AKP’s legacy on foreign policy

AKP’s legacy on foreign policy

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) nearing its third term in power can provide us an occasion to think about the legacy of the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan-Ahmet Davutoğlu duo’s performance during over a decade of foreign policy.

Here are some positive and negative highlights of that legacy:

*The discovery of soft power: Turkey has discovered the strength of soft power as a tool of foreign policy. It has become a major donor of humanitarian help. While it has used the Gülenist organizations to project its soft power, it is now trying to replace them by state institutions like the Yunus Emre cultural centers. Turkey’s soft power gained it a non-permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council for 2009-2010.

*The Improvement of relations with northern Iraqi Kurds: The AKP scrapped the policy of avoiding cooperation with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq with the fear that improving relations with Iraqi Kurds will lead to the establishment of an independent Kurdish state followed by the disintegration of Iraq.  Instead of contention, the AKP opted for engagement with the KRG and so far it has brought economic and political gains.

*Being two steps ahead on Cyprus: A genuinely pro-solution attitude ended Turkey’s image as the one dragging its feet on a permanent settlement. Turkey gained the moral upper hand on the Cyprus issue, which it enjoys to this day.
*The Intervention in internal affairs and discovery of hard power: Turkey’s first serious interference in another country’s internal affairs came during the Iraqi elections in the mid 2000’s, but it peaked with the Syrian civil war.

For the first time in Republican history, Turkey hosted open opposition figures of a neighboring country; claims that it facilitates arms transfers have tarnished its image as a responsible neighbor.

Turkey now hosts more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees who are here to stay for a long time.
It forgot one of the essential principles of foreign policy: to keep a back door open. By shutting all the doors and burning all the bridges on Syria, it ended by cornering itself. Turkey has been living and will be living for some time to come with constant warfare on its borders.

*From moderate Islamism to radical Islamism: The AKP’s “Bashar al-Assad must go at all cost” policy created the conviction all over the world that Turkey supports radical Islamists. It will take some time to revert this image, despite increased efforts on the part of the government to close the border to the passage of radical Islamists. Erdoğan’s anti-Western rhetoric criticizing the West of remaining indifferent to the suffering of Muslims reinforced the perception that Turkey is following an Islamist foreign policy rather than a secular one.

*Ideological-based foreign policy and becoming a part of regional conflicts: The AKP says it endorsed a value-based foreign policy, but this is perceived as though the AKP has stopped following a secular foreign policy and instead opted for a Sunni ideology.

The AKP’s reaction to the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood and its refusal to establish relations with Egypt’s military administration has strengthened this perception. Turkey now also “enjoys” an image of a country that follows a sectarian policy.

*Serious lows on bilateral relations: No ambassador in Israel or Egypt (and now in the Vatican for some time!) while relations with the U.S. are at a historic low and relations with the EU are at a standstill.