Analysis

December 21, 2012

Summary: A recent GMF project proposes to conceptualize Turkey as one of global swing states, i.e., the countries that possesses a large and growing economy, a strategic location in its region and a commitment to democratic institutions, also including Brazil, India, and Indonesia. The swing state argument is logical from the perspective of extending U.S. tenure at global leadership, but it could be expanded at least on four important dimensions pertaining to the issue of international order that have direct bearing on the way we understand the role of the swing states: power, domestic order, regional order, and justice. A closer examination of Turkey forces us to rethink the report’s underlying assumptions that the swing states need to be engaged lest they turn anti-systemic and that they could assume extended global roles.

Global Swing States and International Order: A Turkish View
by Şaban Kardaş

Introduction A recent GMF project proposes to conceptualize Turkey as one of global swing states, i.e., the countries that possesses a large and growing economy, a strategic location in its region and a commitment to democratic institutions.1 According to the “swing state argument,” Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey, though not forming a bloc, occupy such a critical role in global politics that their choices may together have a decisive influence on the trajectory of the international order. Thus, the United States is advised to treat these countries through a common framework and engage them in various compartments of the international order, namely trade, finance, maritime, non-proliferation, and human rights. Otherwise, given the four nations’ ongoing skepticism of different elements of the current order, they might act in ways that eventually could strengthen centrifugal forces and undermine the rule-governed order.

The project is worth commending. It builds on an accumulating literature on an ever-visible dimension of world politics. Several new regional actors, outside the core of the traditional Western-centered international order, are gaining influence both in their regions and the global system at large. This phenomenon has offered a fertile ground for conceptual innovations that seek to describe these new actors based on shared characteristics, resulting in the plethora of terms in circulation: emerging markets, rising powers, the rest, BRICS, MIST, etc. The swing state argument offers a fresh take on a select few of those actors that are arguably differentiated from the rest in significant ways. More importantly, it focuses on a dimension of the issue that is often missed in other contributions to the debate; i.e., how these countries will position themselves vis-à-vis the international order. Raising this question is highly timely, for, as the conventional wisdom and a wealth of scholarly literature suggest, order in the international system is maintained not only by power, but also by the consent of key actors, especially second-tier states, to the existing rules and institutions.

OffiCes Washington, DC • Berlin • Paris Brussels • Belgrade • Ankara Bucharest • Warsaw • Tunis
1 Kliman, Daniel M. and Richard Fontaine, “Global Swing States: Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey, and the Future of International Order,” German Marshall Fund and Center for a New American Security, November 2012, http:// www.gmfus.org/archives/global-swing-states-brazil-indiaindonesia-turkey-and-the-future-of-international-order/

Analysis
It has been a success of the post-war U.S.-led international order that it managed to absorb key potential contenders into its orbit through its ability to deliver public goods and allow others to thrive. Hence, against the background of non-Western world gaining more visibility, the authors’ recommendation to engage rising actors that accumulate wealth and power and take measures that will ensure these new actors’ continuing commitment to the international order appears logical. The swing state argument is logical from the perspective of extending U.S. tenure at global leadership, but it could be expanded at least on four important dimensions pertaining to the issue of international order that have direct bearing on the way we understand the role of the swing states: power, domestic order, regional order, and justice. A closer examination of Turkey forces us to rethink the report’s underlying assumptions that the swing states need to be engaged lest they turn anti-systemic and that they could assume extended global roles. Power and Order Major changes in the international system are preceded by power shifts. Just as order is created and maintained by a strong leader, its erosion is also likely to come through the emergence of a counter pole that advocates a different set of values and an alternative order. History tells us that any credible attempt at redesigning international order is mounted by first tier states that are keen on climbing atop the power hierarchy. Though the nature of U.S. preponderance is in constant flux, the international system bears semblance of unipolarity. Obviously, this unipolar structure is much different than what it used to be in the 1990s and 2000s, while the U.S.-led international order is questioned on many fronts. Granted, the power is increasingly diffused rather than concentrated in an opposing pole or poles, and those actors that control an increasing share of global wealth, especially China, have not openly confronted the United States politically and militarily. On the contrary, the Western powers, Japan, and even China are to a large extent comfortable with many aspects of the liberal international order. Despite the growing performance of new actors, their convergence with advanced economies is not foreseeable in the near future. So far, “the rise of the rest” has been largely a story centered on China, and it is far from certain whether they will achieve a sustained growth trajectory that will help them establish a solid power base to support extended global roles. Turkey’s story is a good case in point. Although Turkey often prides itself for memberhip to the G20 and aspires to make it to the top ten economies in the next decade, many projections suggest that it will roughly maintain its current ranking as the 16th largest economy. Turkey’s growth performance is remarkable in absolute terms, but, in relative terms, it is hardly enough to elevate Turkey’s global standing, especially considering the primacy of domestic or regional issues it will have allocate its resources on. With the absence of an open contender for global leadership today, it might be the deficit of interest in global order rather than a zeal to redesign it that has to be a source of concern. Engaging the swing states is definitely a worthwhile effort, but more importantly, the United States will need to work harder to bring China into the order as a stakeholder. Domestic Order and International Order The nexus between domestic and international politics has been long recognized by scholars of international relations. A bid for an assertive international role is contingent on a stable domestic order and national consensus, among others. Both the potential contenders and the swing states are surrounded by their own domestic problems such that they will be constrained from mounting a credible challenge to, or concerning themselves with, global order. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the conceptual architect of Turkish foreign policy under Justice and Development Party (AK Party) governments, recognizes the linkage between domestic and international orders. Inspired by

Any credible attempt at redesigning international order is mounted by first tier states that are keen on climbing atop the power hierarchy.
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Analysis
his concept of the balance between freedoms and security, AK Party governments have undertaken major domestic reforms. Through these reforms, supported by the country’s expanded economic power and wealth, they believe the Turkish state is now better equipped to play a prominent role in international affairs. Turkey still has major domestic issues to tackle, however, both in economic and political realms. It has to address the structural shortcomings of its economy, and increase competitiveness and capacity for innovation. It has to oversee the political reform process and find a way to meet the demands of its Kurdish population in a democratic environment. These massive undertakings will require a focus on consolidating the domestic order. Turkey can best address the domestic challenges in a stable and predictable environment, which has been aptly supplied by the existing order. Regional Order and International Order Regions are treated increasingly as the relevant unit of analysis in international relations scholarship. In the post Cold War era, power has diffused to regions, and various regionalization projects in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa, or the Middle East have stepped into economic, political, or military governance. Although the regionalization of world politics takes place within the broader confines of the U.S.led international order and we may not have moved into a “world of regions” as some scholars argue, regional-level interactions nonetheless are gaining independent dynamics. Considerations of regional order are also becoming more pronounced in the calculations of regional actors, as they often filter their participation into international order through the prism of regional agendas. Conceptualizing Turkey — and for that matter Brazil, India, and Indonesia — as a regional power, rather than a global swing state, might offer a better way to understand its behavior in the international system. Although Turkey’s global activism has been accentuated, they were in fact efforts to bolster the country’s regional standing rather than to establish itself as a global player. Going beyond the question of if Turkey will remain committed to the international order, it might be worthwhile to question how Turkey’s designs for a regional order will reconcile with international order. So far, with many of its initiatives, Turkey has in fact been a lynchpin connecting the international

Conceptualizing Turkey as a regional power might offer a better way to understand its behavior in the international system.
and regional orders, and has been instrumental in helping spread international norms in the neighborhood. While working to spearhead regional cooperation mechanisms in its surrounding areas, neighborhood issues have gained salience in Turkey’s foreign policy agenda. Especially in a period when the Middle East goes through a major transformation, Turkey will act mainly on regional priorities. Is Turkey Challenging the Order? The swing state argument is built on the assumptions that if not properly engaged, these actors might aspire to see a major restructuring of the international order. For instance, the authors’ references to Turkey’s divergence from some manifestations of the international order (such as its position on navigation in Eastern Mediterranean, or its policy toward Iranian nuclear program) serve the purpose of reminding readers of the swing states’ potential to act in ways that would undermine the order. It has been amply documented that Turkish leaders have criticized the international order in open forums and called for a revision to its institutions. This highly inflated rhetorical criticism aside, however, Turkey has done little in contravention of it. The report, highlighting the cases in which Turkey parted ways with the West, runs the risk of over-emphasizing the meaning of Turkey’s deviant behavior. For one, selective enforcement of international standards has been an essential future of international politics, and Turkey is no exception. Moreover, Turkey’s divergence from the West is oftentimes a reflection of policy differences and frictions that are inherent in international relations, and treating them as akin to systemic challenges will be difficult to sustain. Unlike India, Brazil, or Indonesia, Turkey does not have a history of third-worldism or a “southern” perspective, and has been an integral part of the U.S.-led international order since its inception in the post-war era.

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Analysis
Turkey continues to benefit from the existing international order. In the wake of the Arab Spring, there is already a readjustment of strategic priorities and a deliberate effort on Ankara’s part to work out the policy differences with Washington. In its security and defense policies, the transatlantic community is again the backbone and Turkey is more than eager to refer its Syria policy to NATO. On the issue of values, too, the Arab Spring demonstrated once again how Turkey is embedded in the Western order. Turkey conducts its Syria policy very much on the liberal principles that underpin the normative bases of the international order. More importantly, this development underscored not only Turkey’s similarity to Western values but also its dissimilarity from potential contenders to the global order. Order and Justice This last point raises a subject that has been central to the study and practice of international affairs: the normative fabric of the international system. The global swing states report has a thin understanding of the normative bases of order and focuses mostly on the issue of human rights and democracy. However, for centuries, scholars have debated how an inter-state state order can also serve the goal of justice in the sense that the members of the international system come to believe that they get their fair share and are treated justly. This is indeed the area where Turkey has been maintaining a sustained criticism of the international order. Turkish leaders seem convinced that the current order fails to uphold justice and breeds inequality and mistreatment. In that light, Turkey has drawn attention to the plight of the Palestinians or the impoverished in the least developed countries. It has advocated their rights in international platforms, and called for a reform of the international institutions so that the latter could deliver justice. Turkey has internalized the values of human rights and democracy, which the report also makes note of, but will continue to criticize the normative misgivings of the international order. Conclusion Other than its criticism of injustice, many of Turkey’s actions that seem anti-systemic are actually driven by domestic or regional agendas rather than divergences from the international order per se. More importantly, the forces that dictate continuation of Turkey’s commitment to the international order are stronger than the swing state argument assumes. Even short of U.S. engagement, Turkey has enough of its own reasons to operate within the existing order. Engaging Turkey and other swing states on the issues of global order will be a step in the right direction. But more importantly, the United States will be well advised to be more sensitive to those powers’ domestic and regional priorities and calls for justice, lest those latter considerations constrain the swing states’ ability or willingness to join as constructive stakeholders in the international order.

About the Author
Dr. Şaban Kardaş works as an associate professor of international relations in the Department of International Relations at TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Ankara.

About GMF
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) strengthens transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. GMF does this by supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has offices in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, Warsaw, and Tunis. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.

About the On Turkey Series
GMF’s On Turkey is an ongoing series of analysis briefs about Turkey’s current political situation and its future. GMF provides regular analysis briefs by leading Turkish, European, and American writers and intellectuals, with a focus on dispatches from on-the-ground Turkish observers. To access the latest briefs, please visit our web site at www. gmfus.org/turkey or subscribe to our mailing list at http://database. gmfus.org/reaction.

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