Opposition parties vow to alter Turkey's foreign policy
Turkey’s foreign policy will see few changes if the Justice and Development Party (AKP) remains in power after the June 7 general elections, but it may radically alter if opposition parties form the government, Marmara University scholar Behlül Özkan has told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Considering the manifestos of the major parties, Özkan distinguished between the “imperial” foreign policies of the ruling AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) and the more modest visions of the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Q: What are your general observations when you read the election manifestos of the four parties?
A: In the past we used to separate domestic policy from foreign policy. But currently there is no distinction between internal politics and external politics. What we see from the manifestos is that each party has reflected their domestic political vision onto foreign policy.
The distinction between domestic and foreign is artificial because foreign policy contributes to domestic homogenization, creating a perception of “us” inside against “the other” outside. Internal differences are overcome by uniting “us” against “those outside.”
Let’s start with the AKP then.
The most striking fact is that the AKP is still not facing reality. Turkey has no ambassadors in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Egypt and Israel. But there is no recognition of this fact in the manifesto. There is no mention of Egypt, Libya, Iran, or Greece. The party has gone from “zero problems with neighbors” to a point where it doesn’t even talk about those neighbors. There is mention of countries that Turkey has less problematic relations with, but there is no mention of the Arab uprisings, no vision about this issue. Turkish foreign policy seriously failed in the Arab uprisings, but the AKP doesn’t admit this. We see it only in one instance: When the party says, “We stand on the right side of history.” The message suggests, “Yes, there are serious problems, but the future will prove us right.” The party continues to defend the concept of “precious loneliness,” maintaining that it is right and everyone else is wrong. This is the classic [Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu vision. His vision has marked the party’s manifesto.
Another striking point is about the AKP being the “leader of the region.” It says, “We are a country that leads in the region and in the world. We will never abandon the brotherly people who have tied their hope to us.” The AKP has an ambition to lead the Middle East, but it is based on illusions. When you ask how this leadership can be realized, you do not see any input. But still there is a hidden emphasis that Turkey will “lead the Islamic world.”
Another point to note is the party’s claim to be conducting foreign policy based on values. When you claim that you follow a value-based foreign policy - for instance Turkey acts jointly with Saudi Arabia in Yemen and Syria - on what values are they acting together? Human rights, democracy, the rule of law? These allied regimes are among the most totalitarian regimes in the world. We also know that the AKP does not share the same vision as Saudi Arabia in the Middle East; we saw that in the case of Egypt. This is another contradiction.
But consistency is not something we see in international relations. National interests sometimes lead countries to take contradictory stances.
My criticism is precisely based on that point. If Turkey says that it acts jointly with Saudi Arabia based on its interests, because Saudi Arabia is the most powerful country in the region and this is a realistic approach, then that is understandable. The United States acts closely with Saudi Arabia, but it does not claim to be conducting a values-based foreign policy. If you claim to be basing your foreign policy vision on human rights and democracy, then I ask: How can you make an alliance with Saudi Arabia?
Another point that shows the AKP is not facing reality is the fact that it refers to the civil war in Syria as a “contention.” Hundreds of thousands of people have died over the last four years, millions have been displaced, but the war is still identified as a “contention.” There is an attempt to downplay its importance.
Another issue is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL]. It is only mentioned once in the AKP’s manifesto. There is no sign that the AKP considers ISIL to be an important problem in the Middle East and a threat to Turkey’s national security.
The manifesto includes the sentence: “The AKP has succeeded in foreign policy to a degree incomparable with other governments.” Clearly they ignore their failure in the Middle East.
What about relations with the EU?
There is very little mention of this, especially when compared to the CHP. There are just general views. The EU’s importance in the AKP’s manifesto is no bigger than any other country.
Let’s talk about the CHP.
It doesn’t say so explicitly, but what marks the CHP’s foreign policy stance is “restoration.” It states: “We will close the parenthesis opened by Davutoğlu. We will restore Turkish foreign policy to Turkey’s traditional codes.” The CHP believes Turkey has reached a point of dangerous loneliness. It thinks that the geography surrounding Turkey is full of dangers as well as opportunities. It therefore believes that Turkish foreign policy should be more cautious. It sees Turkey’s current foreign policy as a national security problem.
The essential problem with the CHP is that it makes a foreign policy analysis based on the AKP’s foreign policy, by juxtaposing itself against the AKP. Its approach is that Turkey has very important foreign policy problems, so before putting forward a vision we must first solve these problems and bring about peace and stability.
The EU is at the center of the CHP’s foreign policy. Just as the AKP positions Turkey as the leader of the Islamic world, the CHP positions Turkey as part of Europe. There is a constant emphasis on confidence, welfare, multiculturalism, secularism, respect for convictions, and “peace at home, peace in the world.” There is an emphasis on foreign policy being conducted based on these concepts. The CHP’s target is to heal the wounds opened by the AKP.
The problem here is that the CHP thinks that the AKP’s rule in the short-term. They think “this period will end and we will immediately restore Turkey to its old codes.” But there is a government that has lasted 13 years and the AKP has seriously transformed Turkey. You can’t simply close the parenthesis so easily.
The CHP is still in search of a vision, just like all the other left-wing parties in Europe. We see this in the case of its position on Armenia and Cyprus. There is no new opening. The classic line of the Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic school is endorsed. There is also only a slight mention of Kurds. But there is a Kurdish reality in the Middle East. Will the Kurds beyond our borders be our allies or not? There are no answers to this question from the CHP.
The CHP’s emphasis that “We will not interfere in Egypt’s internal politics” is significant. The CHP identifies foreign policy as non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and states. By contrast, the AKP sees the situation from people to people, and thus identifies with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The CHP promises a normalization of relations with Israel. It also pledges to follow a non-sectarian foreign policy. It has an understanding of identifying Turkey not as a Sunni country, but as a democratic, secular one. The AKP says it represents Islamic leadership and that it will stand with Islamic movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The CHP says it will remain equidistant from everybody.
Let’s continue with the MHP.
The MHP’s rhetoric is based on the “Turkish world.” The MHP is a Turkish nationalist party, so it has the rhetoric of leadership of the Turkish world.
What is striking is that MHP seems to have endorsed some of Davutoğlu’s rhetoric: Being a regional leader, a global power. Just as the constituencies of the two parties are similar, there are also similarities in their foreign policy visions. They both have an imperial vision: Putting Turkey at the center, placing the neighbors around it and establishing hegemonic relations with them.
But the MHP’s foreign policy vision is the most contradictory one among the four main parties. On the one hand there is the claim of being a regional leader and global power, but there is also the rhetoric of respecting territorial integrity and not interfering in the internal affairs of others. You cannot have both claims together.
On the one hand you say that we will side with international law and legitimacy, while on the other you have an imperial vision. The CHP and the HDP have no such imperial visions.
The Kurdish issue is a serious source of concern for the MHP. It talks about maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria. There is not one mention of the word “Kurdish” in the MHP’s manifesto. This is another version of the same problem in the AKP: Turning a blind eye to reality. The Kurds are today the biggest power beyond Turkey’s borders, but the MHP has no answer to the question of how it will conduct relations with them. Rather, there is an emphasis on the Turkmen presence in the region. The party also pledges normalization with Egypt.
Interestingly, the MHP sees Cyprus as a national issue, but also accepts a solution based on a union of federal states. You would perhaps expect more radical rhetoric in terms of supporting the independence of Turkish Cyprus.
What will you say about HDP's foreign policy vision?
Here as well we see the reflection of internal politics on a foreign policy vision. While the MHP ignores the Kurds outside Turkey’s borders, the HDP in contrast uses the rhetoric that all people in the Middle East should decide freely on their political future. This is a veiled message: If the Kurds want to establish independent states, they should be left to do it.
The HDP looks to the Middle East from the perspective of reflections of the democratic will of the people. It mentions the jihadists in the Syrian war, which is a non-existent issue in the manifestos of the other parties. Jihadists are the HDP’s “other.” This is the effect of Kobane and ISIL.
The party’s characterization of borders as artificial is also a veiled message, suggesting that those borders may one day change.
The HDP is a party that positions itself to the far left of the others. It often uses the word “peoples.” It defines foreign policy through the word “peoples.” The classic socialist or communist idiom of “long live the brotherhood of peoples” seems to have affected the HDP’s vision.
But you said the AKP also emphasizes “people”?
There is an essential difference. For one it is “people,” for the other it is the “umma” [community of Islamic believers].
A final word on relations with Armenia. All other parties see relations in terms of Azerbaijan and Nargono Karabakh. The HDP looks at it from a bilateral perspective only. It says it will support solving problems between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but reiterates that the priority is to reopen the border. This is a very realist position.
Prior to the AKP’s period in office, Turkey’s foreign policy did not change radically after elections. How about now?
There is no longer a traditional foreign policy, but rather the AKP’s foreign policy. There won’t be any change if the AKP remains alone in government. But all three opposition parties are against the AKP’s foreign policy, and if they come to power they will all put it aside.