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A neighborhood rediscovered: Turkey’s transatlantic value in the Middle East 28 mars 2010

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Brussels Forum Paper Series (The German Marshall Fund of the United States), March 2010, 28 pages

By Kemal Kirişci, Nathalie Tocci and Joshua Walker

The recent activism in Turkish foreign policy has caused political waves throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. In attempting to decipher Turkey’s foreign policy trajectory, many have focused on Turkey’s activism in the Middle East. Yet this is not new. At different points in time, Turkey opted to engage the Middle East. However its interventions in the past played into the balance of power logic of the Arab/Soviet versus Israeli/American conflict, oscillating between one side and the other, albeit more frequently on the side of the latter. With the end of the Cold War, Turkey’s activism translated into assertiveness and confrontation. While Turkey’s military relationship with Israel rallied favor in the West, Turkey made the Middle East an even more unstable and crisisprone region through confrontational relations with Iraq, Iran, and Syria.¹ More widely, Turkey believed it was “besieged by a veritable ring of evil,” ² fueling counter-alliances between Syria, Iran, Iraq, Greece, Russia, Serbia, and Armenia.³ Şükrü Elekdağ, a retired ambassador and former deputy undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, advocated in the mid 1990s that Turkey should prepare to fight “two-and-a-half wars” simultaneously against Greece, Syria, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).4

In sharp contrast, Turkey’s activism in the Middle East in the 21st century has a distinctly different nature. Turkish foreign policy, particularly under the influence of current Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu, conceptualizes Turkey as a central country in the midst of Afro-Eurasia, which attempts to pursue what it calls “zero problems” with its neighbors. It encourages bilateral and multilateral external relations, and it uses the country’s Ottoman heritage as a foreign policy asset. The stated goal of Turkish foreign policy is to transform Turkey into a strong regional, and even global, actor through the exercise of soft power.

To what extent is this truly occurring? How can we interpret the transformation of Turkey’s policy toward the Middle East? Most importantly, under what conditions does Turkey’s new role represent n asset for Turkey, the Middle East, the United States, and the European Union?

The traditional manner to study current developments in Turkish foreign policy is to assess the areas in which Turkey converges and also where it diverges from the policies pursued by the European Union and the United States.
Adopting an alternative and innovative approach this paper does not view Turkey’s “distinctiveness” in the Middle East as necessarily detrimental to the West, but rather argues that it could represent an important asset to its European and American partners. Yet Turkey’s potential in the Middle East does not automatically translate into practice. Turkey’s promise in the region hinges on its consistent pursuit of democratization at home and a norm-based foreign policy abroad. In addition, Turkey’s transatlantic value in the Middle East can only be fulfilled if the EU proceeds with Turkey’s accession process in good faith and the United States partners with Turkey in the region to
encourage Turkey’s EU prospects and reforms.

1 Makovsky, Alan (1999).“The New Activism in Turkish Foreign Policy.” SAIS Review, Vol. 19, No.1, pp. 92–113.
2 Former Turkish Ambassador Şükrü Elekdağ in 1996 quoted in Mufti, Malik (1998). “Daring and Caution in Turkish Foreign Policy.” Middle East Journal, Vol. 52, No. 1, pp. 32–50, p. 34.
3 In the mid-1990s, Greece, Armenia, and Iran held annual foreign ministers meetings, and Greece and Syria signed an agreement in 1995 regarding Greek use of Syrian airbases.
4 Elekdağ, Şükrü (1996). “2 1/2 War Strategy.” Perceptions: Journal of International Affairs (Ankara), Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 33–57.

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