Abstract

The article argues that Turkish foreign policy has moved beyond slogans. An overview of Turkey’s relations with Syria, Iraq, Iran and Israel shows that Turkey is increasingly more relaxed, mature and flexible in its foreign policy, and is constantly enhancing its repertoire of policy tools. As far as security is concerned, relying mainly on soft power, Turkish strategy is closer to the European strategy in that it tries to look to the security of whole population groups and their general welfare. Turkey’s domestic transformation, consolidation of democracy and economic growth have been major factors in the formulation of this new foreign policy and in the emergence of Turkey as a trading power, stabilizing force and peace-promoter in the region. Nevertheless, it is also seen that Turkey is now mature enough to employ different strategies in its relations with regional actors and in dealing with security issues.

Key Words

Turkey, Turkish foreign policy, Middle East, Security, Ahmet Davutoğlu.

Introduction

The Middle East now occupies a central place in Turkish foreign policy (TFP). This is a result of a number of remarkable internal and external processes. Based upon the accomplishments of previous governments, such as the rapprochement with Syria, the decline of the PKK’s activities after Öcalan’s arrest, relatively better relations with Iraq, the rapprochement with Greece after the 1999 earthquake, and the EU’s granting of candidacy status in 1999, consecutive AK Party governments have embarked upon an accelerating democratization and rapid economic growth process. Thus within a decade, Turkey has transformed itself into one of the most important players in the region at the economic, political and discursive levels through the strengthening of relations with Syria, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other actors, along with strong relations with Israel (until recently). As a result, Turkey has been very active in the Middle East and North Africa in the last decade, trying to be among the top actors in every important regional issue. In this article, I will try to show that current policymakers are trying to move TFP beyond such slogans or catchphrases as ‘neo-Ottomanism’, ‘bridge’, or even ‘zero problems’. An overview of Turkey’s relations with Syria, Iraq, Iran and Israel, which are chosen for the purpose of this article, show that Turkey is increasingly more relaxed, mature and flexible in its foreign policy, constantly enhancing its repertoire of tools without any obsession with slogans that might restrict its manoeuvring. Two internal processes will be emphasized as crucial factors in changing the character of Turkey as a regional actor: democratization and economic growth. It can be observed that while Turkey was and is much more direct with Syria and openly criticises the regime when necessary, it is more pragmatic with Iran and advocates a policy of mutual non-interference. Turkey has promoted relations with Iraq to a considerable extent and tries to have mutually beneficial relations with the local government in northern Iraq (the KRG). For Turkey, this relationship depends mainly on the issue of PKK terrorist activities. Its ties with Israel have deteriorated to almost beyond repair and currently give the impression that relations with Israel will not be mended no matter what happens in the foreseeable future. It will be seen that such a flexible foreign policy is necessary to serve the rising constituency of the AK Party. As far as security is concerned, the new TFP is closer to the European strategy than the American approach. The impact of Turkey’s new approach to security has been particularly visible in recent years. However, this convergence with Europe has mainly taken place through the application of universal values rather than deliberate harmonization with the EU, as this link has grown weaker in the last five to six years.