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Waves, Ways and Historical Turns: Turkey’s Strategic Quest

Waves, Ways and Historical Turns: Turkey’s Strategic Quest

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This brief looks at the recent evolution of Turkey's foreign policy.
This brief looks at the recent evolution of Turkey's foreign policy.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Jan 30, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The quest forautonomy is not a new phenom-enon in the conduct of Turkishforeign policy. The question isnot whether or not Turkey, or itscurrent rulers, will continue toseek autonomy in foreign policyeven in an environment thatbrings them, once more, closer to their Western partners. The realquestion is whether or not Turkeywill be able to consistently have the capacity to pursue an autono-mous foreign policy and simplyinstrumentalize its alliance rela- tions. Turkey faced three waves of environmental challenges since the end of the Cold War. Notcoincidentally, these periods alsocorresponded to the discoveryand then twice to the “resurrec- tion” of a “Turkish model” thatcould be put to use to safeguardmainly Western interests.
Waves, Ways and Historical Turns: Turkey’s Strategic Quest 
by Soli Özel
January 30, 2012
, DC
In his critique o Ian Lesser’s analysiso the successive waves in urkishoreign policymaking,
warns against determinismand rightly emphasizes the role o agency. For Kardaş, a merely geopo-litical or structuralist understandingo urkish oreign policy would doinjustice to the architects o that policy.Understanding the shis in urkey’soreign policy solely as a unction o a changing strategic environment, heargues, would blind observers to thegreat quest or “Strategic Autonomy”that underpins it.In light o urkey’s growing security needs in an increasingly uncertain andunstable environment, Lesser arguesthat “()he scale o the security prob-lems acing urkey suggests that only urkey’s traditional Western partnerscan ll this need over the longer term.”Kardaş agrees that urkey’s relationswith its Western partners, and mostimportantly with the United States,will get closer because o the changingsecurity environment in urkey’s nearabroad. However, he insists that rela-tions with the West will mainly havean instrumental value.
“Turkey’s Third Wave – And the Coming Quest for Stra- tegic Reassurance,” Dr. Ian O. Lesser, On Turkey Series,October 25, 2011
“Quest for Strategic Autonomy Continues, or How to
Make Sense of Turkey’s ‘New Wave’,” Dr. Şaban Kardaş,
On Turkey Series, November 28, 2012
In Kardaş’ view, “Partnership withthe West, at this current juncture, isa valuable instrument as long as itenhances Ankara’s ability to meet newchallenges and expands the room tomaneuver, not because o its inherent value. Te quest or strategic autonomy still instructs urkish leaders’ thinkingon international aairs, and is unlikely to disappear.”Yet this quest or autonomy is not anew phenomenon in the conduct o urkish oreign policy either. It hasbeen there as a powerul vein evenduring the Cold War, evidenced by urkey’s intervention in Cyprus andthe enormous political costs thatsuccessive governments were willingto bear by reusing to assent to a lessthan satisactory settlement or any settlement at all. In act, this questor autonomy can be generalized oralmost all states that have the capacity to act so in varying degrees.Te tension between structuraldeterminism and agency is an age-oldproblem in social sciences and histor-ical analyses as well as internationalrelations theory. In a requently quotedpassage in the introduction to his “18
 Brumaire o Louis Bonaparte” KarlMarx presents an eloquent i some-what imprecise ormula on the matter:
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it asthey please; they do not make it under sel-selected circum-stances, but under circumstances existing already, given andtransmitted rom the past.”Tis passage can be used to reconcile Lesser’s more struc-turalist and perhaps more deterministic view o the impera-tives o urkish oreign policy and Kardaş’s emphasis on the voluntarism o the policymakers. Undoubtedly, the actors doshape their environment, but not at will. Tey are circum-scribed by their capacities, by other actors’ relative power, andthe conditions created by major shis in that environment.Te responses to these shis will be determined by existingmodes o interaction, alliance commitments, and structuralrealities on the ground. Whether or not it will be structureor agency that will override the other depends on the caseand circumstances that shaped it.Te question thereore is not whether or not urkey, or itscurrent rulers, will continue to seek autonomy in oreignpolicy even in an environment that brings them, oncemore, closer to their Western partners. Te real questionis whether or not urkey will be able to consistently havethe capacity to pursue an autonomous oreign policy andsimply instrumentalize its alliance relations.For urkey to succeed in this endeavor it would have tohave the means not just to respond to its environmentbut to transorm it as well. Te developments in regionssurrounding urkey, particularly the Middle East since theArab uprisings began and pointedly since the U.S. with-drawal rom Iraq, indicate that urkey’s inuence over thebehavior o its neighbors or countries like Syria in whichit invested heavily in the past is either negligible or notsubstantive.Furthermore all o urkey’s major neighbors — Russia, Iran,and Saudi Arabia — are scrambling or inuence in thesame neighborhood. Tey mobilize all the tools availableto them, including the sharpening o sectarian divisions, toshape and control the strategic environment o the MiddleEast region in the wake o the U.S. withdrawal rom Iraq.Alliances are shiing and recourse to ties with kindredcommunities is becoming dominant. Such a dynamic,particularly in the absence o a balancing EU accessionprocess that is robust, risks sucking urkey into its debili-tating rationale.Under these circumstances, it becomes more difcult as wellas more critical to maintain the consistency o a “secular”oreign policy on the part o urkish policymakers. Tis isespecially true at a time when the European Union, paralyzedby its economic troubles and the political ragility o many member states, continues to generate a political-strategic vacuum. Tis vacuum, combined with some Union membersunair, irresponsible, and outright hostile treatment o urkey and its candidacy, damage urkey’s quest or equilibriumbetween its alliance interests and values on the one hand andits “Greater Middle Eastern” vocation on the other.
Three Waves Since the End of the Cold War
urkey aced three waves o environmental challenges sincethe end o the Cold War. Not coincidentally, these periodsalso corresponded to the discovery and then twice to the“resurrection” o a “urkish model” that could be put to useto saeguard mainly Western interests.
When the Berlin Wall ell in 1989 and the Cold War practi-cally came to an end, urkey was le or dead strategically,at least as a member in good standing o the Western Alli-ance. Not only did an important gure such as then U.S.Undersecretary o State Lawrence Eagleburger tell a urkishinterviewer that “perhaps urkey should concentrate moreon the Middle East because aer all it was not really a Euro-pean country,” but within urkey there was concern thatwith the security axis disappearing, there was not much thattied urkey to Europe.Te Iraqi invasion o Kuwait in 1990 put urkey back on thestrategic map but not without a serious crisis o intra-alli-ance condence. Some NAO members, notably Germany,reused to assume their responsibilities under Article 5 i urkey were attacked by Iraq and were unwilling to sendPatriot missiles or urkey’s deense. Ten with the disso-lution o the Soviet Union in 1991, a whole new strategicand cultural geography opened up as Central Asian urkicrepublics and the countries o the Caucasus gained theirindependence.Tis led to the rst allusion to the “urkish model,” whereby the Central Asian republics would be expected to emulatethe secular, democratic urkish political system and urkey would in turn play a role in the integration o these new
states into the Western political order. Tat period wasshort-lived, since it soon became clear that these countriesresented the advent o a new “big brother” and urkey’scapacities to shape their developments were limited.Still, during this decade, a number o developments suchas the Yugoslav wars, urkish military’s increasingly useulparticipations in various peacekeeping operations, and thestrategic alignment with Israel helped re-establish urkey’simportance in U.S. strategic thinking. Tis happened just when the United States was reconrmed as both aneeded and an unreliable, i not dangerous, ally or many urks ollowing developments in Iraq, notably the
de facto
 creation o an autonomous Kurdish political entity in theNorth.Te challenge or urkey in this period was to ameliorateits democratic credentials, reorm its administrative struc-ture, and liberalize its legal system. Yet upon the death o the reormist President urgut Özal, the custodians o asemi-democratic urkey, notably the military, used theKurdish insurrection and the alleged Islamist threat toturn the country inwards and increase the tone o authori-tarianism. Tis trend would only come to an end aer theUnited States delivered the PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan tourkish authorities in Kenya in February o 1999.
Apprehending Öcalan was just the beginning o a numbero important developments in urkish oreign policy aswell. Relations with Syria and Iran, thoroughly poisonedduring the 1990s, took a decisive turn or the better. U.S.President Bill Clinton visited urkey, and urkish-U.S.relations were dened as a “strategic partnership.” Te EU,with the help o a lot o pressure and lobbying by the UnitedStates, reversed its ill-advised decision o 1997 and extendedcandidate status to urkey.At the same time, under the stewardship o ForeignMinister İsmail Cem the rst theoretical and practicalunderpinnings o a multidimensional oreign policy started to take shape, later to be expanded and theorizedby current Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and consis-tently pursued under the AKP governments. Within thetraditionally Atlanticist urkish security establishment, earo the EU-related process o democratization, which mightundermine the authoritarian system led to the growth o a wing with a Eurasianist outlook. Many o those associ-ated with this oreign policy preerence were later chargedwith conspiracy against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.Te attacks against the United States on September 11,2001, resurrected the talk o a urkish model. Against theJihadist dystopia o al-Qaeda, “market-oriented, secular,democratic, Muslim” urkey, a member o the AtlanticAlliance, with warts and all, looked much more attrac-tive. When the AKP came to power, it gave more pizzazzto the model since the party, rooted in urkey’s Islamistmovement, undertook a relentless program o reormation,demilitarization/civilianization, and democratization o theurkish polity. Tis was done with the help o the EU acces-sion process, which was supported by the overwhelmingmajority o the urkish public. Tere was at last, with adecade’s delay, harmony between urkish oreign policy, the values o its security community, and the country’s domesticpolitical arrangements.Te multiple ailures o the U.S. misadventure in Iraq,which urkey objected to rom the beginning and ulti-mately reused to be a part o, shook the regional balance o power. Te Arab state system remained paralyzed and Irangained enormous strategic advantages. As the U.S. inva-sion empowered Iraqi Shi’a and the Kurds, it also broke thecenturies old strategic balance between Shi’a Iran and theSunni world.In this environment, urkey ormulated a policy o engage-ment with all its neighbors by accepting the existing statusquo as given. Lesser identied these conditions as a “benignenvironment” whereby none o the major actors would beable to counter urkey’s designs and policy moves. In act,Ankara pursued policies towards Iran and Syria that wereobjected to by Washington.As the military’s inuence over the making o oreignpolicy waned, Ankara gradually dropped its perennial earsconcerning the assertion o Iraqi Kurdish political iden-tity. Te government’s policies channeled the explodingeconomic energy o the nascent provincial entrepreneurialclasses towards trade and market creation all around,thereby transorming urkey rom a national security stateto what Proessor Kemal Kirişci would call a trading state.
“Turkey’s‘“Demonstrative Effect’ and the Transformation of the Middle East,”
, Volume 13, Number 2, 2011

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