Quo vadis Turkish foreign policy
The Center for Turkish Studies (CTRS) at Kadir Has University has released the results of its annual Public Perceptions on Turkish Foreign Policy survey last week. It was conducted in 26 cities across Turkey with 1,000 people between June 6-30, and shows the public’s perceptions on foreign policy are generally shaped by their domestic political inclinations and standing vis-à-vis the government, indicating the boundary between domestic and international has mostly disappeared.
According to the survey, terrorism and the Syrian conflict, with 44.2 and 24.6 percent respectively, emerge as the most important problems of Turkish foreign policy. The downing of the Russian jet in late 2015 was reflected in a 2016 survey as relations with Russia ranked the fourth most important issue, while after the normalization of the relationship, it slipped out of the list of problems in foreign policy. Threat perception from Russia also decreased accordingly to 18.5 percent in 2017 from 34.9 percent in 2016.
In another rather ominous response, the public thinks that Turkey has no friends in the world but Azerbaijan, which topped the list with massive 71.3 percent in 2017, steadily increasing in the last four years. What is more, 17.3 percent of the population thinks that Turkey has no friend at all. In contrast, the list of countries that pose a threat to Turkey is long and dominated by the usual suspects; the United States with 66.5 percent and Israel with 37.4 percent, followed by the European Union countries with 24 percent, increased from 10.4 percent in 2016. Yet, despite the fact that threat perceptions have increased in general, support for Turkey’s NATO membership has declined to 61.8 percent, an all-time low since 2011.
The recent developments in U.S. policies under the Trump administration were also reflected in this year’s results. For instance, U.S. support to Kurdish groups in Syria and its policies towards Kurds in general in the Middle East has clearly annoyed Turkish citizens, both appearing as problematic issues between the U.S. and Turkey with 21.6 and 26.7 percent respectively. But its fight with terrorism (64 percent) and extradition of Fethullah Gülen to Turkey (32.1 percent) has emerged as the most important problems between the two countries. What is more, negative perception of the U.S. has reached 81.4 percent, an all-time high.
Despite a similar negative trend in public support to EU membership, which has declined to 48.4 percent from 55.3 percent in 2013, Turkish citizens in general continue to think membership, if it ever happened, would be beneficial for both sides. Although an overwhelming majority of Turks by 81.3 percent think Turkey will never be able to become a full member of the EU, mostly (73 percent) because of ethnic and religious differences, 69.6 percent of the respondents still believe there is no real alternative for Turkey in its international relations but to pursue EU membership.
In the Middle East, while 41.5 percent of the public find the Euphrates Shield Operation as successful and only 16.7 percent as unsuccessful, the general common-sense (49.9 percent) demands remaining neutral in Syria and avoiding further involvement. Similarly, 51.1 percent prefers Turkey to play an impartial mediator role in the Arab-Israeli dispute. Finally, 61.2 percent think Turkey needs to strengthen its political relations with other countries for a stronger position in foreign policy.