Turkey’s Foreign Policy Framework

Readers of the blog know that I’ve been very impressed by Turkey’s diplomatic navigation, not only of the PKK crisis, but of regional matters in general. So when I saw this article in Le Point on Ahmet Davutoglu, PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s foreign policy guru and the Turkish “Kissinger”, I did some digging. What I came up with, this January 2008 article (.pdf) from Insight Turkey, is definitely worth a read for anyone interested in Turkey and the Middle East in general, and the changing global role of a dynamic Middle Power in general.

In the article, Davutoglu describes Turkey’s historic image as an island of stability and a bridge country (between East and West, Muslim and Judeo-Christian), but argues that its identity should now evolve towards that of a central country similar to Germany and Russia due to its geography, but with a unique role due to its regional history as a cultural center of attraction:

In terms of its area of influence, Turkey is a Middle Eastern, Balkan, Caucasian, Central Asian, Caspian, Mediterranean, Gulf, and Black Sea country. Given this picture, Turkey should make its role of a peripheral country part of its past, and appropriate a new position: one of providing security and stability not only for itself, but also for its neighboring regions. Turkey should guarantee its own security and stability by taking on a more active, constructive role to provide order, stability and security in its environs.

He outlines the five principles that have formed Turkey’s foreign policy framework since 2002:

– Security (specifically, its anti-terrorism campaign) must not come at the expense of civil liberties and democracy.
– A “zero problem” policy towards its neighbors, pointing to Syria (with whom Turkey has a free trade agreement) and Georgia as examples. Here’s what he had to say about Turkey’s handling of the PKK’s attempt to provoke it into a fullscale conflict with the Iraqi Kurds:

If Turkey had not responded with fine-tuned diplomacy and correct timing, a crisis with the Iraqi government would surely have ensued. Instead, Turkey’s operations against the PKK continued for more than a month and the Iraqi government responded reasonably with an understanding that the PKK is a common enemy. This outcome demonstrates how two neighboring countries can cooperate against a common threat.

– Expand Turkey’s influence into neighboring regions and beyond. He mentions Bosnia and Kosovo as successful examples, and points to Turkey’s efforts over the past five years to remain above the factional fray in the Middle East as a reason that Turkey’s regional soft power is on the rise. (The article appeared before the Israeli-Syria talks mediated by Turkey, but he cites the recent Lebanon crisis, as well as the Iraqi Shiite-Sunni conflict.)
– A multi-dimensional, complementary foreign policy that avoids competition. By this he means both Turkey’s ability to balance cordial and pragmatic relations with its key allies and neighbors (the U.S., NATO, the EU, Russia and Eurasia) as well as its ability to avoid diplomatic crises (the U.S. last November, France last year, and the EU in general).
– Rhythmic diplomacy, by which he means a steady rhythm of hosting and participation in multilateral (the African Union, the Arab League) and bilateral diplomatic summits, designed to increase Turkey’s profile on the international scene.

Davutoglu’s assessment of the approach’s results are far from modest:

Turkey now enjoys an image as a responsible state which provides order and security to the region, one that prioritizes democracy and liberties, while dealing competently with security problems at home. Turkey’s aim is to intervene consistently in global issues using international platforms, which signifies a transformation for Turkey from a central country to a global power.

His articulation of Turkey’s Middle East policy seems, in retrospect, like a prediction Turkey’s role in the Israel-Syria peace talks:

– Regional security for all, not one or the other side.
– Dialogue as the means of solving the region’s problems, highlighting Turkey’s role as mediator and communication channel:

Today, Turkey and its diplomatic means have proven to be the strongest and most reliable channels, not only between states, but also between communities and non-state actors. All parties acknowledge this. When a message or a concern has to be delivered from one place to another, Turkish channels are utilized.

– Economic interdependence (Syria, Iraqi Kurdistan).
– Cultural coexistence and plurality. It’s refreshing to see someone talk some sense on the idea of ethno-sectarian conflict in the Middle East:

Historically, none of the Middle Eastern cities have been composed of a homogenous ethnic and sectarian fabric. Neither Basra, nor Damascus, Istanbul or Kirkuk is a homogenous city. Th erefore, in order to establish order in the Middle East, it is essential to maintain this composition in one way or another.

His behind the scenes account of the diplomatic outreach that preceded Turkey’s military interventions against the PKK in northern Iraq (p. 11) reads like a textbook:

Against the tactics used by the PKK and other forces behind them, Turkey has gradually drawn the Iraqi government, regional actors, the United States, the European Union and Sunni-Shiite and Syriac communities in Iraq closer to itself. Turkey is in contact with all these groups. In sharp contrast to its initial plans of isolating Turkey, the PKK has become the party being isolated. This reversal demonstrates how diplomacy, soft power, and hard power can be reconciled in the best and most consistent manner possible.

The U.S.-Turkey strategic relation was based on Cold War geopolitical convergences that have since evolved, placing the two countries momentarily on opposite ends of the risk spectrum. As illustrated by the Iraq War, the American priority of securing a strategic crossroads worked at cross purposes to Turkey’s interest to avoid the regional instability that resulted. That, though, has gradually faded, and he portrays the Bush-Erdogan summit from last November as not only having cemented the renewed mutual convergence of interests in a stabilized Iraq and Middle East, but as a historic turning point in the two countries’ relations:

The psychological ground on which Turkish-American relations is now moving has been reconstituted. In this framework, Turkey is no longer a sole alliance nation whose support is taken for granted, but a significant country with regional and global influence whose strong vision and the proven capacity to make meaningful contributions need to be taken into account by a healthier communication and a cooperative dialogue.

With regards to its energy security, he identifies Turkey’s trump card as its strategic placement as a transit hub. Anyone expecting Turkey to join efforts to isolate Iran should pay attention to this:

As a growing economy and surrounded by energy resources, Turkey needs Iranian energy as a natural extension of its national interests. Therefore, Turkey’s energy agreements with Iran cannot be dependent upon its relationships with other countries.

He points out the irony that the European countries most opposed to Turkey’s entry into the EU are those with the highest expectations for exploiting its geographic function as an energy link:

The EU will comprehend this fact at some point. Turkey is patiently waiting for the EU to appreciate its indispensable position with regard to energy security, cultural politics and transit routes. When they acknowledge Turkey’s value in these terms, they will realize that Europe’s global power can only be attained through Turkey’s full integration into Europe.

It’s a fascinating read by a very astute analytic thinker. If Davutoglu and Turkey are increasingly turning their attention to Iraq and the Middle East, as the article implies, that’s reason for optimism. A smart American policy would get out of their way, and then piggyback on whatever progress they come up with. And with that, I’m going to flip on the second half of the Turkey-Germany Euro Cup semifinal.

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