.75 percent), Ottomanist (10.25 percent) and Liberal (7.0 percent).
It is also remarkable that the Turkish people increasingly prioritize economic considerations in foreign policy, which accords with the government’s promotion of economic interests on the periphery. When asked, for instance, “What should be the main priority of Turkish foreign policy?”37 Turks chose protection of Turkey’s economic interests abroad over taking precautions against attack by foreign armed forces. On the same question, few favored “protection of other Muslim countries.” Reflecting their sensitivity toward the issue of terrorism, protection against the terrorist threat topped the list.38 Similarly, on the question, “In what area should Turkey’s relations with Iran/Syria be improved?”39 Turks overwhelming preferred economic cooperation over “societal-cultural” or “military” cooperation. Even on relations with Israel, the number who favored ending all ties is lower than the number who favored developing economic relations.40
These results demonstrate that, contrary to Western representations, Turks define their foreign-policy preferences in a well-calculated manner. This pragmatism is likely to exert important limitations on any adventurist tendency on the part of the government. Overall it appears that, while Turks support the “geopolitical” aspects of recent Turkish foreign policy, they might be hesitant to embrace the geocultural dimensions of Davutoğlu’s strategic thinking. Despite their skepticism about the West, on the one hand, and the government’s stated intention to promote “unlimited” ties with Syria and Iraq, on the other, Turks do not consider themselves to be anti-Western. They continue to see themselves as distinct from Middle Eastern societies and generally prefer to keep Turkey’s relations with the Middle East on a purely business level. Despite perceiving it as a major potential threat, they are rational enough to choose the United States over brotherly countries like Azerbaijan and Pakistan as the country that is most likely to help Turkey in case of a major emergency.
LIMITS OF ACTIVISM
Defining accurately the substance and boundaries of Turkey’s new foreign-policy activism is a task still to be accomplished. Irrespective of the label, Turkey aspires to play a role beyond its nation-state borders. Some current discussions concern whether Turkey is pursuing “neo-imperial” policies in order to reclaim the Ottoman legacy. The JDP’s growing involvement in the former Ottoman realm leads many observers to dub its foreign-policy doctrine “neo-Ottomanism.” Some understand this term as a metaphor for creating a sphere of influence, while others believe it connotes an Islamist agenda. Davutoğlu and other Turkish leaders supply ammunition to those who accept the neo-Ottoman interpretation. They frequently refer to historical and geographical imperatives that force Turkey to adopt proactive policies and assume a leadership role. For instance, Davutoğlu has increasingly referred to Turkey’s “order-instituting” role in the surrounding regions. Nonetheless, he and other JDP leaders reject the neo-Ottoman term,41 preferring less controversial ones, such as “zero-problems” or “limitless cooperation” with neighbors.
In recent months, less ideological, yet more ambitious, labels have been applied to Turkey’s emerging international role, including that of regional superpower. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for example, included Turkey among seven rising global powers. Especially energized by Turkey’s election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, JDP leaders too have been inclined to define Turkey’s interests on a global scale. In addition to attaching more ambitious objectives to Turkey’s regional role — such as economic and political integration with Syria and Iraq — the government has been seeking to assert itself as a facilitator in various disputes and to defend Islamic causes in multilateral fora. The scope of Turkey’s agenda is reflected in the frequency of diplomatic visits undertaken by Davutoğlu, Erdoğan and Gül. For instance, in a recent address at a conference that brought together the Turkish diplomatic corps from around the world, Davutoğlu maintained that the scope of activism for Turkish diplomacy should be the entire globe. Revising a popular saying of Kemal Atatürk, he called for a “diplomacy of zone” rather than a “diplomacy of line,” adding that this zone is the entire globe. He went on to vow that by 2023, the centennial anniversary of the Turkish Republic, Turkey should be among the top 10 economies in the world, and then — in addition to achieving integration with the neighboring regions and the EU — it should also be actively involved in all global affairs.42
Skeptics call for caution, maintaining that “Turkey has not yet become the global, or even regional, player that its government declares it to be.”43 In a recent TV show evaluating the performance of Turkish foreign policy in 2009, Davutoğlu defied criticism that he is setting the benchmark too high, maintaining that the JDP’s activist foreign policy will broaden Turkey’s horizons, make it more self-confident and free it from preoccupation with domestic problems. He defined Turkey as a “supraregional” power, adding, “We will also become a global power, God willing.”44
Defining Turkey as a global power might be questionable, but Turkey is already a regional power; its actions can make a decisive difference in the security of the regional systems in which it participates.45 Turkey has also increasingly assumed managerial responsibilities in its neighborhoods by using both hard- and soft-power resources. Furthermore, Turkey can not only shape local political dynamics; it also possesses another property of a regional power: the capacity to challenge global leaders and deny access to extra-regional actors. This was the case in the Iraq War and the Russia-Georgia war, and now is also the case in the context of the Iranian nuclear standoff. Turkey reacted against the harsh American response to the Iranian nuclear program, not out of complacency, but out of concern over the negative implications of such a policy for the Middle East.
The real issue at stake is not whether Turkey is a regional power, as it already has the resources and the will. More relevant questions are, “What form will this regional role take?” and “To what ends will this role be put to use?”
A Sphere-of-Interest Policy
A regional policy confined to a sphere of interest,46 rather than a classical sphere of influence, is a realistic approach that should ensure the success of Turkey’s initiatives in the Middle East. Unlike policies of influence, which seek to assert exclusive control, interest-based policies are narrowly targeted to promote various economic, political and strategic objectives. Such a policy is sustainable, for it helps solve three particular strategic dilemmas: domestic mobilization, counterbalancing coalitions, and overstretch and micromanagement.
First, a carefully defined regional power role will enjoy popular support enabling the mobilization of domestic resources for foreign-policy activism. Pursuing economic interests appeals to a broad segment of Turkish society. If the JDP tries to manipulate this support to further an identity-based agenda, it will risk losing popular backing for its regional engagements. Davutoğlu acknowledges that a successful foreign policy requires internal unity. In that sense, one could interpret the government’s recent initiatives to resolve the Kurdish question as an extension of his foreign-policy activism; reconciliation with the Kurds would remove an important liability. However, domestic conditions may also become an important constraint on the elites’ ability to promote an ambitious foreign-policy agenda. On that count, there is growing concern that Davutoğlu’s imagination has started to surpass the public’s pragmatic expectations.
The need for maintaining national consensus is critical to the sustainability of foreign-policy initiatives. As mentioned, the new strategic identity is far from universally embraced by Turkish political actors. The complexity of the bilateral and multilateral diplomatic engagements initiated by Davutoğlu raises concerns. Davutoğlu’s conduct of Turkish diplomacy is based on a complex set of assumptions, whereby his tactics regarding one region or issue are interrelated with his maneuvers in other areas. Increasingly, however, no one but Davutoğlu can see the interconnections among myriad actors and issues in the greater scheme of things as he imagines it. Another major weakness of Turkey’s Middle Eastern policy is the significant element of “personal chemistry” in the relationships between JDP leaders and their regional counterparts.
Though such newly forged connections have facilitated Turkey’s penetration into the region, they raise questions as to whether JDP policies will survive, should the parliamentary election slated for 2011 bring to power a different government. Davutoğlu claims that Turkey’s regional policies represent “state policies” and dismisses concerns over long-term viability. However, Turkish opposition parties have harshly criticized JDP foreign policy and would be likely to deviate from some elements of it. Turkey’s normalization with Syria and Iraq is generally supported, but opposition parties openly criticize the more ambitious objectives, as well as JDP leaders’ overtures to Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Even in the case of Iraq and Syria, it is far from certain that the opposition parties will continue to endorse aspects of the current cooperation that involve “political integration.”47 Therefore, confining Turkey’s foreign-policy initiatives to well-defined economic and security interests will ensure the sustainability of the regional agenda over time.
Second, an adoption of a sphere-ofinterest policy will preempt opposition to Turkish initiatives by other stakeholders in the regional system — which may include Western powers — and prevent Turkey’s unnecessary drift into the murky waters of Middle Eastern politics. If Turkey extends its regional policy beyond realistic limits to pursue a sphere-of-influence policy or to promote an ideological program, it will likely be opposed by other actors in the region and find itself in confrontation with global powers. Some actors in the Middle East would like to see Turkey waging a struggle under the banner of “The Middle East for Middle Easterners.” Some Islamist groups might want to see the Turks acting as triumphant neo-Ottomans who will free them from their decades-old domination by Western imperialists and the regimes they view as their puppets. Iran, too, gives indications that it seeks to use Turkey’s efforts to mediate in the nuclear stand-off as the basis for a loose anti-Western association.
If Turkey were to pursue such overly ambitious objectives, it would create major security dilemmas for many actors in the region, including Egypt and the Gulf monarchies. These countries would not welcome a curbing of Western leverage. They believe their partnership with the United States ensures their security and don’t want Turkey to challenge their command over the Arab street. Turkey’s efforts to mediate between Syria and Israel and among Palestinian factions might turn out to complicate, rather than facilitate, the solution of these problems. Again, a carefully defined sphere-of-interest policy will help Turkey to resist temptations that could alter the balance of power in the Middle East and provoke counterbalancing coalitions, as well as draw Turkey into the region’s protracted conflicts.
Third, a sphere-of-interest policy also serves as the best deterrent to the perils of overstretch and micromanagement. The recent inclination to couch Turkey’s role in global terms throws into stark relief the capabilities-expectations gap. An additional cause for concern is Turkey’s growing drift toward the micromanagement of regional disputes: between Arabs and Israelis, between Iraq and Syria, among Palestinian factions, and even among local Bosnian politicians and muftis (religious leaders) in Sanjak in Serbia-Montenegro. Recently, Davutoğlu referred to his staying overnight to manage a “crisis” sparked by the passage of a humanitarian-relief convoy bound for the Gaza Strip through Egypt. Rarely acknowledged by the Turkish leadership is that the crisis was partly of Turkey’s own making, despite warnings from all quarters that involvement in intra-Palestinian politics could complicate the already fragile balance among the Palestinians, Israelis and Egyptians.48
The real challenge facing Turkish foreign policy may not be ideological, i.e., whether Turkey is changing axis, as much as it is a practical one pertaining to the capabilities-expectations gap. The JDP will face the test of whether the Turkish state can sustain its ambitious, multi-dimensional foreign-policy agenda and fulfill the many expectations created by its involvement in so many critical situations without overstretching both its material and human resources.49 A sphere-of-interest policy implies logical limits. Turkey does not have to interpose itself as a mediator in all crises; some are unresolvable or hopelessly protracted. Turkey also has to recognize that its hasty interventions may do more harm than good, complicating already complex local crises. Moreover, Turkey has to prioritize among its foreign-policy initiatives. As long as Turkey can create stability within its immediate periphery so as to advance Turkish national interests and can expand its global economic reach by penetrating new markets, JDP foreign policy will earn kudos in both the domestic and international arena.50 Overreaching, however, will strain Turkey’s resources and diminish its ability to influence external developments.
The New Foreign Policy and the West
Although Turkey’s ambition to play a regional-power role and the instruments it uses are not new, what is unique in the JDP approach is its emphasis on action independent of the West. A defining pillar of Turkey’s agenda in the 1990s was its Western orientation. At the time, Turkey was considered a “pivotal” country that facilitated Western access to the region. Now it increasingly defines its regional interests as autonomous. The new elite no longer want to be thought of as extending Western interests. This is well captured by the changing metaphors used to describe Turkey’s geopolitical status. For instance, Davutoğlu rejects the “bridge country” metaphor of the 1990s, proposing instead “central country” in order to convey the message that Turkey is no longer a Western proxy but a dominant player:51
A central country with such an optimal geographic location cannot define itself in a defensive manner. It should be seen neither as a bridge country which only connects two points, nor a frontier country, nor indeed as an ordinary country, which sits at the edge of the Muslim world or the West.52
Under the rubric of a “multi-axis” or “multi-dimensional” foreign policy, the Western connection is simply reduced to one of the many external relationships that Turkey juggles. It is even uncertain whether the West is privileged as primus inter pares. Acting in an independent-minded manner, Turkey is willing to risk confrontation with global powers to protect its interests in the region, as reflected in its departure from the so-called “transatlantic consensus” on Iran and Russia. Turkey thus filters cooperation with the United States and the EU through the prism of its regional priorities, realigning its position in the neighborhood and beyond. It is, therefore, no surprise to see Turkey developing new partnerships with other emerging powers, Africa and even the non-aligned countries. For instance, Turkey has undertaken multi-billion-dollar defense projects with South Korea and has been eager to develop energy partnerships with Brazil and India.
The European Union
One implication of Turkey’s heightened self-confidence and the diversification of its foreign-policy agenda is its determination to manage relations with the EU on the basis of a “strategic approach” as opposed to the standard accession paradigm, which requires a candidate country merely seek to meet the EU’s membership standards.53 The JDP leadership has fallen back on a common reflex of Turkish statesmen: emphasizing the strategic importance of the country’s geographic location to the Western political and security community. This feeds the belief that Turkey cannot be treated like any other country seeking accession. Turkish leaders prefer to negotiate with Brussels as an equal partner, insisting that Ankara’s “special” conditions and multi-regional interests be taken into account. It is assumed that Turkey’s entry into the Union can be achieved through strategic bargains and reciprocal concessions, as much as through domestic reforms. Moreover, to the extent that Turkey’s regional-power role dominates in the thinking of Turkish politicians, Europeanization ceases to represent their ultimate goal and is reduced to an instrument of regional-power objectives.
Domestic reforms proceeded at a smooth pace in the first years of JDP rule, paving the way for the opening of accession talks.54 This was partly due to the collapse of the strategic model advocated by the political elites that preceded the JDP. The humiliation suffered in the wake of the Iraq War curbed Turkey’s desire to play power politics and strengthened the position of pro-EU forces to promote a reform agenda at home. But Turkey’s renewed strength in the wake of the U.S. failures in the Middle East encouraged the JDP to adopt the strategic approach again and blend it into the geocultural aspects of Davutoğlu’s strategic thinking.
As Turkish foreign policy has shifted toward the regional-power model, Turkey’s EU membership process has stalled. Although the JDP government has frequently vowed to “revitalize” the accession process, it has failed to deliver any significant progress. This failure has occurred partly because the JDP’s strategic approach to EU membership55 carries little weight with the EU. This does not imply that the JDP harbors a hidden agenda to Islamize or Middle Easternize Turkey and thereby sabotage Turkey’s European vocation. It simply means that the “strategic approach” to EU membership is incompatible with the standard Europeanization model.56
The United States and the New Turkey
Since the Iraq debacle, there has been much talk about how to “save the Turkish-American strategic partnership.” The Obama administration’s overtures to Turkey and his call for a “model partnership” during his Turkey visit in April 2009 inspired hopes that the parties could move past the legacy of the Bush era. However, a new model has not emerged, and “model partnership” still remains an enigma. Even Erdoğan’s December visit to Washington did not produce any tangible results. To be sure, attempts under the Bush administration to repair the Turkish-American strategic alliance also failed. Despite signatures on “shared-vision” documents, the parties could not reestablish the partnership on sustainable foundations.57
It might be time for the United States to abandon the search for redefining the relationship on “partnership” models. These connote long-term commitments and cooperative behavior on the part of Turkey that might prove impossible to sustain. Instead, both parties might consider letting the relationship evolve on an ad hoc basis involving different degrees of cooperation and competition as interests overlap or diverge.
Such a rethinking requires that American diplomacy toward the Middle East be based on a more realistic evaluation of how regional actors like Turkey view their security situation. Since congruence of interests is key to a successful alliance, the United States must take into account Turkey’s threat perceptions and interests. More important, this move requires that the United States redefine its role on the basis of an offshore-balancing strategy and allow regional-security dynamics to operate. Even after its scheduled withdrawal from Iraq, the United States will remain a major factor in the regional balance of power.58 Yet the key question remains: What strategy will it pursue? Already a readjustment is taking place in other regions, seeking to align American interests with the rise of China and Russia in East Asia and Eurasia, respectively. At the same time, the United States now plays a less significant role in European strategic affairs. The United States cannot manage security in all regions of the globe. And the recent American position on Turkey’s role in the Middle East reflects just such an understanding, for it is based on both an appreciation of Turkey’s stabilizer role in the region and a willingness to allow Turkey to assume managerial responsibilities, without dictating how Ankara should define its priorities.59 This is a well-advised course of action and should be pursued in the days to come.
CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE
A major challenge facing Turkey’s efforts to assert its will in the region will be the government’s ability to manage domestic issues. Although the JDP has succeeded in maintaining its electoral support base, Turkish society is growing increasingly polarized. In an effort to address the country’s major problems, most notably Islamism, the Kurdish issue and the role of the military in politics, the government has initiated several reforms, with varying degrees of success. Some of these have fundamentally restructured the domestic balance of power and led to discontent among certain interest groups and ideological factions. The reshuffling of domestic power relations is one reason the transition period is likely to remain difficult. It is too early to predict the outcome of the recent “Kurdish opening,” yet this program in particular could be troublesome, especially as the 2011 national elections approach, and might curb the government’s ability to play an effective role in the region. The sustainability of the new foreign policy is also threatened by the government’s inability to establish a healthy dialogue with opposition parties. Not only domestic policies but also foreign-policy initiatives have emerged as battlefronts in the confrontation between the JDP and its rivals. The JDP’s preference for controlled confrontation, rather than building bridges, will adversely affect the success of its Middle Eastern policy.
As mentioned above, some analysts would invite the United States and also the EU to get involved in Turkish politics in order to help manage its domestic transformations. Such arguments exaggerate the threat at hand and, in any case, are doomed to failure. Turkey’s domestic challenges are daunting, but the Western community to their advantage,60 any interference might should let its domestic transformation turn out to be self-defeating. Mismanaged evolve on its own. After all, Turkey’s American involvement might further undemocratization struggle is a domestic dermine the image of the United States in one, to be won at home, rather than in the eyes of the Turkish public. The interests Brussels or Washington. Moreover, since of the region and the Western community domestic political rivals have incentives to will be best served if outsiders let domestic manipulate American or European support and regional actors play out their roles.
1 The author would like to thank Murat Yeşiltaş, Burhanettin Duran, Ali Balcı and Kristian Alexander for their invaluable feedback on the manuscript.
2 Ian O. Lesser, “Turkey in a Changing Security Environment,” Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 54, No. 1, Fall 2000, p. 184; Graham E. Fuller, “Turkey’s Strategic Model: Myths and Realities,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.3, Summer 2004, pp. 51-64; F. Stephen Larrabee, “Turkey Rediscovers the Middle East,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 86, No. 4, July/August 2007, pp. 103-14.
3 See Alan O. Makovsky’s contribution in Robert Chase, et.al., eds., The Pivotal States: A New Framework for U.S. Policy in the Developing World (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999).
4 For a detailed review of different scholarly explanations of the causes of transformation in Turkish foreign policy, see: Kemal Kirişçi, “The Transformation of Turkish Foreign Policy: The Rise of the Trading State,” New Perspectives on Turkey, No. 40, Spring 2009, pp. 29-57.
5 Bülent Aras and Hakan Fidan, “Turkey and Eurasia: Frontiers of a New Geographic Imagination,” New Perspectives on Turkey, No. 40, Spring 2009, pp. 195-217.
6 İhsan Dağı, “Davutoğlu: Turkey’s New Foreign Policy Chief,” Today’s Zaman, May 4, 2009.
7 Ali L. Karaosmanoglu, “The Evolution of the National Security Culture and the Military in Turkey,” Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 54, No. 1, Fall 2000, pp. 199-216.
8 Hüseyin Bağcı, “Zoraki Siyasetçi: Ahmet Davutoğlu,” Stratejik Boyut, December 28, 2009.
9 For a detailed discussion of the evolution of domestic debate on the place of Middle East in Turkish foreign policy from the perspective of identity, see Meliha Benli Altunışık, “Worldviews and Turkish Foreign Policy in the Middle East,” New Perspectives on Turkey, No. 40, Spring 2009, pp. 171-94. On the differences between Kemalist and post-Kemalist approaches to the Middle East, see Ömer Taşpınar, Turkey’s Middle East Policies: Between Neo-Ottomanism and Kemalism, Carnegie Papers, No. 10, Washington, DC, September 2008.
10 Soner Çağaptay, “The AKP’s Foreign Policy: The Misnomer of ‘Neo-Ottomanism’,” Turkey Analyst, Vol. 2, No. 8, April 24, 2009, http://www.silkroadstudies.org/new/inside/turkey/2009/090424B.html.
11 For extended scholarly treatments of the debate on “Middle Easternization,” see Tarık Oğuzlu, “Middle Easternization of Turkey’s Foreign Policy: Does Turkey Dissociate from the West?” Turkish Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1 2008, pp. 3-20; Burhanettin Duran, “Türk Dış Politikası Ortadoğululaşıyor Mu?” in Kemal İnat, et.al., eds., Ortadoğu Yıllığı 2008 (İstanbul: Küre Yayınları, 2009), pp. 385-402.
12 E. Fuat Keyman, Turkish Foreign Policy in the Era of Global Turmoil, SETA Policy Brief, No. 39, Ankara, December 2009, esp. pp. 6-8.
13 Ali L. Karaosmanoğlu, “Globalization and Its Impact on Turkey’s Security,” in Ali L. Karaosmanoğlu and Seyfi Taşhan, eds., The Europeanization of Turkey’s Security Policy: Prospects and Pitfalls (Ankara: Foreign Policy Institute, 2004), pp. 1-24.
14 İlhan Uzgel, “Türkiye ve Balkanlar: Bölgesel Güç Yanılsamasının Sonu,” in Mustafa Aydın and Çağrı Erhan, eds., Beş Deniz Havzasında Türkiye (Ankara: Siyasal Kitabevi, 2006), pp. 219-55.
15 Turkey’s active role in Afghanistan seems to be the exception but one has to consider it in the context of the American military presence there. Without U.S. intervention and its aftermath, it would have been hard to imagine Turkey playing an extended role in the region.
16 Soli Özel, “Türkiye’nin Dış Politikası,” Gazete Habertürk, January 3, 2010.
17 This logic also applies to Turkey’s opening to Northern Iraqi Kurds as well; since the latter view Turkey as their only feasible door to outside world, they are forced to normalize relations with Turkey.
18 Altunışık, “Worldviews and,” pp. 184-187; also, former President Ahmet Necdet Sezer’s attendance of Syrian leader Hafez Assad’s funeral in 2000 was path-breaking for its time.
19 Ian O. Lesser, Decoding the Erdoğan Visit, German Marshall Fund of the United States, On Turkey Series, Washington, DC, December 15, 2009.
20 Kirişçi, “The Transformation of Turkish Foreign Policy.” 21 Ziya Öniş, “Turkey and the Middle East after September 11: The Importance of the EU Dimension,” Turkish Policy Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 4, Winter 2003, pp. 83-92.
22 An important mechanism through which Turkey’s involvement in the Middle East gained pace was the foreign ministerial meetings among the countries bordering Iraq. This platform served Turkey’s goal of addressing the challenges posed by the instability in Iraq, including the threat of the PKK. See Ali Balcı and Murat Yeşiltaş, “Turkey’s New Middle East Policy: The Case of the Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Iraq’s Neighboring Countries,” Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 29, No. 4, Summer 2006, pp. 18-38.
23 See, Ahmet Davutoğlu, “Turkey’s Foreign Policy Vision: An Assessment of 2007,” Insight Turkey, Vol. 10, No. 1, January-March 2008, pp. 77-96; Bülent Aras, Davutoğlu Era in Turkish Foreign Policy, SETA Policy Brief, No.32, Ankara, 2009; for a review of Davutoğlu’s book, Strategic Depth, in English, see: Hasan T. Kösebalaban “Review of Strategic Depth: Turkey’s International Position” Middle East Journal, Vol. 55, No. 4, Autumn 2001, pp. 693-694.
24 For an argument that this civilizational approach plays a large role in recent Turkish foreign policy initiatives, see Duran, “Türk Dış Politikası.”
25 Fulya Özerkan, “Architect of ‘Strategic Depth’ Concept Unveils New Foreign Policy,” Hürriyet Daily News, January 4, 2010.
26 See, among others, his May 2009 state of the Union address. Available at: http://www.bbm.gov.tr/Forms/p_NationAnouncemet.aspx.
27 See Gül’s address outlining his foreign policy vision, delivered at the opening of an Ankara-based think-tank, dated November 4, 2009: http://www.tccb.gov.tr/basin/arama/aramaDetay.aspx?id=4002&tip=konusma &dil=tr.
28 Steven A. Cook, “Turkey’s War at Home,” Survival, Vol. 51, No. 5, October-November 2009, p. 111.
29 Ibid., p. 116.
30 USAK, Türk Dış Politikasında Yön Değişimi ve Komşular ile İlişkiler Algılama Anketi, December 2009, available at: http://www.usak.org.tr/haber.asp?id=295.
31 This assumption is largely predicated on the argument that Turkish society is becoming more conservative and less tolerant of diversity. Ali Çarkoğlu and Ersin Kalaycıoğlu, The Rising Tide of Conservatism in Turkey (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
32 Şaban Kardaş and Nihat Ali Özcan, “Turkey’s PKK Responds to AKP Flirtation with the Kurdistan Regional Government,” Terrorism Monitor, Vol. 6, No. 23, December 8, 2008.
33 See, USAK, 4. USAK Dış Politika Algılama Anketi, Ankara, August 2009, available at: http://www.usak.org.tr/dosyalar/TDPAnket4_TFP.pdf.
34 Most Western analyses are based on the Transatlantic Trends survey. The latest results, released in September 2009, identify a “Turkish enigma,” because, unlike the growing popularity of American policies in Europe under the Obama administration, Turks still remain skeptical of the U.S. role in international and regional affairs. Available at: http://www.gmfus.org/trends/index.html. These results corroborate the findings of the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, released on July 23, 2009, which identified that although the election of Obama improved the U.S. image around the world, in Turkey along with other Muslim nations, U.S. favorability ratings still remained low. Available at: http://pewglobal.org/reports/pdf/264.pdf.
35 Ömer Taşpınar, “Pragmatic Populism or Islamic Extremism?” Today’s Zaman, November 16, 2009.
36 This paragraph is based on USAK, 4. USAK Dış Politika.
38 This result also accords with the Turkish elite’s sensitivity to the PKK threat.
39 USAK, Türk Dış Politikasında.
40 These results corroborate earlier studies that identified an anomaly of sorts: despite their skepticism toward the West and their failure to identify with European values, Turks were in favor of EU membership because of the material benefits of European integration. Moreover, it is also worth noting that the impetus for opening to Syria and Iraq comes mainly from the business community in Southeastern Turkey, which stands to benefit from these engagements the most. Similarly, the business community in the Black Sea and Eastern Anatolia regions has increasingly become an advocate of Turkey’s growing activism in the South Caucasian affairs.
41 Davutoğlu even maintains that those who insist on using this concept are ill-intentioned as they spread this concept to undermine Turkey’s new initiatives by presenting them as imperialistic moves. See his interview: “Davutoğlu Yeni Osmanlı’ya Karşı,” Sabah, December 4, 2009.
42 “Davutoğlu: Hattı Diplomasi Yoktur Sathı Diplomasi Vardır, Satıh Ise Tüm Dünyadır,” Radikal, January 5, 2010.
43 Morton Abramowitz and Henri J. Barkey, “Turkey’s Transformers: The AKP Sees Big,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 88, No. 6, November/December 2009, p. 118.
44 See Davutoğlu’s interview to 24 TV, dated January 7, 2010, available at: http://www.yirmidort.tv/haber/politika/ahmet-davutoglu-24e-konustu-h129….
45 The concept of regional power as understood here is based on Mohammed Ayoob, “From Regional System to Regional Society: Exploring Key Variables in the Construction of Regional Order,” Australian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 53, No. 3, November 1999, pp. 247-60; and Barry Buzan and Ole Waever, Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security (Cambridge University Press, 2003).
46 The concept is borrowed from Dmitri Trenin, “Russia’s Spheres of Interest, Not Influence,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 4, October 2009, pp. 3-22.
47 What is interesting is that the opposition parties even charge the JDP with acting too much in line with the Western agenda in the region, as they view skeptically any involvement of international actors in the Middle East.
48 Yalım Eralp, “Gazze’ye Yardım Konvoyu Ve Orta Doğu Dengeleri,” CNN Türk News Portal, January 7, 2010.
49 Aware of the strains placed on the Foreign Ministry bureaucracy by the recent expansive agenda, Davutoğlu initiated a reform of the ministry in order to increase the number of personnel and improve the quality of training. He is also seeking to convince the Cabinet to increase the resources of the ministry drastically.
50 Indeed, a survey of Middle Eastern publics conducted by a Turkish think tank, TESEV, demonstrates that the people in the region welcome Turkey’s growing role in the region. But just as Turkish society, they prioritize bread and butter issues over the Palestinian problem. See Mensur Akgün, et.al., Orta Doğu’da Türkiye Algısı, TESEV Dış Politika Analiz Serisi No. 10, İstanbul, December 2009. Available at: http://www.tesev.org.tr/UD_OBJS/PDF/DPT/OD/YYN/Orta%20Doğu%20Rapor_WEB1….51 Another change in metaphors is the JDP leaders’ rejection of Turkey’s serving as “model” to Islamic countries. Instead, they highlight Turkey’s “role” in the Islamic world. See İbrahim Kalın, “The Turkish Role and the Aspirations of a Rising Global Power,” Today’s Zaman, July 31, 2009.
52 Davutoğlu, “Turkey’s Foreign Policy ,” p. 78.
53 The discussion in this section draws on Şaban Kardaş, “Geo-strategic Position As Leverage in EU Accession Process: The Case of Turkish-EU Negotiations on Nabucco Pipeline,” unpublished manuscript.
54 For an early review, of the domestic debate on EU membership, see: Hasan Kösebalaban, “Turkey’s EU Membership: A Clash of Security Cultures,” Middle East Policy, Vol. 9, No. 2, June 2002, pp. 130-46.
55 Davutoğlu, “Turkey’s Foreign Policy,” p. 92.
56 Ziya Öniş and Şuhnaz Yılmaz, “Between Europeanization and Euro-Asianism: Foreign Policy Activism in Turkey during the AKP Era,” Turkish Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, March 2009, pp. 7-24.
57 For a provocative argument that Turkey and the United States lack a common strategic vision, see Graham Fuller’s remarks delivered at a conference: “Türkiye Artık ABD Müttefiği Değil,” Sabah, October 30, 2008.
58 See the Forum “Major Powers and the Middle East,” Middle East Policy, Vol. 16, No. 4, Winter 2009, pp. 1-26.
59 Şaban Kardaş, “Turkish-American ‘Strategic Partnership’: On the Way to Rejuvenation?” Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol. 6, No. 45, March 9, 2009.
60 See the debate during a recent hearing at the U.S. House of Representatives, which was also attended by some Turkish speakers: “Turkey Hearing in U.S. Congress Sees Tension, Controversy,” Today’s Zaman, December 5, 2009.
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