Last week, on a study trip to Turkey for U.S. foreign policy specialists sponsored by the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey (TUSKON), I traveled to Ankara, Hatay and Istanbul to meet with government officials, academic and think tank experts and business leaders. While there, we discussed many issues, including the remarkable health of the Turkish economy, the domestic political scene, the increased tolerance for expressions of Kurdish and Islamist identities, and Turkey's relations with other countries. But perhaps the overarching theme tying all these issues together for us was the "Whither Turkey" question.
For decades the Republic of Turkey loyally aligned its foreign and defense policies with those of the United States and its other NATO allies. But since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, the Turkish government has sought to develop new partnerships, while calling into question old ones, such as with Israel. We therefore sought to understand how Turkey intended to pursue ties with NATO, Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East.
The recurring message we received was that Turks wanted to develop ties in all directions and considered these relationships to be non-exclusive. The AKP has followed what Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu calls a "zero problem" foreign policy, which seeks to reduce tensions between Ankara and its neighbors while increasing Turkey's international influence. Ideally, Turks would like their country to become a diplomatic and energy hub that connects Europe to the Middle East, Iran to the West, and the Black Sea to the Mediterranean in ways that would enhance Ankara's leverage by making Turkey a pivotal state and an indispensable partner to its neighbors.