Turkey's foreign policy shift confuses Western allies, report says

Hurriyet Daily News
19 Mayıs 2009 - 00:00Son Güncelleme : 19 Mayıs 2009 - 16:03

ISTANBUL - Turkey’s allies are confused by the shift in its foreign policy and its pronounced Eurasian and/or Middle Eastern bent, an independent Finnish research agency finds. Although some believe the country is turning its back on the West; others say Ankara’s foreign policy is well balanced in all directions, while yet others find Turkey’s conduct to be essentially ‘directionless’.

Turkey’s recent flurry of diplomatic activity has been confusing to the country’s partners and neighbors despite projecting the image of a dynamic and assertive international actor, according to a report by an independent Finnish research institute.

 

The perceptions of Turkey’s international behavior range from the country turning its back on the West; to Ankara’s foreign policy being well balanced in all directions; to Turkey’s conduct being essentially "directionless," according to a report published by the Institute of International Affairs, or UPI.

The UPI is an independent research institute that produces topical information on international relations and the European Union.

 

"For quite some time, the Turkish top leadership has been tirelessly crisscrossing the globe," read the report. "Everywhere they go the Turks tend to air new diplomatic initiatives, offer mediation, advance blueprints for new regional security regimes and, last but not least, seek to boost trade ties."

 

According to the report, one feature of recent Turkish policy that catches the eye is that almost all of Turkey’s foreign policy moves have a pronounced Eurasian and/or Middle Eastern bent.

"The key questions that trouble Western analysts would appear to be: To what extent will Turkey’s new assertiveness and ambitions remain compatible with the West’s strategic objectives? How independent is Ankara prepared to be in crafting good neighborly relations with the countries that the West regards as ‘problematic?’" asked the report.

One concern among some of Turkey’s Western allies is that Turkey is increasingly moving away from its pro-Western orientation and Euro-Atlantic institutions. "Instead, this outlook holds, Turkish foreign policy’s center of gravity is shifting towards other regions, mostly the Muslim Middle East," read the report.

Yet some believe Turkey’s new foreign policy and Ankara’s aspirations to play a more assertive role in its immediate geopolitical neighborhood should be seen as complementary, rather than contradictory, to its more traditional Western strategic alignments. According to this train of thought, Ankara’s enhanced regional profile can be regarded as an asset that potentially increases Turkey’s strategic attractiveness for its Western partners, read the report.

 

Citing European and U.S. goals for a more peaceful region in the neighborhood, the report added: "Turkey is well able to contribute to reaching these goals while pursuing its regional agenda – provided it reinvigorates efforts to realize its European bid."

 

Yet another view is that the Turkish government is pursuing a highly contradictory foreign policy devoid of any clear-cut conceptual or strategic basis. "For these critics, the [Justice and Development Party] AKP’s foreign policy outlook is at heart a highly unprincipled one, being influenced mainly by populist considerations, naked opportunism and the desire of the AKP elite to retain political power," read the report. It added that the result was chaotic policies and a "directionless Turkey."  

 

New strategic identity taking shape
The report found that Turkish behavior is shaped by both domestic and external factors. It is being influenced by the shifts in the country’s international identity and the changes in Turkey’s vision of its new geopolitical role.

These, in turn, are the result of powerful processes that are reshaping the socio-political life of the country. These processes are the economic development in the Anatolian hinterland, the broadening of the elite through the emergence of the new ambitious provincial social actors, who are economically dynamic and culturally conservative, and the increasing role of elected officials and thus a stronger government.

"These changes generate important shifts in national identity, leading (among other things) to the rise of religious sentiment, which paves the way for identification and affinity with Turkey’s Muslim neighborhood," read the report.The report found that the trend toward greater strategic independence became more apparent with new Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Instead of being perceived as a perennially peripheral country that sits on the outer margins of the European Union, NATO or Asia, Turkey, according to Davutoğlu’s strategic vision, should be seen as being located in the very heart of Eurasia

 

Ankara’s new, and seemingly more ambitious, international outlook appears to be driven by three main factors: the shifts in Turkey’s own international identity, new threat perceptions, and an acute awareness of the intimate interconnectedness between external and domestic developments.

Turkey’s growing strategic interest in and involvement with the troubled region of the Middle East is a perfect illustration of those important factors at work.

The report cites a Western commentator on Ankara’s new strategic vision: "[It] is at once independent, nationalistic, Islamic, pan-Turkist, global, and Western." However, the true challenge, the commentary continues, "is to integrate and reconcile these various interests with specific policies."

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