Foreign policy under Erdoğan: What will change?

Foreign policy under Erdoğan: What will change?

The question many people are asking now that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has effectively been ousted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is what the new direction in Turkey’s foreign policy will be, if indeed there is a new direction.

Hürriyet Daily News Editor-in-Chief Murat Yetkin’s assessment on this score seems to be correct. It was not Davutoğlu’s foreign policy but Erdoğan’s to start with, so one can assume there will be no radical change in this respect. 

One could argue in retrospect that it was Davutoğlu’s attempts to put his own mark on foreign policy that brought on his undoing in the final analysis. This was too much for Erdoğan, who clearly has his own idea about what Turkey’s relations with other countries or international organizations should be.

Erdoğan’s salvo at the EU immediately after it became clear that Davutoğlu would be removing himself from the political scene gave an early indication of what the tone in Ankara’s ties with Europe will be. 

Erdoğan’s language in this respect is the language of brinkmanship and given his populism one can assume that this tone will not change for the sake of diplomatic niceties. 

The reaction from Europe to Erdoğan’s defiance shows that these ties will not be any more comfortable than they were under Davutoğlu and have a good chance of becoming even worse.

When it comes to Turkey’s ties with the U.S., it is no secret that Erdoğan is not one of Washington’s favorite leaders. Washington continues to openly express its concern over the deteriorating state of democracy in Turkey, much to Erdoğan’s annoyance. 

There are also serious differences over Syria, especially with regard to the group both countries support in northern Syria, and there is no indication that these differences will be overcome soon. One can therefore assume that ties with the U.S. will also remain strained once Erdoğan takes full hold of the reins of power in Turkey. 

Despite this less than ideal situation in Ankara’s ties with the West, Erdoğan will still not be much perturbed because Europe and the U.S. need Turkey’s support on a host of issues. 

This will enable him to keep mounting his hobby horse and blasting at the West, knowing that this goes down well among his grassroots supporters. 

Erdoğan also knows that the West, much to the annoyance of liberal quarters in Europe and America, will not risk ties with Turkey simply because of Erdoğan. There is too much for them to lose.

So the angry tone in Erdoğan’s approach to the West will most likely continue and result in more tensions but will not lead to any major severance due to the situation prevailing in the Middle East and the refugee crisis, both of which require cooperation with Ankara.

Erdoğan will use this situation to his advantage and keep forcing the limits.

Turkey’s estrangement with various other countries, starting with Russia and Egypt, is also unlikely to change in the near future. These are pet topics of Erdoğan’s, especially in his addresses to his Islamist supporters, and he is not expected to adopt a more pragmatic and diplomatic stance to improve ties with these countries.

Many wonder about ties with Israel of course and even Erdoğan has said the reality of the region requires that these ties are improved. Despite his remark the talks which are said to be ongoing to secure rapprochement between Turkey and Israel have still not produced results, and it is not clear when they will.

It will take one hostile remark from Erdoğan about Israel to put paid to these efforts.

Erdoğan has made it clear in his various addresses in recent weeks that what lies in his heart of hearts is to somehow raise Turkey to the level of leadership in the Islamic world. He continues to believe that Turkey is the only country that is qualified to do this at the moment.

There is no indication however that the Islamic world is prepared to accept Turkey as a primus inter pares (first among equals) country and so while Erdoğan will undoubtedly continue to pay much lip service to the idea that Islamic countries should overcome their differences and stand united against a calculated and self-interest West, the chances of this happening do not look very great.

All in all one can say that it will be much the same in terms of Turkey’s relations with the outside world once Erdoğan takes full hold of the reins, except with one proviso. These relations could get worse while they remain on the same trajectory because of Erdoğan’s unpredictability and ability to undermine diplomatic efforts with bellicose remarks.

But Erdoğan will still be able to maintain his position because he knows that even if he is not the West’s favorite leader, Europe and the U.S. will continue to need Turkey’s support on a score of issues for the foreseeable future.