An end to Turkey’s rise as an emerging power?
The first decade of the 21st century highlighted Turkey’s rise as an emerging power in an always unstable region from Eurasia to the Balkans and the Middle East to North Africa. Consecutive reform packages on democracy and human rights helped Turkey attain historic gains by launching full membership negotiations with the European Union in 2005, granting the country important credibility around the entire world.
Turkey was introduced as a model country for those in the Muslim world who were seeking a magic formula to ensure sustainable development. In this period, the Justice and Development Party-led (AKP) democratization process has proven that a Muslim country with secular roots can in fact bring about change. That was the message then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, now the president, delivered to the world in a keynote statement in a visit to Egypt in 2011.
A stable political environment under AKP governments introduced an unprecedented economic jump with an average annual growth rate not less than 5 percent. Turkey’s economic and political performance introduced favorable conditions for foreign direct investments with so many important global corporations choosing Turkish soil in their relocation or investment plans. Turkey’s income per capita reached $10,000 in the same period with prospects that it could be doubled over the next decade.
On foreign policy, Turkey’s ability to talk with all parties in the region allowed the country to play the role of an honest broker between Israel and Syria, Israel and Palestine as well as Iran and the world powers. It launched trilateral mechanisms in the Balkans and Caucasus to weather differences between regional countries. As a result of an active foreign policy, Turkey was elected as a temporary member of the U.N. Security Council in a sign of its successful performance in the international arena.
Efforts to resolve the decades-old Kurdish question through peaceful means and to write the country’s first civilian constitution were all launched in this period.
Today’s Turkey, however, is far from this picture. Turkey stands as a highly isolated country in its region with not many friends and is vulnerable to growing security challenges, while its recent rhetoric about a change in foreign policy has been greeted only cautiously by the world.
The return to military means for the resolution of the Kurdish question makes a foreign policy change almost impossible, as the issue has undeniable links with the ongoing turmoil in Syria.
The Syrian unrest has caused two major problems for Turkey: It has to shelter and take care of the 3 million Syrians that have cost a fortune for the Turkish economy, apart from social and political problems. Second, the major byproduct is the terror attacks posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) inside Turkey that, along with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have turned the entire country into a potential target. Hundreds of civilians and security officers have lost their lives in scores of such attacks in different parts of Turkey.
Due to the growing security problems as well as the ongoing spat with Russia, the number of foreign tourists has shown a sharp decrease, depriving the Turkish economy of a lucrative source of revenue. Many big foreign corporations have either passed into the wait-and-see position or suspended the launch of new projects at a moment when the Turkish Lira is steadily weakening against leading currencies.
The image of the country in the Western world has never been poorer with concerns about the authoritarian inclinations of the Turkish leadership. Even true friends of Turkey are no longer hesitating in expressing their concerns that “The way Turkey is going is not right” but can hardly find a sound response from the Turkish capital.
As of mid-2016, suggesting that Turkey’s rise has come to an end, amid little optimism that it could soon be reversed, would not be wrong.