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Turkey’s new ‘Strategic Depth’ 5 septembre 2012

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie.

Jerusalem Post (Israel) September 5, 2012, p. 15                                   Türkçe

By Can Kasapoglu *

There are some books which inspired the masses, or influenced small but powerful elites, and changed the world by causing shifts in mindsets and paradigms. For instance, even the modern military doctrines of the 2000s still refer to Vom Kriege (On War) by Clausewitz, and use the unique terminology of the book, such as “fog of war.” Like those, which changed the world drastically, there are also books that help us understand these drastic changes. For example, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities might give us a clearer idea of the radical differences that can exist between the goals of a revolution and its actual outcomes. Thus, Dickens’ work casts light on the “great expectations” of Tahrir Square’s libertarian youth, and how the social momentum they generated was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood.

In recent years, a book in the Turkish international relations literature, the Stratejik Derinlik (Strategic Depth) of Foreign Minister Prof. Ahmet Davutoglu, has found a place somewhere between the first and second categories. In other words, while the shifts in the Turkish strategic thought cannot be understood without reading Prof. Davutoglu’s work, it would also be fair to say that, as a geostrategic concept, the book itself caused some of those significant shifts.

BEFORE THE Davutoglu doctrine in Turkish foreign policy, Turkey embraced two different geostrategic traditions. The first school was the static Cold War paradigm which assessed Turkey’s role to be a defensive military garrison between Soviet expansionism and the democratic West. Within this narrow context, Ankara’s main mission was tying down over 20 robust Soviet divisions and being positioned at the very center of NATO’s intelligence activities for keeping Europe safe. However, this geostrategic stance was highly status quo-oriented and static in nature.

After the collapse of the USSR, Ankara’s strategists in the 1990s saw themselves “get caught in a bad neighborhood,” surrounded by fragile or failed states and rising PKK terrorism which served as a proxy war tool of the Syrian and Iranian tyrannies as well as Greece, Armenia and some other adversaries.

Within this context, the surrounding regions of the Balkans, Middle East and Caucasus were perceived as sources of mounting threats and political-military instability. Under these circumstances, and in accordance with the military elite’s paternalist intervention in domestic politics, the 1990s’ geostrategic tradition was intensively militarized and dominated by the realpolitik paradigm.

At the culmination of the 1990s’ understanding, Turkey developed its first postCold War military strategic concept in 1998. The concept was based on the framework of active deterrence. Through forward engagement – forward defense principles, it sought to use Turkey’s military potential actively as strategic leverage when dealing with political disputes. In essence, the second geostrategic approach was quite proactive, but it was still status quo-oriented in terms of grand strategy.

GEOPOLITICAL SCHOOLS generally bring about realpolitik understanding and realist, interest-based calculus. However, the Stratejik Derinlik includes its own geopolitical and geostrategic reading which embraces normative idealism and focuses on identity debates.

In the Stratejik Derinlik, Prof. Davutoglu strongly criticizes the Turkish strategic community’s former geopolitical schools by indicating that those efforts saw Turkey’s geopolitical position merely as a tool with which to defend the status quo, instead of an asset for opening up to the world. Claiming that Ankara had embraced almost a do-nothing policy in the past, the Stratejik Derinlik argues, Turkey’s geopolitical potential needs a “dynamic interpretation” which would foster Ankara’s regional and global influence.

In accordance with “the dynamic interpretation of geography” vision, the new doctrine offered an unusual geopolitical and geostrategic reading, known as “geocultural integrity.” This perspective is manifested in Turkey’s abandonment of militarized realpolitik in favor of greater emphasis on historical, cultural affinities.

Without a doubt, the famous “zero problems with neighbors” policy was a central part of this paradigm. Clearly, through improving trade and interaction, and by focusing on historical-cultural ties among the Middle Eastern societies, the Stratejik Derinlik idealizes a post-nation state in historical Ottoman territory. Some scholars even characterized this concept as “making the borders de facto meaningless.”

In his book, Davutoglu refers to Laing’s classical anti-psychiatry work, The Divided Self, in order to explain Turkey’s identity debates and geostrategic preferences. He draws attention to the notions of inner self and embodied self and the assumption of a person’s embracing a false self due to alienation. The book claims that if a nation becomes “alienated” from its historical/geographical attitudes, then it, too, might embrace a false self.

This identity-focused, romantic interpretation of geopolitics has brought about two main outcomes. First, Turkey started to pursue assertive strategies and softpower offensives toward the Islamic world and the historical Ottoman territories. And second, the new geopolitical school perceived the Turkish-Israeli partnership of the 1990s as an alienation factor when normalizing Turkey’s political identity. THE STARTING point of the new geopolitical concept of ‘strategic depth’ was a justifiable reaction against the past’s narrow geostrategic schools of thought which saw the country as nothing more than a geopolitical pivot. However, the doctrine required a peaceful security environment to putting its imperial perspective into practice, as well as the sacrificing of the Israeli military partnership.

Without a doubt, the current militarization of international relations in the region hinders the capability of soft power and historical-cultural affinities. Clearly, in the contemporary Middle East, every single actor can be charmed by more robust security guarantees and shows of force, but definitely not by honorable ideals and golden-age nostalgia.

In summary, the trajectory of the Syrian turmoil will probably issue the final verdict with regard to the feasibility of the Strategic Derinlik’s assertiveness.

* The author, who served as a post-doctoral fellow for the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar – Ilan University, holds a PhD from the Turkish War College, and a Master’s degree from the Turkish Military Academy.


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