Wise men speak but will anyone listen?
It is evident that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is in a strategic bind in terms of foreign policy. Its ambitious plan to cast Turkey in the role of a principal driving force in its region has amounted to little.
There is an obvious need for recalibration, especially after the serious miscalculations following the Arab Spring, which have left Turkey with less, not more, influence in its region, while also producing new security risks.
A task force of “wise men” attached to the Global Relations Forum (GIF), and comprising a former foreign minister, a former head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), retired ambassadors and academics, will soon publish a report on what Turkey must do to meet the challenges of a changing global and regional environment.
An advance copy of the report, which will be made available soon on the GIF’s web page (www.gif.org.tr), contains advice both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu should heed.
There is no room here to go into the details of the 77-page report, but it is possible to highlight some of its findings. The most important of these findings points to the need for Turkey to acknowledge its inability to become a principal regional actor on its own. The report says Turkey has to act together with its traditional Western allies by strengthening its position in the transatlantic alliance.
This effectively amounts to exhorting the AKP to give up its pipe-dream of becoming an Islamic guiding force in its region, an ambition which has also raised serious questions about Turkey’s traditional Western orientation that much of its development to date has relied on.
It goes without saying that the report underlines the need for a return to Turkey’s European Union perspective, despite discouraging signs from Europe in this regard, and points out that the EU itself is in uncharted territory and is moving toward a multi-tiered model of integration which will also benefit Turkey.
Accepting that full integration with the EU is a long-term project, the report nevertheless underlines the vital importance for Turkey to develop its democracy according to universal norms and to maintain its reform process, arguing this will bring it closer to Europe. The report also indicates Turkey’s G-20 membership will provide opportunities to participate in global processes.
The report goes on to underscore the need for realism and says the clash of global and regional interests in the region surrounding Turkey will most likely continue for the foreseeable future. It says this will make it vitally important for Turkey to raise its diplomatic capabilities in managing differences and contradiction at the highest level possible.
The report also underlines the fact that Turkey, as a secular and democratic Muslim country which borders serious international fault lines, must assume that it is a target of radical Islamic movements and develop its policies accordingly. It says that particular attention should be given in this regard to the potential for lasting negative effects from the Syrian crisis.
While stressing the importance of maintaining cordial ties with Iran – an issue that has become even more relevant in these past few days – the report nevertheless says Ankara should not overlook Iran’s military ambitions of becoming a nuclear power and act with its Western allies in this regard.
Indicating that Israel is a part of both the problems and solutions in the Middle East, the report says policies excluding Israel will not bring peace to the Middle East, and adds that Turkey has to accept this basic fact.
Even this cursory summary shows that much of the report’s content is conventional wisdom. But given how Turkey has strayed into dangerous territory in recent years, it is always helpful to be reminded of what may appear obvious to some.
The crucial question, however, is whether such wise advice will be heeded.