Turkey needs a new national security policy

Turkey needs a new national security policy

According to Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, the Muslim world is on the verge of a disintegration, during which ever more blood could be shed. Everyone should try their best to prevent this, as it has the capacity to infect the rest of the world, Erdoğan suggests.

He said those words on April 7 while returning from Tehran, where together with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani they discussed how to stop further bloodshed in the failing state Yemen. Erdoğan revealed that he had conveyed a message from Saudi Arabia about the situation. This is remarkable because Saudi Arabia and Iran are actually engaged in a proxy war in Yemen, reflecting the divide of Islam’s Sunni and Shiite sects. 

It is interesting that efforts for reconciliation in Yemen started days after the agreement in principal between Iran and the world powers on Tehran’s nuclear program. It is also interesting that Erdoğan’s statement came on the same day as the statement from U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who warned of al-Qaeda’s rising power in Yemen amid the civil war there. If Iran withdraws active support from Yemen’s rebel Houthis, this could lay the groundwork for Saudi Arabia and Egypt also giving their - at least indirect - approval of the nuclear deal, which would leave Israel as the only regional state still against it.

Former Turkish President Abdullah Gül had warned in 2013 about the possible “Darkness of an Islamic Middle Age” if the growing sectarian divide cannot be halted. Since then, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has emerged to seize swathes of Iraq and Syria, with an unprecedented level of terror. The situations in Libya, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen have also deteriorated significantly.

The problem is that Erdoğan is trying to say he is not following a “pro-Sunni” line, especially regarding the civil war in Syria, and only days before his visit to Tehran he directly accused Iran of engaging in “expansive” policies in the region.

Turkey, which had managed to stay out of sectarian conflicts in the Middle East for decades, is now trying to save itself from these conflicts, in which it has become embroiled due to its active - perhaps too active - foreign policy in the Middle East, especially since the beginning of the Arab Spring.

However, it is not only Turkish foreign policy that needs revision, according to a new report by the Istanbul-based think tank the Global Relations Forum (GIF). It states that Turkey needs to formulate a new and comprehensive national security policy, also covering its foreign policy.

In the report, titled “Turkey in Changing Global and Regional Security Conditions” and released on April 7, the GIF states that a new national security approach should consider new factors like energy security, water security, cyber security, new forms of terrorism, the evolving intelligence environment, and rights and freedoms of citizens based on European Union standards.

“Our foreign policy should be independent of the religious axis,” said Ümit Pamir, a retired ambassador who spent years on international security missions as is now a member of the GIF. 

“Turkey needs a realistic policy that prioritizes national interests,” underlined Sönmez Köksal, the former head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report over the course of more than a year.

Those two sentences actually contain strong criticism of Ankara’s current foreign and security policy line, wrapped up in diplomatic language. 

Were Erdoğan’s recent remarks a sign that he also sees the need to revise Turkey’s foreign and security policy? This is not yet clear, but it would certainly be in the interests of Turkey and the wider region.