Turkish Foreign Policy: Orientations, Flexible Alliances, Power Politics

The ACRPS has published Turkish Foreign Policy: Orientations, Flexible Alliances, Power Politics, in which author Emad Kaddorah argues that current Turkish foreign policy relies on strengthening relations with the major powers in both the West and East, within flexible alliances that avoid dependence on a dominant ally, takes advantage of the benefits of both directions, and balances one with the other should tension arise. However, Turkey faces a dilemma in building these alliances. The strategy is not entirely reliable and involves competition and political differences. Consequently, Ankara is working to develop a third approach towards the national interest, which is to enhance independence through strategic economic and defence self-sufficiency, and to pursue an assertive policy that combines diplomacy with power politics.

The book documents current foreign policy, trends, and alliances and studies the local and external events and variables from 2010-2021 that shaped it. The author discusses the extent to which current policy relates to earlier policy following the war of independence and the establishment of the Republic in 1923. Foreign policy issues are linked to a prevailing trend and a common national feeling for Turkey's position. However, achieving its goals depends on the government's approach, effectiveness, and behaviour.

The 272 page book consists of four chapters, the first of which demonstrates the initial preference for regional isolation and neutrality immediately after the establishment of the Turkish Republic until the end of World War II. Ankara's relations changed direction during the Cold War through its alliance with the West, which still exists today. It also focuses on Turkey's attempt to play a regional role after 1991, an experience that inspired the launch of the active regional role Turkey has played since 2002.

The book then turns to examine the roots of the formation and parameters of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) foreign policy up until 2011. The author notes that the party’s foreign policy principles preserved the traditional basic principle of 'peace at home, peace in the world'; as the party believed that its new approach, despite adopting different policies from the past, would promote peace, democracy, freedom and security at home and abroad, and promote Turkey's interests in a peaceful manner. New principles and policies that were popular in the first decade of the party's rule included a balance between Security and democracy in the country in order to establish a sphere of influence in the neighboring environment, a “zero problems” policy with neighbors, the development of good relations with neighboring regions and beyond, the establishment of multi-directional relations with international parties on the basis of consensus rather than competition, and harmonious diplomacy through maintaining a presence in all international and regional organizations.

In the second chapter, the author discusses many fundamental changes in the local arena, as well as external changes related to local factors, between 2011 and 2021, demonstrating the extent to which these factors would influence current policy. The chapter explores tensions with Israel, the strained relations with both the European Union and the United States, and their connection to local and regional events and factors such as the Mavi Marmara ship accident, the Gezi Park protests, the Halkbank case, and the failed military coup attempt and its relationship to the clash between the AKP and the Gülen movement. The chapter also monitors the impact of other variables in foreign policy, such as the rise of nationalists and their alliance with the AKP, the successive elections between 2014 and 2019, the constitutional transition towards the presidential system, the president’s position in the new structure for external decision-making, and the re-establishment of relations between the executive authority and the military institution, which in turn influenced the mobilization of support for the new approach to foreign policy.

Under the banner of “Personal Diplomacy,” the author says that Turkey's adoption of the presidential system in 2017, and then the consolidation of Erdogan's authority, led to the rise of personal diplomacy in Turkish foreign policy clearly during the past few years. He argues that Erdogan's personality and influence in the past two decades have stirred political debate, not only in foreign affairs, but in contemporary Turkish politics as a whole. Erdogan cannot be put in a category according to simplistic descriptions, as there is an ongoing discussion about his personality traits and how they affect Turkey's choices and political orientations. It is well-known that Erdogan’s personality traits that pushed him to the fore; for example, his firm belief that he can influence the political environment around him in Turkey and the world, and this is what made him more interested, active and involved in the policy-making process. His belief in the ability to control events leads to a proactive political orientation and a realization that barriers to successful action can be overcome.

In the third chapter, Kaddorah discusses three features of the current Turkish foreign policy. First, it tends toward independence. Second, its alliances with the East or the West evolve according to different periods of the republic’s history, and this is likely to continue in the future. Third, it maintains flexible alliances rather than relying on a dominant ally, and then seeks to balance its relations with external actors, with controls in each direction. The author the first focuses on the nature of the independence trend in Turkey's foreign policy, going on to examine Ankara's relentless pursuit of enhanced independence and attempt to reduce dependence on major powers through strategic self-sufficiency achieved by increasing its economic and defence capabilities. Kaddorah discusses the Turkish attempt to use flexible alliances with major powers to balance relations between them on the basis of Ankara's interests in the first place. He goes on to analyse the extent to which local variables such as the demise of Gulenists and the rise of nationalists influence relations towards the West and East, and the extent of the nationalist’s influence on the direction of current foreign policy.

Kaddorah argues that with the growth of its financial, economic and defence capabilities, and its involvement in proactive policies based on its interests and national security, Turkey seeks to reduce its functional role through flexible alliances, attempting to take advantage of the benefits of the alliance with the West and the East together, and at the same time finding a balance if relations with one of them are strained. Recently, the idea of flexible alliances has gained importance as a result of the increasing tensions with the United States and European Union countries on the one hand, and the development of strategic bilateral relations with Russia, China and Iran on the other hand. Local variables have also contributed to this after the exclusion of the Gulenists, who champion relations with the West, and the rise of nationalists calling for stronger relations with the East.

In the fourth and final chapter, the author deals with the change in the behaviour of the current foreign policy through its adoption of power politics since 2016, appearing in various types of military activity abroad. The chapter explores military deployment and the establishment of bases abroad, as in Qatar, Somalia, and elsewhere; direct military intervention in Syria; resolute maritime policy in the Eastern Mediterranean; the military intervention in Libya and its close link with maritime policy; and military intervention in Azerbaijan as a strategic option for Turkey in its pivot to the East.

At the end of the book, the author draws some main conclusions in which he discusses: the problem of alliance-building, the extent to which the current foreign policy is renewed from previous policies and its likely consequences, the role of President Erdogan in current policy, the impact of the rise of nationalists and the extent to which current politics has transcended the traditional secular-Islamic divide, the new civil-military relationship’s place in foreign policy, and the impact of expanding the concept of the homeland (through the concept of ‘Mavi Watan’) and new military interventions on foreign policy discourse, behaviour, and trends.

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