Mediterranean Policy Program—Series on the Region and the Economic Crisis Prepared in Partnership with Paralleli (Turin

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Policy Brief
September 2011

Summary: While taking part in activities to which it has been invited within the context of EU Mediterranean policy, Turkey has remained distant to such a scheme for cooperation. When the Turkish government made the critical decision to transform the strategy of Turkish economic development from import-substitution orientation to one of export-led growth, Turkey initiated or expanded relations with the non-European Mediterranean region. Although initially these were limited to economic exchanges, as relations expanded, they became more multi-dimensional. Turkey developed an interest in the region’s overall political stability. Also, with enhanced economic means, it acquired a larger resource base with which it could be active in the region. Turkey’s interest in the non-European Mediterranean does not cover all countries in the region equally, with greater interest falling onto Libya and countries to its east. Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco tend to be viewed more as only economic partners. The interest in the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, on the other hand, is more complex.

Turkey and the Mediterranean: Balancing Geopolitics and Geo-Economics
By Ilter Turan

Is There a Mediterranean Region? In developing its neighborhood policy, the European Union has identified the Mediterranean as a region with which close relations should be developed. The Union for the Mediterranean, however ineffective, constitutes both evidence of EU interest in the region and the instrument through which this will be implemented. While taking part in activities to which it has been invited within the context of EU Mediterranean policy, Turkey has remained distant to such a scheme for cooperation. Turkey’s ambivalence about treating the southern rim of the Mediterranean as a region and its reluctance to get involved in EU planned activities for the region derives from several factors. First, as a candidate for membership, Turkey is unsure as regards where it fits. Taking part in the EU’s Mediterranean activities, it fears, might lead it to be identified too much as an outsider rather than as a candidate country. Second, when Turkey looks at the countries that are referred to as

the Mediterranean region, it sees a number of different countries that do not constitute in any sense an integrated region. There are the former French colonies of the Maghreb; there is Egypt and Libya, each in a category of its own; then there are the countries of the Mashrik or Eastern Arabdom such as Syria and Lebanon; and finally there is Israel and Palestine. In Turkish minds, the so-called Mediterranean countries belong to a variety of country groupings, some without shores on the Mediterranean. Turkey has different relations with each. Third, and related to the second point, in the Mediterranean region as defined by the European Union, many Turks see an imaginary entity and a project designed to achieve EU prevalence in a specific geography. Though the evidence is not yet rich, Turks also perceive a competitive relationship between Spain, France, and Italy as candidates to lead such a policy. Finally, in the Turkish mind, the Mediterranean corresponds to such countries as Greece, Italy, and Spain

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* İlter Turan is currently a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, where he also served as president between 1998-2001. The views expressed in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Mediterranean Policy Program—Series on the Region and the Economic Crisis

Policy Brief
and not the non-European Mediterranean region that the EU has been trying put into political use. Non-European Mediterranean: Turkey’s Distant Neighbors The Turkish Republic, from its beginnings, showed little interest in the non-European Mediterranean. The new nation state focused on nation building, consolidating the republic and rebuilding the country after a long period of wars. It showed little interest in reconstituting ties with former subjects of the empire, who had not only cooperated with the enemy, but had also fallen prey to European colonialism at the end of the war. The unraveling of this colonialism after the Second World War did not change Turkey’s lack of interest in the region. Feeling threatened by the Soviets, Turkey’s attention was devoted to becoming an integral part of the Western Alliance. The countries of the region, on the other hand, in working to fight the vestiges of colonialism, often exhibited sympathies to the Soviet bloc. Occasional attempts to develop or improve relations with the West did not produce long-lasting effects. For the same reasons, Turkey developed close relations with Israel. Dubbed the Western democracies in the region, the two countries engaged in close economic and military cooperation. Winds of Change Although the end of the Cold War is often seen as the major event that led to important changes in the external relations of many countries, change in Turkey had started ten years earlier, when the Turkish government made the critical decision to transform the strategy of Turkish economic development from import-substitution orientation to one of export-led growth. The shift shortly came to be reflected in foreign policy as Turkey began to search for new markets and, in the process, develop new relationships. Factors of economic prosperity came to weigh more importantly in the conduct of foreign policy than the previously prevailing security concerns. In the words of Kemal Kirişçi, Turkey became a trading state. The end of the Cold War only encouraged the continuation of this change. This new economic orientation guided Turkey to initiate or expand relations with the non-European Mediterranean region. Although initially these were limited to economic

Factors of economic prosperity came to weigh more importantly in the conduct of foreign policy than the previously prevailing security concerns.
exchanges, as relations expanded, they became more multidimensional. In addition to viewing the countries of the region as economic partners, Turkey developed an interest in the region’s overall political stability. Also, with enhanced economic means, it acquired a larger resource base with which it could be active in the region. The basic driving force behind expanded relations was enhanced economic prosperity from the 1980s to 2007. With coming into power of the socially conservative (read religious) Justice and Development Party (known as AKP) for a second term in 2007, new political dimensions were added that aimed to establish Turkey as a regional power capable of initiating foreign policy actions on its own. Focusing on achieving zero problems with neighbors (meaning attempting to address them through peaceful means) and claiming that all countries with which Turkey had historical ties (read Islam and/or Ottoman Empire) came within the domain of Turkish interest, the AKP government gave new momentum to Turkish activism in its surrounding regions, motivated by economic interest, cultural affinity, and enhanced security. Relations with Individual Countries Turkey’s interest in the non-European Mediterranean does not cover all countries in the region equally, with greater interest falling onto Libya and countries to its east. Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco tend to be viewed more as only economic partners, an approach that also characterized the Turkish-Libyan relationship until recently. The interest in the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, on the other hand, is more complex. Libya and Egypt Interestingly, the first country with which Turkey initiated intensive economic relations was Libya. Turkish contractors

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Policy Brief
entered the Libyan market during the late 1970s. During the 1980s, Turkey had become an indispensable part of the construction of harbors, pipelines, and a variety of public and private facilities there. How much business they secured and whether they were paid on time depended on the general state of political relations between the two countries, which in turn depended on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s temporal and often whimsical judgments of Turkey’s foreign policy, but Turkey was always present in Libya. Economic relations improved and stabilized after the Libyan leader assumed a more accommodating stance toward Western countries and after Turkey became more appreciative of Palestinian concerns. When the anti-government demonstrations evolved into violent clashes between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces in the spring of 2011, Turkey’s economic involvement was of such a magnitude that it had to evacuate more than 20,000 workers, leaving behind an expensive machine park as part of construction work estimated to be worth over $25 billion. In 2010, Turkey exported $1,935,307 and imported $425,652 worth of goods, totaling a volume of $2,360,959 with Libya. The importance of the relationship to the Turkish economy may help explain why Turkey was initially reluctant to assume a clear stand against Gaddafi and why, shortly afterwards, it decided to reverse its position and support the Benghazi government when it judged that Gaddafi would not be able to stay in power in view of the international coalition that had been formed against him. This policy shift has been vindicated as Gaddafi has lost his battle while his friends in China and Russia now fear that they will be deprived of economic opportunities that postGaddafi Libyan reconstruction and development policies will present to outside powers.

Turkey became more interested in assuming a regional role in the politics of the Middle East, the relationship became colored by competitive as well as by cooperative approaches.
Turkey’s relations with Egypt are more complex. Economic relations are clearly important. The volume of trade between the two countries, which was only US$517 million in 2000, had risen to $3.26 billion in 2009. Furthermore, Turkish investors saw Egypt as a promising land of economic expansion, with abundant and inexpensive labor, an improving business environment, and easy access to major markets not only in Europe but also in Africa and South Asia. Some Turkish textile firms had relocated there, while others were making plans to do the same. On the political front, as Turkey became more interested in assuming a regional role in the politics of the Middle East, the relationship became colored by competitive as well as by cooperative approaches. The greater sympathy Turkey has displayed toward the Palestinian causes — including the organization of Gaza aid campaigns to be routed through the Sinai and the failed Turkish efforts to mediate a modus vivendi between Israel and Syria regarding Golan Heights — constitute examples of Turkey’s attempts to increase its role in regional politics at the expense of Egypt. The domestic turmoil that Egypt has been undergoing since demonstrations first started in Tahrir Square in the spring of this year has in fact placed Turkey in a better position to exercise regional leadership. Current Turkish policy regarding Egypt aims to help a peaceful transition to political competition. It is recognized that a stable Egypt is needed to expand the economic relationship. Furthermore, the Turkish business community views Egypt as a base from which it can launch new operations into Africa and the Gulf, enhancing the country’s economic importance for Turkey. In the domain of politics,

The importance of the relationship to the Turkish economy may help explain why Turkey was initially reluctant to assume a clear stand against Gaddafi.
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Policy Brief
Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan, with his immense popularity in the Egyptian street, has contributed to narrowing the options of Egypt’s current military rulers regarding how accommodating they may be toward Israel. Finally, the AKP government in Turkey probably anticipates that the winners in any multi-party elections in Egypt will be its ideological kin, facilitating harmonious relations both in the economic and the political domain. Syria has moved from $729 million to $1.753 billion. Again Turkish businessmen have begun to view Syria as a potential location for investment. Especially with the removal of visa requirements about a year ago, tourism trade has begun to flourish with Syrians, especially for those living near the Turkish cities of Gaziantep and Antakya, who visit Turkey for shopping and medical services. The improvement of relations between the two countries enticed Syria to remove its territorial claims regarding Hatay and re-evaluate its concerns that Turkish policies would eventually leave Syria without water. Shortly before the protest events in Syria started, Syrian President Basher Assad and Erdoğan met in Syria for the groundbreaking ceremonies of a joint dam on the Asi (Orontes) River. It is within this atmosphere that Syrian willingness to allow Turkey to conduct proximity talks between it and Israel with regard to the status of Golan Heights becomes comprehensible. Turkey also discreetly encouraged Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and later contributed to the United Nations force in a noncombat capacity to help keep peace at the Lebanese-Israeli frontier. It also appeared that the Syrian government under Assad viewed the growing Turkish relationship as a channel through which Syria would become gradually integrated into the world system from which it had remained isolated, branded as rogue state by the United States. When demonstrations against the Assad regime started, Turkey hoped that it might be possible to persuade the Syrian leadership to liberalize. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

The AKP government in Turkey probably anticipates that the winners in any multi-party elections in Egypt will be its ideological kin, facilitating harmonious relations both in the economic and the political domain.
Syria and Lebanon Turkey’s relations with Syria underwent a major transformation in 1999. Until that year, Syria had been extending support to the Kurdish terrorist organization PKK, offering safe haven to its leader in Damascus and training grounds for fighters in Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, which was then under Syrian control. By pursuing such a policy, Syria hoped that it would force Turkey to reconsider its policy of building a series of irrigation-power generation dams along the Euphrates as well as keeping Syrian claims on the Turkish province of Hatay alive. When Turkey threatened military action in 1999, the Syrian government affected a complete turnaround, kicked the PKK leader out, closed down the training camps, and turned to developing friendly relations with Turkey. Since then, both economic and political relations have blossomed. Turkey’s exports that totaled only $184 million in 2000 have gone up to $1.425 billion in 2009 while the total volume of Turkish trade with

It seems that Turkey has judged that the chances of the Assad regime surviving are decreasing and that it is prudent both in terms of long-term economic and political interest to adopt a strong stand.

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paid several visits to Damascus to persuade Assad that listening to the opposition was the only way to go. Despite indications that this was the way he would proceed, Assad has failed to live up to his commitments, and relations between the two countries have cooled down. It seems that Turkey has judged, as in the case of Libya, that the chances of the Assad regime surviving are decreasing and that it is prudent both in terms of long-term economic and political interest to adopt a strong stand, saying that the Syrian regime must change. Israel and Palestine As indicated earlier, Turkey had close relations with Israel since its founding. An important dimension of this was defense cooperation, which included the refurbishing of Turkish tanks by Israel as well as the sale of unmanned aircraft to Turkey. Turkey offered the Israeli air force training opportunities in Turkey since Israeli airspace was too small for extensive training. Part of this comprehensive relationship also included the support of Israeli lobbies in the United States against activities in the U.S. Congress that were unfriendly to Turkey such as the passing of Armenian Genocide resolutions. initiation of proximity talks with Syria, and then suddenly attacking Gaza. Turkey had appreciated that stability in the Middle East was not possible without an Arab-Israeli reconciliation, and that Arabs seemed to need external assistance in achieving such a state of affairs. When Israel, quite unexpectedly, dynamited what seemed to be an almostcompleted deal, Turkey felt betrayed. From that point on, relations have deteriorated. The attack by the Israeli navy on a ship in the international aid flotilla on the high seas, killing eight Turkish and one American national of Turkish origin, has marked yet another turning point in constantly worsening relations. Israel’s refusal to apologize and pay indemnity for the deceased, and Turkey’s failure to secure such an outcome by using international instruments, has led Turkey to initiate a number of unilateral measures against Israel. Accordingly, Turkey will now work to have Palestine recognized as an

Although it was common knowledge that these authoritarian regimes suppressed oppositions, it was assumed that they would continue to rule in the foreseeable future.
independent state, will insure security in the international waters of Eastern Mediterranean, and will fully suspend military cooperation with Israel, among other measures. What is remarkable is that both countries have taken care to clarify that ordinary trade is not included in what otherwise is an unfriendly state of affairs. Readjusting Regional Policies Turkey’s policies with the non-European countries of the Mediterranean, particularly those in the Eastern Mediterranean, were based on cooperating with the existing regimes. Although it was common knowledge that these authori-

When Israel, quite unexpectedly, dynamited what seemed to be an almost-completed deal with Syria, Turkey felt betrayed. From that point on, relations have deteriorated.
Economic relations between the two countries had been growing during recent years. Their annual volume of trade between is comparable to Turkey’s trade with Egypt and Syria, reaching a volume of $2.063 billion in 2009, of which $1.5328 billion is Turkish exports. In addition, Turkey is a popular destination for Israeli tourists. The critical event that turned the tide in Turkish-Israeli relations was Israel’s having reached the almost-final step in the

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Policy Brief
tarian regimes suppressed oppositions whose strength was unknown, it was assumed that they would continue to rule in the foreseeable future. The coming of riots and regime change, initially in Tunisia and then in Egypt, took everyone by surprise, Turkey being no exception. In the face of the new political realities, Turkey, not unlike its European allies, has had to establish a delicate balance between its short- and long-term economic and its political-cum-security interests in dealing with its Southern Mediterranean neighbors. As long as the older leadership structures were in place, Turkey worked with the existing leaders. When they were challenged by popular uprisings, after some hesitation, Turkey judged that change was inevitable and moved political considerations ahead of shortterm economic ones, giving support to those demanding democratization. In this way, it envisioned developing good relations with the new regimes and expanding its role both as an economic and political actor in the new order that will emerge in the region. In this context, the worsening ties with Israel presents a dilemma for Turkey. Israel’s Arab neighbors are concerned that both Turkey’s actions and appeals to their mass public narrows down their ability to have amicable relations with Israel. Israel’s Western allies, notably the United States, find it highly problematic that its two allies in the region are at loggerheads. A change of government in Israel to one that is willing to offer an apology to Turkey may well open the way to improvement. Otherwise, economic factors alone will not suffice to affect change. The Turkish trading state is constrained in its foreign policy in the Eastern Mediterranean by political and security considerations. Sometimes, such considerations guide policy in the hope of enhancing economic gains in the long run; at other times, however, political considerations exhibit an autonomy of their own. Turkey is continuing to meet the challenge of balancing geopolitics and geo-economics in the region, so far with some success. Interestingly, Turkey’s regional political and security role has led to commentary within the European Union that Turkey’s cooperation is indispensable for the success of EU’s Mediterranean policies and therefore Turkey’s membership negotiations should quickly lead to a successful conclusion.
About the Partners

The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is a non-partisan American public policy and grantmaking institution dedicated to promoting better understanding and cooperation between North America and Europe on transatlantic and global issues. 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 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 seven offices in Europe: Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, and Warsaw. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm. www.gmfus.org

Paralleli’s mandate is to contribute to the creation of a Euro-Mediterranean area of freedom and of economic and social development. The institute acts at the local, national, and international level with the aim of meeting the needs of the North-West region of Italy concerning its relations with the other sides of the Mediterranean Sea. The activities of the Institute fall within the process of Euro-Mediterranean partnership initiated by the European Union with the 1995 Barcelona Process and currently undergoing a major relaunch through the “Union for the Mediterranean,” since July 2008. Paralleli intends to contribute to the reinforcement of political relations, economic cooperation, cultural exchange, and human flows between the European and the South-East Mediterranean countries. Its main objective is to promote dialogue at cultural, social, and political level between the societies of the Mediterranean countries, with the aim of encouraging and improving economic relations between them, with a particular focus on the dimension of sustainability and co-development. For this reason, the institute has decided: to involve civil society in the development of Euro-Mediterranean relations; to create and to support networking in the Mediterranean area; and to increase the value of research in order to suggest truly effective policies to local, national, and international actors. www.paralleli.org

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