It’s not always like this. The first day of the new year is Monday. Since my weekly foreign policy column is also published on Monday, I had the honor of writing on the first day of the year. The articles published on the first day of the new year are usually about what developments are expected in the coming year. Let us not break the tradition.
The main characteristic that has characterized Turkish foreign policy in recent years is its uncertainty. When we talk about a country’s foreign policy, we can usually guess which group of countries that country belongs to, with whom it acts, and how it will respond to a development. If we approach Turkish foreign policy with this frame of mind, we can easily be wrong.
One minute Turkey is selling arms to Ukraine or declaring its non-recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea; the next minute it’s a warm conversation with Russian President Putin, the two leaders are on speaking terms, and the seriousness of demands like “let us join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization” is unpredictable. Or you are trying to buy airplanes from the US, but at the same time you cannot give up the Russian S-400 missiles. The situation in the Middle East is not very different. On the one hand, you give strong support to Palestine to the extent that Arab countries refuse to do so, you challenge Israel, and on the other hand, you allow trade with the same country to continue as usual.
When it comes to Syria, you declare the US an enemy because the US is establishing warm relations with the YPG/PYD, on the other hand, you are working to increase the trade between the two countries to a hundred billion dollars. The situation is no different in NATO. Your allies are not selling you airplanes, but you are sending a fleet of planes to Poland and the Baltic States to defend them against Russia.
My words should not be misinterpreted. I am not claiming that countries are perfectly coherent in international politics and that Turkey is an exception. Almost every country, because it pursues multiple goals and is subject to pressure from various countries, cannot pursue policies that can be characterized as consistent in every aspect. Nevertheless, the boundaries of its policy are clear, and it is predictable what it will do in the face of certain events. Turkey, on the other hand, is pursuing a foreign policy that is increasingly less predictable. It is then necessary to ask: What are the reasons for the uncertainty in Turkish foreign policy?
Everyone can give different answers to this question. As far as I can see, underlying the contradictions in our foreign policy lies a serious indecision, a wavering. Our government actually wants to abandon the complex choice that Turkey developed after the Second World War, which included the elements of being part of the Euro-American group of countries, being part of the Western defense system, adopting liberal democracy as a form of government, establishing and developing a market economy, and making the rule of law dominant. It would like to be a regional leader with a strong influence on the surrounding countries, a country that emphasizes Islam, and a country that has a voice in the world. Unfortunately, this vision is only loosely connected to reality, resulting in a foreign policy full of contradictions.
First of all, Egypt and Iran, the two major countries of the region that aspire to leadership, do not incline to adopt Turkey’s leadership and you can be sure that they will not do so in the future. In Syria and Iraq, the Americans and Russians are running the show. The extent to which the locals sympathize with the Turks is debatable. On the other hand, the success of the Turkish economy depends very much on maintaining good relations with Europe and the US. We have a Customs Union agreement with the EU that we cannot afford to give up. We are now hoping to expand it. Half of our exports go there. As I mentioned above, the US is seen as a market where we can significantly increase our exports. We also hope that European, American, Chinese and other investors will manufacture for Europe in Turkey. For this, we need to preserve our relations with the US and the EU, and reassure investors by respecting the rule of law. In addition, our existing weapons systems were acquired within the framework of NATO. Abandoning them in favor of new systems would not only expose Turkey to unaffordable costs, but also pose major security risks.
We are faced with a Turkey where the government’s aspirations and political, economic and security factors have pulled the country in different directions. As a result, we have become a country that pursues a retail foreign policy, a country that does not know where it belongs, a country that no one considers as one’s own, and a country that has become isolated. Should we expect a change in this position next year? I don’t think so. As the French say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose!” In other words, “No matter how many things change, they remain the same!” I wish everyone a good new year.