Find a Security Clearance Job!

Military


Turkey - Foreign Relations

Turkey was unhappy with the Wests muted response to the 2016 coup bid and frustrated with continued criticism of its human rights record. The Turkish government hosted Iran's top diplomat in August 2016, in a move seen as a shift in foreign policy after the failed July coup attempt. The Iranian foreign minister's visit came just days after a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, during which the two leaders agreed to normalise ties after the shooting down of a Russian fighter plane on the Turkish-Syria border 2015. Many asked whether these moves marked a shift in Turkey's global alliances, and what impact will they have on the war in neighboring Syria.

Returning Turkey to the glories of its Ottoman past was a common theme of Erdogan and his ruling AK Party. Within the party there is a very popular term, 'medeniyetcilik, which means civilizations, regarding the golden age of Islam. They are trying to create an image that Islamic civilization is on the rise again. Naturally, Turks are the vanguard people of this rebirth.

In September 2016 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took the country and the region by surprise by calling into question the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which defined modern Turkeys borders. He declared Turkey had been blackmailed by foreign powers into giving up vast swaths of territory that were once part of the Ottoman Empire. It was seen a backdrop to a policy that tried to build domestic support for a more long-term presence, particularly in Syria, by pointing out, at allegedly past historical mistakes. Turkish forces were in Syria and at the Bashiqa base, close to the Iraqi city of Mosul. Mosul and Kirkuk were part of the former Ottoman lands, and part of the original design of the modern-day Turkey. Turkish nationalists blame the Lausanne treaty, and British diplomats, for the loss of Kirkuk and Mosul, which include substantial oil reserves.

The Baashiqa base, which recently appeared in the headlines following Baghdads outrage over Ankaras decision to reinforce the base, is one of several front-line outposts built by Ankara in the 1990s as a part of its campaign against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkish FOBs in places like Sulaymaniya, Bamerni, Zakho, Dohuk, and Kanimasi hold an unknown number of troops and intelligence officers who rotate on a regular basis.

On October 11, 2016 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi should "know his place" and added that a Turkish Army contingent in Iraq will not take orders from Baghdad. Erdogan said the Turkish army will not "take orders from you," adding: "The Iraqi prime minister is insulting me.... You are not my equivalent, you are not of the same quality as me," Erdogan continued. "Your screaming and shouting in Iraq is of no importance to us."

Turkey entered NATO in 1952 and serves as the organization's vital eastern anchor, controlling the straits leading from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and sharing a border with Syria, Iraq, and Iran. NATO's Air Component Command Headquarters is located in Izmir and NATO's Rapid Deployable Corps-Turkey is headquartered in Istanbul. Turkey has made important contributions to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, commanding ISAF twice (2002 and 2005), and is currently in command of Regional-Command Capital, with more than 1,700 troops stationed in Kabul.

Besides its relationships with NATO and the EU, Turkey is a member of the OECD, the Council of Europe, and OSCE. Turkey also is a member of the UN and the Islamic Conference Organization (OIC).

Turkey is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It has signed free trade agreements with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), Israel, and many other countries. In 1992 Turkey and 10 other regional nations formed the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) Council to expand regional trade and economic cooperation. Turkey chaired BSEC in 2007 and hosted in Istanbul the 15th BSEC Summit in June 2007.

Turkey began reevaluating its foreign policy in 1991, when the United States-led war against Iraq and the collapse of the Soviet Union totally upset patterns of international relations that had been relatively consistent for more than forty years. Both of these developments intimately affected Turkey because the former Soviet Union was its neighbor to the north and east, and Iraq its neighbor to the south. Political instability had plagued both these regions since 1991, causing some Turkish national security analysts to fear possible negative consequences for their own country. However, other Turks believe that the international changes since 1991 offer their country a unique opportunity to reassert its historical role as a bridge between two regions in which it has had only a marginal presence since 1918.

In 2001, Ahmet Davutoglu [later Prime Minister] published a book entitled "Strategic Depth." In this book, Davutoglu suggested that Turkey possesses a unique "strategic depth" due to its historical and geographical position. He argued that Turkey should simultaneously exercise its influence in the Middle East, the Balkan region, the Caucasus, and Central Asia as well in the Caspian, Mediterranean and Black Sea zones. According to Davutoglu, Turkey should re-establish its role as a global player, not just a regional power. In some sense, Davotoglu viewed the collapse of the Soviet Union as a historic chance for Turkey to expand its influence in the Caucasus region and Central Asia.

In October 2008 Turkey was elected to hold a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2009-2010. Turkey took that seat January 1, 2009 and held the rotating presidency in June 2009.

Turkey's primary political, economic, and security ties are with the West, but the government has sought to elevate relations with Middle Eastern neighbors and Central Asian countries. In a speech before the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) retreat, Turkey's Foreign Minister Davutoglu appeared to embrace the concept of Neo-Ottomanism as a framework for Turkish foreign policy. The ruling AK Party mistakenly thought countries colonized by the Ottomans shared the same positive view of the imperial past.

Twice yearly, AKP party leaders and members of parliament meet at Kizilcahamam for a consultative retreat to go over party policies and the state of Turkey in a relaxed, informal environment. At the retreat held 21 and 22 November 2009, FM Davutoglu co-opted his critics' derisive term for his personalized foreign policy, saying, "Yes, we are the New Ottomans." In so doing, he made coherent the previous six years of Turkish foreign policy, which had seen an intensive interest in being part of peace negotiations stretching from Bosnia through Palestine to Afghanistan, the opening of embassies throughout much of Africa, and rapprochement with previous rivals, such as Iran, Syria, and Armenia. Though Davutoglu and the MFA have tried to step back from the statement (which they insist was taken out of context), the concept reinforces Turkey's aspirations to re-engage estranged neighbors and to serve as mediator in conflicts in the Middle East and the Balkans.

Davutoglu hinted at a new policy in a speech made in Sarajevo on 16 October 2009, in which he envisioned an economically and culturally integrated Balkans and Middle East as the driver of a peaceful, affluent civilization, and not the crisis-ridden periphery it is perceived to be today. In his estimation, the Ottoman Empire is the "only positive exception" to have created such an entity, and Turkey, as successor to the Ottoman state, should be the focus of the re-establishment of a strong Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey's relative power, stability, and affluence would allow it to recreate what Davutoglu sees as fundamental to a strong, self-assured political environment: cultural integration, economic interaction, and political authority.

The term roughly coincides with Davutoglu's world-view and adds an academic and ideological backbone to his pragmatic "zero problems with neighbors" policy. It traded on common historical and cultural traits among the countries in Turkey's larger neighborhood to form the basis for closer cooperation rather than conflict. The theory conveniently justifies why Turkey -- as a comparatively stable, democratic, affluent country -- should serve as the anchor for such a geopolitical alignment.

By 2010 Turkish policy was a mix of "traditional Western" orientation, attitudes and interests, and two new elements, linked with new operational philosophies: "zero conflicts" and "neo-Ottomanism." The traditional still represented the core of Turkish foreign policy, and was centered on cooperation and integration with the West. Its core is NATO, the customs union with the EU, and most significantly, the EU accession effort. This all began with the Ottoman effort to emulate the European great powers, and was propelled powerfully forward by Ataturk. Nevertheless the country was on the sidelines in World War II. It was only the threat of the USSR, and the dominance (and outstretched hand) of the US, that led to the "Turkey we know": tough combat partner in Korea, major NATO ally, US anchor in the Middle East. Much of this continued.

Europe was by far Turkey's most important economic partner in terms of investment and trade. The EU accounts for 42 percent of Turkey's total trade, while the US accounts for a bit less than 5 percent. While the US is much less important in terms of trade statistics, it remained important in various sectors (e.g.energy, aviation, military), and in various ways. NATO is essential to and much respected by Turkey. The fact that "only" about one-third of the Turkish population in one poll see NATO as important to Turkey's security is actually a plus; on any poll Turks usually are overwhelmingly negative about any foreign engagement or relationship. But support for NATO has been halved over the past decade. The military is armed by the US, and Turkey recognizds that many fires in its back yard -- from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan -- can only be solved by close cooperation with and acceptance of US and NATO leadership.

Finally, even AKP leaders know that much of their allure or "wasta" in the Middle East and elsewhere stems from their privileged position in key Western clubs. This traditional orientation may be shaken, or reduced, but as it has both significant buy-in by elites of all philosophies, and many concrete advantages, Turkey will not abandon it.

Turkeys ruling party, the Islamic-rooted AK Party, had close ties with deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party. Ankara had been in the forefront of condemning Morsis overthrow and the subsequent crackdown on the Brotherhood and its supporters. In stark contrast, many Gulf States and Saudi Arabia have backed Egypt's new military-led government. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan adopted the rhetoric that puts Turkey on the high moral ground certainly, but also this is driving Turkey apart from its allies in the Gulf as well, in particular Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. So this is leading to the collapse of the alliance that was set up between these countries and Turkey to manage the security relationship in the region.

Differences between Ankara and the Gulf States also manifested over Syria. Turkey was seen as backing more radical elements of the Syrian opposition, while Saudi Arabia supports former Baath Party and the secular elements. The split was a dramatic turnaround for Turkeys government, which had considered its close ties with Middle Eastern countries as one of its major triumphs.

Turkey's president warned 30 March 2015 it would not tolerate Iran dominating the Middle East, amid growing concerns inside the country that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor. It was a very new policy now, Turkey pointing at Iran and directly taking Iran as an adversary. It meant that they were getting closer to the Saudis and the Emirates and becoming a full-fledged member of the regional Sunni alliance. The policy of not intervening, or not pointing at Iran, was over. Erdogan's ruling AK Party is Sunni Islamist in orientation, and Ankara increasingly viewed the region through the prism of the Sunni-Shi'ite divide.

Zero problems with neighbors" was the political maxim of Ahmet Davutoglu, when he took the post of the Turkish Foreign Minister in 2009. Seven years later, by 2016 it was clear that Turkey's relations with its neighbors were almost entirely characterized by problems and disputes. Ankara had spoiled its relations even with former allies like Israel and Egypt and has lost its influence in the Middle East and North Africa, surrounding itself with opponents.




NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list