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NURAY MERT > Turkey as a ‘smart power’

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Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has come up with a new term to define Turkey’s foreign policy, namely, “smart power.” On his way to Geneva, Davutoğlu stated that Turkey would respond to Syria’s behavior in a well-calculated way rather than offer an immediate reaction. It is, indeed, the smart way to react to the recent escalation of tension with Syria. Nevertheless, it is quite difficult to define Turkey as a “smart power” in general in regard to its foreign policy. It is no secret now that Turkey’s foreign policy is far from being a success story as the country has ended up becoming engaged not only in a direct conflict with Syria but also confrontations with all its “eastern neighbors from Armenia to Cyprus.

In fact, it is not only the Justice and Development Party (AKP) or Davutoğlu’s foreign policy that needs to be scrutinized to understand the failures of Turkish foreign policy and it is not just the tragic end of Davutoğlu’s “zero problems with neighbors” doctrine. To tell the truth, Turkish foreign policy has not been able to adjust itself to the post-Cold War world. After World War II, the Kemalist doctrine of “peace at home, peace in the world” could only survive due to Cold War balance-of-power politics. Turkey was able to avoid post-Cold War conflicts simply by trying to sustain the status quo as much as possible. The first real challenge was the military intervention in Iraq, and Turkey survived this challenge almost by “coincidence” – and this coincidence can be explained by the domestic balance of political power which did not allow the government to take a clear position.

Finally, the AKP became powerful and confident enough to put forth a new foreign policy vision, and it was Davutoğlu’s assertive and supposedly visionary new foreign policy of the New Turkey. This policy was based on an assumption that Turkey was a strong player in the international arena and, because of this, could not only avoid major conflicts in the region but also solve them. This policy was doomed to fail since it was based on an overestimation of Turkey’s power and an underestimation of major international challenges.

Now, the government insists on refusing to see the reality, while the opposition is deluding itself with confining the problem of Turkish foreign policy to the failures of the AKP and Davutoğlu’s policies. That is why it is not only the government that has failed to overcome the recent crises but also the opposition, which has failed to offer a valuable alternative other than reoffering the policies of the previous status quo even though they have lost all relevance.

Under these circumstances, Turkey seems to be going nowhere other than sinking deeper into a more crisis-like situation with Syria. I hope those who do not see an armed conflict as a probability are right, but I am afraid that a new scenario similar to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s may occur between Turkey and Syria. I know that governmental circles will hate the comparison, but it is better to take possibilities into consideration rather than denounce them.

The recent Syrian crises have more regional and international dimensions than domestic ones. However, it seems that the Western-dominated international community on one hand, and the Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah on the other, is reluctant to interfere directly. It may be in the interest of all parties to confine the crises to a narrower framework like a Turkey-Syria conflict. At the end of the day, only Turkey has engaged itself so directly in the Syrian affair.

Excuse me, but one can hardly call a country “smart” for pushing itself into such a position.

July/02/2012

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