Analysis

June 25, 2010

Summary: Based on the traditional framework of Turkish foreign policy, one would have expected it to encourage Iran to comply with the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), while trying to persuade the United States and other members of the UN Security Council that diplomatic means should be given continued priority. But in the final analysis, as a natural outcome of its traditionally pro-Western foreign policy orientation, Turkey would not have led the effort to oppose the measures that were adopted by the Security Council. The fact that Turkey has chosen to cooperate with another emerging power — Brazil — to challenge the way the international nuclear order operates, appears to signal a fundamental shift in the way policy is formulated.

Turkey’s Iran Policy: Moving Away from Tradition?
by İlter Turan
Addressing a large audience of businessmen, members of the press and academics at the Istanbul Forum in May, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu outlined several goals for his country’s foreign policy. Global problems, he said, had to be addressed within frameworks that all stakeholders had taken part in forming. If countries were asked to comply with rules and institutional arrangements that had been developed without their consent, it would prove difficult for them to accept them as legitimate. Davutoğlu also made references to the growth of the Turkish economy and Turkey’s natural inclination to develop mutually beneficial relationships with countries in its region. He emphasized that Turkey’s contribution to addressing regional problems were viewed as both natural and desirable by those with whom Turkey shared a common history and culture. Finally, he reminded the audience that Turkey was pursuing a policy of zero problems with neighbors. The guidelines of Turkish foreign policy as elaborated by Davutoğlu had in fact evolved from two major developments during the last two decades of the 20th century. First in 1980 came the decision to liberalize the foreign currency regime, quickly leading to a reorientation of the Turkish economy from import substitution to exportled growth. Next came the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, developments that redefined the global security environment and consequently Turkey’s security needs. Economic considerations began to constitute a much greater factor in Turkey’s foreign policy. In terms of security, various regional and global relationships were forged while maintaining Turkey’s continued involvement in the Atlantic Alliance as a pillar of its defense. This adjustment in Turkish foreign policy was initiated by the late Ismail Cem during his tenure as foreign minister from 1997 to 2002. Turkey assumed a new interest in the regions surrounding it and, in particular, tried to reach out to the countries of the Middle East with whom relations had been neglected during the years of the Cold War. At the same time, these new developments in Turkey’s foreign policy did not aim to alter its basic pro-western orientation. Turkey still pursued its goal of joining the European Union and its security continued to rest upon NATO. As its economy continued to grow in leaps and bounds to become the 16th largest economy in the world, and as its share in world

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Analysis
trade increased, it was invited to become a member of G-20 group of countries. These developments, taken together, did not point to a policy aimed at bringing about a change in the world order. Rather, it was an attempt to become a more active and influential player in the existing system. The policy Turkey has been following with regards to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, combined with the philosophy that is manifest in Davutoğlu’s remarks, suggest that the basis of Turkish foreign policy is being transformed. Based on the traditional framework of Turkish foreign policy, one would have expected it to encourage Iran to comply with the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), while trying to persuade the United States and other members of the UN Security Council that diplomatic means should be given continued priority. But in the final analysis, as a natural outcome of its traditionally pro-Western foreign policy orientation, Turkey would not have led the effort to oppose the measures that were adopted by the Security Council. The fact that Turkey has chosen to cooperate with another emerging power — Brazil — to challenge the way the international nuclear order operates, appears to signal a fundamental shift in the way policy is formulated. Turkey’s arguments regarding its position on Iran’s nuclear ambitions have focused not so much on the potential risks involved in Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and its implications for Turkey’s security, but on the fact that there are other countries in the region — notably Israel — that already possess nuclear weapons. Therefore, efforts should be directed toward the establishment of a nuclear-free region, within which Iran would also abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Though not spelled out in such specific terms, the logic of the Turkish position on Iranian weapons flows somewhat as follows: The current non-proliferation regime gives inherent advantages to the several countries that possessed atomic weapons when the regime was initially established in 1968 with the advent of the NPT. Those that were in possession of nuclear weapons from the beginning have not abided by their commitment to disarm completely. New countries, on the other hand, were added to the list of states possessing nuclear weapons after the treaty went into effect. Some newcomers to the nuclear club have also been able to develop nuclear weapons by staying out of the NPT system. All newcomers have enjoyed, at one time or another, the discreet cooperation and support of some of those already possessing weapons. On many occasions, major powers have turned a blind eye to those who have violated the system. Consequently, the non-proliferation system has failed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. It has instead allowed the major world powers to sometimes permit and at other times fail to deter countries from developing their own arsenals. The regime gives a monopoly of nuclear weapons to those that already have them, placing them at a permanent advantage without a meaningful program of total nuclear disarmament. It is therefore not justified to expect countries to observe a set of rules that were developed without their participation or give their consent to an arrangement that accords undue privileges to a select group of countries. This is all the more important since the possession of nuclear weapons provides a country with a shield that protects it against conventional attacks by other powers. This approach naturally means that deep differences remain between the United States and Turkey regarding UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposes sanctions on Iran in order to compel it to cooperate with the IAEA, and the American government’s refusal to accept as sufficient the agreement that Brazil and Turkey were able to broker with the Iranian government. Turkey notes that Iran promised to exchange 1,200 kilograms of its low grade uranium for 120 kilograms of enriched uranium that is to be used for medical purposes, and that Turkey would serve as the depository of the fuel until the exchange is completed, adding that this is precisely what the United States had asked for. The United States meanwhile argues that other conditions that it had asked for were not fully met and that the amount of uranium Iran possesses has actually increased, leaving in its hands enough fuel to make a bomb. Furthermore, Iran has not abandoned its efforts to enrich the uranium in its possession. Turkey’s gentler approach may be explained by several factors. Turkish leaders enjoy recounting that Turkey and Iran (and their predecessor states) have been at peace since 1639 and that they are unwilling to commit significantly hostile acts toward Iran that might compromise that relationship.

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Analysis
Turkey’s trade with Iran is robust and growing. Turkey aspires to serve as an energy corridor to Western markets for Iranian gas and oil. And finally, political leaders call attention to the fact that the negative effects of an embargo are not felt equally. During the oil embargo against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a disproportionate burden was placed upon Turkey without adequate compensation from the international community. Clearly, these are sufficient reasons to account for Turkey’s reluctance to support an embargo against Iran. But the desire for a new international order that is in greater harmony with the emerging distribution of global power also appears to constitute a more comprehensive framework that better explains Turkish foreign policy actions in general, not just with regard to Iran. Where do things stand now? Turkey has announced that it will abide by the UNSC decision, despite voting against it. The United States, for its part, has encouraged Turkey to continue its efforts to extract an agreement from Iran that fully satisfies American concerns. As much as Turkey might want to change the world, and the United States maintain the status quo, both countries, it appears, have too many interests in common to risk a rupture in their relations.

İlter Turan, Professor, Bilgi University
İlter Turan is currently a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, where he also served as president between 1998-2001. His previous employment included professorships at Koç University (19931998) and Istanbul University (1964-1993), where he also served as the chair of the International Relations Department (1987-1993), and the director of the Center for the Study of the Balkans and the Middle East (1985-1993). Dr. Turan is the past president of the Turkish Political Science Association and has been a member of the Executive Committee and a vice president of the International Political Science Association (2000-2006). He has served as the program chair of the 21st World Congress of Political Science in Santiago, Chile, July 12-16, 2009. He is board chair of the Health and Education Foundation and serves on the board of several foundations and corporations. He is widely published in English and Turkish on comparative politics, Turkish politics, and foreign policy. His most recent writings have been on the domestic and international politics of water, the Turkish parliament and its members, and Turkish political parties. He is a frequent commentator on Turkish politics on TV and newspapers.

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