Impacts of non-career envoys on Turkish diplomacy

Impacts of non-career envoys on Turkish diplomacy

As Turkey sits at the crossroads of three continents with huge opportunities but at the same multiple challenges and risks, it has to dote on three main institutions – the Foreign Ministry, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) – to manage and capitalize its geopolitical privilege.

The last 30 years have proven that this neighborhood has offered more challenges than opportunities, more armed conflicts than peace treaties, more terrorist activities than peaceful civilian-political engagements.

Therefore, keeping Turkey least affected by the regional and global turbulences, securing its borders, citizens and interests and turning it into an island of stability despite malign and disruptive trends require strong and institutionalized coordination between these three government offices. But, before that, one has to be sure that each separate institution functions in the most efficient way.

This column will look into the diplomatic part of this equation. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has always been regarded as one of the most respective diplomacies in the world with a strong and long tradition of diplomacy inherited from the Ottoman Empire as well as competent diplomats with reputable diplomatic skills. This assessment is very much in line with the observations of this columnist who has been covering Turkish foreign policy for a quarter-century.

This reputation of Turkish diplomacy has not come by chance. All leaders and governments that have ruled Turkey since 1923 paid the utmost attention to keep the Foreign Ministry uncontaminated by daily internal politics. The intact principle of meritocracy also helped the Foreign Ministry perform its duties in the best way while keeping the ministry’s integrity.

In today’s Turkey, however, there are concerns that this tradition is in a process of abandonment. The criticism is founded on two main recent trends: The weight and role of the Foreign Ministry, as an institution, in the foreign policymaking process have diminished. And secondly, the rise in the number of non-career ambassadors who are now serving from Japan to the Netherlands, from Czech Republic to Malaysia.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had informed a parliamentary budget panel in late 2019 that the government had appointed 24 non-career diplomats, and this figure would just be normal when considering that Turkey has 246 diplomatic representations in the world. This number is now 25, as Ozan Ceyhun has recently been appointed as Turkey’s ambassador to Austria.

There are two main observations concerning these appointments: First, it’s no longer an exceptional move, but is becoming a trend. Second, all these envoys are either former members of the parliament from the ranks of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) or presidential advisors. It would eventually further politicize the ministry.

This rise in the number of politically-appointed envoys increases resentment among the career diplomats of the Foreign Ministry as professional diplomacy requires a lot of personal commitment.

At the Foreign Ministry, there are currently around 50 diplomats at the level of ambassadors who are waiting to be assigned. Some very qualified ambassadors have chosen to retire before the retirement age.

Of course, all the governments have the right to choose with whom they would like to work. But the implementation of this right should not weaken the institutional capacity and not offend the diplomats who devote their lives to safeguard the rights and interests of this country. It should not be forgotten that the only way for a sustainable foreign policy is to keep institutions strong and functional.