At the turn of the new millennium, Turkey’s relations with the neighborhood, once deemed a liability, normalized. Thanks to a series of structural and ideational developments, Ankara entrenched a stakeholder role in its strategic environment. This setting was defined as the Middle East, Balkans, Caucasia, Central Asia and Northern Africa. Even more importantly, relations with global power brokers stood in equilibrium. Europeanization balanced the US and Russian factors in Turkish foreign policy (TFP). This binary peculiarity shall keep pace provided Turkey wants to play a role to its full potential.
The increasing predominance of the Middle East in TFP’s agenda, on that ground, shall not narrow Turkey’s enlarged vision. Turkey’s commitment to engender a stable, secure, and prosperous Middle East admittedly encountered a historical setback. The political climate of the region will be cloudy for a time to come. It disorientates not only Cairo and Damascus, but even beyond. Every actor in the region is being forced to make a landmark decision. Neither status quo, nor controlled transformation seems feasible. In an increased atmosphere of intra and transregional polarization, Turkey runs the risk of becoming a party to it.
Hence, a plausible strategy might be to broaden focus on the binary peculiarity transcending the Middle East. This rules out a break with the region. But for a stronger basis, revitalized multiregionalism can indeed strengthen Turkey’s broader standing, with supportive side-effects for its role in this turbulent region.
Tour d’horizon for 2012
-Europeanization process needs an urgent revival. This is because the EU means more than membership for Turkey. Crises in Europe can be turned into an opportunity for extended cooperation. Sarkozy’s overt attacks can be neutralized via revitalized attempts for harmonization. A democratic constitution will open up new venues for the EU cause.
The EU is not a monolith. The proponents are receptive to cooperation. Opponents might be circumvented or politically turn out to be ephemeral. The shortsighted approach against Turkey is not sustainable in a world of shifting balances.
For Brussels the main challenges in the coming year will be to curb the financial crisis and ensure an orderly political transition in MENA and Eurasia- primarily in Russia. For Ankara the latter has more prevalence together with the domestic democratization agenda. Both sides are to act so as to lead change rather than being challenged by it. In that vein, the EU and Turkey might play mutually beneficial and complementary roles.
-Foreign policy agendas are increasingly overlapping with the US. However, merely discursive engagement will overburden Turkey in a turbulent region. Therefore, relations need a redefinition, if not renewed institutionalization, at a time when American disengagement intensifies Turkish responsibilities.
-The most recent South Stream agreement with Russia signifies room for broader cooperation. From the Caucasus to the Balkans and the Middle East, Russia is to be factored in. In effect, a timely policy might be to reenergize the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) for further multilateral cooperation. On the other hand, following the March elections, Moscow may feel more comfortable to lead the normalization process in the Caucasus, another priority issue for TFP.
-Central Asia has been the sole region in Eurasia where post-Cold War seasonal changes did not arrive. Kazakhstan, albeit not free from controversy, introduced its own version of a “Spring”. Formerly, Bishkek saw a popular transformation. Prompt democratization moves in the region, in coordination with Russia, might prevent yet another neighboring region from living through popular upheavals.
-Turkey made an energetic return to the Balkans. Bilateral and trilateral processes with Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia yielded concrete results. The pace naturally slowed down. But it should not wither away. Given possible slowdown in the EU process after Croatia’s membership in 2013, Turkey has an important role to play in coordination with the EU, US and Russia.
-Pakistan is facing political tremors. The US’ commitment to Afghanistan is destined to dwindle. On such a ground, Turkey’s credibility can underpin efforts for peaceful transition. This will also serve to develop a symbiotic link in Asia with China and India.
-At a time when the US is concentrating on the East Asian “pivot”, Ankara needs a consolidated presence in the region. Relations with China and India, if not South Korea and Japan, need a political push. It is especially sorrow to see that an institutionalized link with China, albeit leaving the 5 July 2009 events behind, has not yet been founded.
This heavy agenda of Turkish diplomacy is to take course besides possible fractures in the neighborhood including Syria, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Israel-Palestine. A resuscitated multiregionalism would better serve Turkey’s cause to encounter looming challenges.
*Emirhan Yorulmazlar is currently a Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Relations, Harvard University. He will resume his diplomatic post at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC in summer 2012. The views expressed here are solely of the author.