Turkey’s foreign policy at a crossroads - II
VOLKAN VURALForeign politics is basically a struggle to sustain the coherence of national interests that should be carefully measured.
After the end of the Cold War, some new factors started to influence international politics. These have also influenced Turkey’s foreign policy. Identity issues and ethnic, religious or denominational differences are one of them. In a similar vein, the distinction between domestic and foreign policy also disappeared and the interaction between the two has considerably increased.
Turkey’s hesitation in advancing the democratic reform agenda since 2008 is the result of a decreasing interest towards the EU process. If the EU process had progressed effectively, the attempted Alewite and Kurdish openings would probably have been more successful. But as Turkey postpones its democratic reform process, the problems are not likely to disappear; on the contrary, they might evolve into more formidable challenges.
A bitter contradiction
Today, the Kurds in Northern Iraq have all the attributes of an independent state. In Syria, the denied identity of Kurds will probably be recognized after the current domestic conflict. In Iran, the Kurdish community adjacent to the Turkish border, who are relatively more homogenous and autonomous, is probably waiting for a wake-up call.
In this new mobility accelerated by the Arab Spring, Turkey, which has the largest Kurdish population in the region, must be poised to find a peaceful and democratic solution to PKK terror and the Kurdish issue. Otherwise it will remain a sad contradiction for a country like Turkey, which has the most advanced democratic system in the region.
The existence of such issues complicates the pursuit of an effective foreign policy. On the other hand, the foreign policy can be seen as an art of management of contradictions. However, a rational foreign policy begins with the admission of these problems and proceeds with calculations of long-term cost and sustainability.
Irrespective of its problems, Turkey has sui generis value with its political, social and economic advancement. These acquisitions are based on secularism deeply rooted in state administration, legal order and social culture. In Islamic geography, there are not many countries that achieved democracy and modernization by preserving their cultural values. The modernization process of Turkey, which became more systematic and comprehensive with the Republic, can be traced back two centuries.
Why is the EU important?
Europe has always been an important and privileged partner of Turkey. This is not a simple coincidence or a cyclical situation. Our political and social choices, as well as economic interests, made Turkey’s Euro-centric policies obligatory. Turkey has never viewed the EU membership process as simply an economic integration project. Distancing ourselves from EU standards will harm our economy and democratic reform process. I earnestly hope that declaring an Ankara criteria instead of the Copenhagen criteria or issuing an Ankara progress report instead of the EU progress report are signs of displeasure and confirmation of our commitment to reform. The real yardstick should be the extent Turkey aligns with the Copenhagen political criteria, including freedom of media, human rights, democratic practices and the rule of law.
It is necessary for Turkey to revive its relations with the EU with a new vision. The current economic crisis in Europe could pave the way for a new architecture in Europe, one where Turkey could occupy a constructive place.
Volkan Vural is a retired ambassador and former secretary general for EU affairs.