Who is running Turkish foreign policy?

Who is running Turkish foreign policy?

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has officially been at the helm of Turkey’s diplomatic team for years. He previously served as a member of the Turkish group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and was later elected as its chairman. He then served as the head of the Turkish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and as EU affairs minister before becoming foreign minister in late 2015. 

Çavuşoğlu’s experience makes him the head of Turkey’s diplomatic team but he is certainly not in charge of the country’s foreign policy direction. There are a number of other key names who have a say in the making of Turkish foreign policy. 

İbrahim Kalın, President Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesman and also a deputy secretary general in charge of security and foreign policy issues, is another influential name. Coming from a background in academia and civil society, Kalın is Erdoğan’s round-the-clock trouble-shooter and also a fixer in foreign relations, including backstage diplomatic operations.

Yet it is also hard to say that Kalın is in full charge of Turkey’s foreign policy. Another name that Erdoğan listens to is EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik, and not only on European issues. Çelik, who served as an advisor to Erdoğan for many years, is one of the few names who can openly voice the drawbacks of a certain policy and criticize it to Erdoğan.

National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan is also a name whose views on foreign relations are valued by President Erdoğan. He has a military-academic background and previously served as the head of the Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA), as well as serving as a chief foreign policy advisor to Erdoğan when he was prime minister. When former Prime Minister Ahmet Davuoğtlu tried to take Fidan from the MİT and recruit him for the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) parliamentary group in 2015, Erdoğan was furious and said his “black box” should remain the head of the intelligence agency.

A newly emerging name in the picture is Energy Minister Berat Albayrak. As President Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Albayrak has a close interest in foreign policy matters, with energy agreements playing an important role in Turkey’s foreign relations as a state aiming for growth without extensive energy resources.

As can be seen, there are at least five names that have an influence on Turkey’s foreign policy.

In the past as well, foreign ministers were never in full charge of foreign policy. The president and the prime minister had equal responsibilities according to the constitution. The prime minister was the head of the cabinet and the president was the peacetime commander-in-chief and head of the National Security Council (MGK).

But now after the April 16 referendum, despite the fact that prime minister’s office has still not yet been dissolved, Prime Minister Binali Yııldırım’s powers are de facto being used by President Erdoğan.

Erdoğan apparently actually enjoys the competition among his foreign policy team and their diversity. He may think that this diversity and competition gives a certain dynamism and synergy to his decision-making process, and is perhaps better than giving full authority to one of them.

At the end of the day, however, it is President Erdoğan and no one else who runs Turkey’s foreign policy.