Post-election blues in Turkish foreign policy

Post-election blues in Turkish foreign policy

The parliamentary election on June 7, 2015, ended the 13-year single-party rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey. Yet, it was inconclusive in that no party obtained a majority in parliament, which opened the way for discussions on the possibilities of a coalition or minority government.
Although the impact of this on domestic politics is being discussed extensively inside and outside the country, the political pundits and society at large have so far neglected its impact on Turkey’s international relations.

While disagreements over the country’s foreign policy were not significant during the campaign period, it provided a substantial background and I believe popular disapproval of the government’s foreign policy had played a role in eroding the AKP’s majority in parliament. Thus, the new government, whatever form it takes, will face serious issues in Turkey’s international relations and will have to make important decisions rather soon.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s position and evolving views will also be crucial in determining the course of Turkish foreign policy. Although, as shown by the recent Kadir Has University survey, 25.8 percent of the Turkish public wishes to see President Erdoğan more active in foreign policy making, compared to 8.8 percent last year, and the extent of his involvement will no doubt be determined by the composition of the government. Given that he has become more influential in foreign policy making since 2009, any government limiting his role in general will also affect Turkey’s positioning in international affairs.

Though it is still early to speculate on the possible directions of Turkish foreign policy, a cursory look at current problematic issues would indicate urgencies for the next government. The list is quite long: The humanitarian crisis of Syrian refugees, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as Turkey’s new neighbor, continuing instability in Iraq and Syria, the Ukrainian crisis and the collapse of a multilateral cooperation environment in the Black Sea region, the continuing effects of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian deportations and massacres, the internal weaknesses of the EU and discussions on a Greek and/or British exit from the Union, energy games in the Eastern Mediterranean, the renewed negotiations in Cyprus, the future of Iranian nuclear deal and so on.

The turmoil in the wider Middle East with its humanitarian aspect will no doubt take priority, as ISIL continues to pose a serious threat for the entire region. The air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL positions have proven inadequate, and the current train-and-equip program is doubtful to have a serious impact on the ground.

The confrontation among regional actors over Yemen, the uncertainty of the agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries, Iranian involvement in Iraq and Syria, consolidation of Kurdish groups in both northern Iraq and Syria and the new military cooperation between Turkey and Qatar would force the new government almost immediately to revive Turkey’s position in the Middle east, especially on Syria. The above-mentioned survey showed the clear preference of the Turkish public to do so.

Another important area where the new government might need to make a serious re-evaluation is the country’s connection with the EU. The first reactions from EU officials after the elections were constructive and might provide momentum to frozen relations, which then would substantially affect Turkey’s global positioning.

Finally, Turkey’s positions vis-à-vis negotiations in Cyprus and towards reviving Turkish-Armenian rapprochement need to be determined soon. The first also affects Turkey’s relations with Greece, the second with Azerbaijan, creating difficult triangles to handle.