Turkey extensively uses its soft power through COVID-19 aids
An important, but ignored, aspect regarding the global fight against the novel coronavirus has been international cooperation.
So contagious and spreading so quickly, COVID-19 has caught almost all countries in the world, even the most developed ones, off-guard and in shortage of medical equipment, masks, protective gear, ventilators and respirators.
The virus hit many countries so strongly that it collapsed their entire healthcare systems and left them desperate. In many cases, calls for help from most virus-hit countries were not be answered by their fellow countries, causing a deep frustration with humanity.
In such a context, Turkey has distinguished itself by trying to respond to the calls for help from a number of countries.
In an interview with the private broadcaster NTV over the weekend, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu informed that Turkey lent support to 44 countries out of 116 which have demanded medical supplies since the pandemic hit the world. Turkey is also fighting the outbreak and has needs, Çavuşoğlu stressed, underlining that Turkish aids will continue provided that it does not lack necessary medical equipment.
This is very much in line with the importance attached to humanitarian diplomacy which has become one of the important pillars of Turkish foreign policy in recent years.
According to the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report, Turkey has continued to be the biggest donor country of the world in 2018 with an official humanitarian aid of $8.4 billion. Turkey has remained as the “most generous country” in 2018 in terms of official humanitarian assistance to its national income with 0.79 percent of its Gross National Income.
Surely, the pandemic has complicated internal and foreign politics. The opposition leaders, who normally don’t object foreign aids, have now criticized the government for helping other countries while the country itself is suffering from the shortage of medical equipment. The government, on the other hand, has not been that transparent on which of the shipments were a donation and which ones were for sale.
A quick analysis of the Turkish assistance during the pandemic days reveals some important points and gives clues over the post-COVID-19 foreign policy of the government. One of the first countries Turkey delivered equipment was Italy and Spain, the most virus-hit countries in Europe. The aids were carried out through a NATO emergency agency and have received appreciation from the alliance.
In Mediterranean solidarity, Turkey, thus, found the chance to thank both countries who deployed air defense systems on the Turkish lands to protect the Turkish airspace against a potential attack by the Syrian regime. Spain still has a Patriot contingent in Turkey, while Italians withdrew their system late 2019. Both nations are traditionally supportive of Turkey’s full membership to the European Union and a gesture from Turkey will not be forgotten.
Plus, according to some experts, Turkey’s aids to these countries in need would help repair its broken image in the continent. It would result in a smoother dialogue between Ankara and Brussels thanks to a focus on civilian matters.
Turkey’s cooperation with the United Kingdom has been attention-drawing in this period and in the context of Brexit. Turkey’s shipment of protective gear and other equipment has been warmly praised by the British government and people, creating a new and solid bond between the two non-EU countries.
Turkey’s help to Balkan countries, Azerbaijan and Middle Eastern countries do reflect its focus on its immediate neighborhood. Palestine, Somalia and Libya are also on the list.
Turkish foreign policy, for a very long time, has been associated with the use of hard power in multiple fronts, in Syria, Libya and in the eastern Mediterranean. With the postponement of all these geopolitical conflicts to the post-pandemic period, Turkey has found an opportunity to reverse its image by the extensive use of its soft power.