Turkey’s Foreign Policy Balancing Law – Analysis – Eurasia Review


It is often claimed that Turkey broke with the West for good in the 2000s after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power. The argument is that by changing direction internally, Ankara turned away from what the West hoped to achieve in terms of relations with Turkey.

Since 2003, Turkey has indeed increased its influence in all geopolitically important regions located on its borders: the Black Sea, the South Caucasus, the Balkans, the Mediterranean and Syria-Iraq. A general concept explaining this development can be found by looking at the map. There is not a single great power in Turkey’s neighborhood that opens the door to greater Turkish economic and military engagement along its borders. Even Russia, arguably the biggest power near Turkey, could not prevent Ankara from providing decisive support to Azerbaijan during the recent Second Karabakh War. Turkish troops, although in limited numbers, are now stationed on Azerbaijani soil alongside the Russians.

The real reason for Turkey’s growing engagement remains the Soviet collapse, although that engagement occurred over a longer period of time than many analysts expected. It took decades for Turkey to consolidate its regional position. In 2021, it is safe to say that Ankara has succeeded in this endeavor. It is on the verge of having a direct land corridor to the Caspian Sea (through Nakhichevan in Azerbaijan) and increasing its military position in the Mediterranean, and views northern Syria and Iraq as territories that can potentially provide strategic depth for an Anatolian defense.

One telling element of Ankara’s foreign policy is that geography still governs the country’s perception of itself and its place in the world, perhaps more so than for any other large country. Rather than attaching itself solely to the Western axis, over the past two decades Turkey has pursued a multi-vector approach to foreign affairs.

The country is on the European periphery. Its experience is similar to that of Russia in that both have absorbed broad Western influence, whether in institutions, foreign policy, or culture. Both have been anchored for centuries in the geopolitics of the European continent. Because a multi-vector foreign policy model offers more room for maneuver, economic gains and growth in geopolitical power, the two countries wanted to break free from their one-axis approach to foreign policy.

But neither Turkey nor Russia have had the opportunity to completely break their dependence on the West. The West has simply been too powerful. The world economy revolved only around the European continent and the United States.

Turkey and Russia have important territories in Asia and the Middle East, as well as geopolitical schools of thought which consider that European geopolitical thought is contrary to the interests of the state, especially since the collective West does not never considered Turkey or Russia to be fully European. The two states have always pursued alternative geopolitical anchors, but have struggled to implement them. No Asian, African or other geopolitical pole has proved sufficient to allow Turkey or Russia to balance their relations with the West.

It is therefore not surprising that over the past two decades Turkey has actively sought new geopolitical axes. For Ankara, close relations with Russia are a way to balance its historical dependence on European geopolitics. The same model of foreign policy may explain Moscow’s geopolitical thinking since the late 2000s, when its ties to Asian states rapidly developed as an alternative to a dependence and attachment to Western geopolitics.

We thus arrive at the first misconception of Turkish foreign policy: that Ankara distance itself from the West with the aim of ultimately severing these ties completely. Breaking off relations with NATO is not an option for Turkey. Its objective is to balance its deep ties with the West, which for various reasons no longer produced the hoped-for benefits, with a more active policy in other regions. Hence the resurgence of Turkey in the Middle East.

Turkey’s pivot in the Middle East (backed by former FM Ahmet Davutoglu) is not an exceptional development in the country’s foreign policy. During the Cold War, when Turkey focused heavily on the Western axis, left-wing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit promoted the idea of ​​a “region-centric” foreign policy. The main takeaway was that Ankara should continue to diversify external affairs beyond its traditional Western fixation, which means deeper involvement in the Middle East and the Balkans. In 1974-1975, then Turkish MP Necmettin Erbakan attempted to pivot Ankara towards the Arab world. There were even attempts to forge closer ties with the Soviets.

But throughout this period of reorientation, no steps were taken to sever relations with the West. Turkish politicians at the time believed that diversifying foreign relations would benefit the country’s position on the outskirts of Europe overlooking the volatile Middle East. Diversification would not harm the western axis of the country but would actually complement it.

Contrary to the belief that Atatürk was only interested in Turkey’s western axis, the country under his leadership had close ties to neighboring states in the Middle East, which was necessary given the geopolitical weight of those states. at the time. Thus, he welcomed Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran in 1934 and in 1937 signed a non-aggression pact with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The pursuit of a multi-vector foreign policy has been a hallmark of Turkish political thought. Even in the Ottoman era, when a European-centered foreign policy was inescapable, the sultans sought alternatives to their dependence on Britain and France. After the disastrous 1877-1878 war with Russia, Sultan Abdul Hamid undertook a cautious balancing effort by forging closer ties with Imperial Germany, a trend that contributed to the German-Turkish alliance forged during World War I.

Coming back to the present day, the Chinese factor is causing a reconfiguration of Turkey-West relations. The Asian pivot carries economic promise and increases Ankara’s manageability vis-à-vis great powers such as Russia and the EU. This is part of the rise of Turkish “Eurasism”, whose aspirations are similar to those that have motivated Russia over the past decade.

Turkey’s policy towards the West and the continuing turmoil in bilateral relations can be described as intra-alliance opposition. It is true that in recent years Turkey’s opposition to the West within the alliance has clearly intensified, but it has not passed the point of no return. Ankara is well aware that it remains a precious ally of the collective West.

This article was published on Georgia today


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