Regular readers of he blog will know that I’ve had my eye on Turkish foreign policy for a while. For one thing, Turkey’s emergence as a regional mediator demonstrates the power of maintaining good relations across the faultlines of conflicts (its so-called “zero problems” policy). For another, it serves as a model of what I’ve called “Middle Power Mojo,” or the use of regional middle powers to lighten America’s footprint while at the same time advancing its interests.
Now a flurry of posts responding to Turkey’s offer to mediate between the U.S. and Iran — from Democracy Arsenal (Patrick Barry here, Shadi Hamid here) and Ezra Klein — suggests the makings of a Turkey appreciation fan club. What I hadn’t realized was that Middle Power Mojo has also been proposed by the Center for a New American Security’s Pheonix Initiative under the formal name of “Strategic Leadership,” whereby, as Ezra Klein puts it, “America begins thinking more about its interests than its preeminence.” It’s always reassuring to know that brighter bulbs than mine have been shining light on a subject of interest (although I still think Middle Power Mojo is catchier than Strategic Leadership).
In addition to its mediation role in indirect talks between Israel and Syria, Turkish initiatives include an effort to mend its relations with Armenia (accompanied by a mediation of the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute over the separatist Azerbaijani province of Nagorno-Karabakh), as well as offering to host talks between the Afghan and Pakistani governments. Perhaps the biggest problem that remains is the Cyprus issue, which continues to poison much needed EU-NATO cooperation. The EU’s shifting position on Turkish accession also presents a longterm challenge.
One thing that American observers should understand, though, is that while we tend to think of Turkey as a crossroads or bridge between East and West (or Europe and the Arab world), Turkey has been increasingly assuming an identity of a central power, as much a part of the equation in the Caucasus and Central Asia as in the Middle East. This essay (.pdf), which I summarized here in June, by Ahmet Davutoglu — foreign policy guru to Turkish PM Racep Tayyip Erdogan who I once saw referred to as “Turkey’s Kissinger” — describes the evolution in Turkey’s posture and articulates its strategic objectives, both within the Middle East and beyond.
The difference — that between object and subject — is significant, and underlines the fact that whether you call it Strategic Leadership or Middle Power Mojo, the U.S. and Europe can not expect to simply instrumentalize strategic regional allies, but rather must listen to them as well.