Does Turkey have a row with the west?
Turkey’s relations with the west are going through its most serious test in history. On a bilateral level, Turkey has serious differences of opinion with the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and many of its other western partners and allies. On an institutional level, Turkey faces similar difficulties with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Council of Europe, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe. The latter is certainly affected by the former but the tension appears to grow instead of calming down. Why?
Turkey’s foreign policy had a fair degree of continuity since the demise of the Soviet Union. From 1991 to 2009, although one can argue that it had a parabolic appearance with up-and-down periods, Turkey’s foreign policy can be characterized to have a steadily growing pro-active conduct. This pro-active foreign policy has reached its culmination in 2008 with an overwhelmingly convincing perception of Turkey as an emerging star not only in its region, but globally as well. The reward was Turkey’s election as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
One very important and fundamental principle in Turkey’s foreign policy was impartiality. This should not be interpreted as a weak, passive, and over prudent approach to world affairs. On the contrary, impartiality became Turkey’s strength in its growing functionality to become an honest broker as well as a favorite facilitator in a broad geography from the Balkans to Central Asia, from the Caucasus to the Middle East and North Africa.
Turkey’s role as a facilitator in its region increased the trust and confidence to Turkey in its neighborhood, along with its growing reliability and predictability. Turkey’s capacity to understand and explain the nature of problems in its immediate neighborhood to its Western allies, as well as its skill to convince the latter to indulge with the east through less Eurocentric policies made Turkey a strong asset as a partner.
Turkey’s foreign policy started to move downhill when Turkey lost impartiality. Interestingly, this was not triggered merely through foreign policy implementation but rather through its manipulation for domestic politics. Today, many argue that such manipulation has reached an unprecedented level in Turkey’s republican history.
Some argue that this sudden shift could have been triggered by neo-Ottomanist aspirations. Leaving this deeper debate aside, one can see that the new momentum in Turkey’s foreign policy has become the main drive in the drift between Turkey and the West.
Turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa has created further confusion about Turkey’s expectations, if not its “ambitions,” in the region. A very important and critical turning point is the situation in Syria. Turkey’s diverging views for a solution right at the outset has affected the perception about Turkey’s role in the resolution of conflicts in its neighborhood. Today, due to closer cooperation and coordination with Russia and Iran through the Astana process, Turkey’s narrative on the Syrian problem has become less vocal on President Assad’s role in the future of his country as well as during the transition period to a peaceful and political settlement.
Turkey’s relations with the West, particularly with the EU, however, do not have much to do with Turkey’s changing policy in the Middle East. It is more acutely affected by the increasing tones of populism in Turkey’s domestic politics. Confrontation with “foreign conspirators,” is becoming a fashionable instrument to keep emotional nationalism high, which unfortunately diminishes the likelihood of injecting contemporary universal values into the domestic political setting as a viable alternative.
This has two significant and dangerous consequences. On the one hand, the misperception in the Turkish public opinion about “foreign conspirators” is gradually transforming into hatred. This transformation may easily be coupled with Turkey’s already structural conservatism and may hardly be remedied in the future. The result will be Turkey’s plunging divorce from universal values.
Second, this drift is also affecting Turkey’s image both regionally and globally. Trust and confidence in Turkey is diminishing. Turkey is now considered to be an unpredictable actor. This negative “perception” of Turkey, causes Turkey to lose its weight and attractiveness as a useful regional partner. Turkey is becoming more of a liability in regional and international politics rather than an asset.