Re-allying with old allies
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
AA photoAs NATO prepares to announce the completion of the first important phase of its ambitious nuclear missile defense system during the alliance’s Chicago summit this month, Turkey’s decision last September to host the early warning radar system for the shield has proved to be a turning point in the government’s relations with the West, said Professor Mustafa Aydın, the rector of Kadir Has University. Aydın is also the head of the International Relations Council, which has been organizing brain-storming meetings on security issues in several cities throughout Turkey on the occasion of Turkey’s 60th year of NATO membership. By hosting the radars, “the government chooses its side. It gives the message to the world that Turkey will continue to act with the West,” he said.
Meanwhile with his recent statement that Turkey will lead the wave of change in the Middle East, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has announced the end of the “zero problems with neighbors” policy. “In the past Turkey used to say, ‘I am indifferent to who is in the government. I will be friends with everybody.’ Now it says, ‘I determine the people and administrations with which I will be friends and I will make sure they come to power in the government,’” Aydın told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Q: What was the feedback you received from the meetings you held in different cities in Turkey?
A. We also conduct opinion polls, and we can test the views in the polls during our talks. Turks continue to surprise. In general, 60 to 70 percent of Turks believe Turkey should continue to be a member of NATO. But Turks still don’t have a clear idea of what NATO is. We are not sure what it is. We sort of feel it’s a good thing and provides security, but we have no clue as to how it functions. Yet the importance of NATO is the fact that we have an equal say with other members. We have veto power. Nothing objected to by Turkey can become a decision in NATO. But [in the eyes of the people] it is as if there is an international organization there which is controlled especially by the United States. Americans use NATO to accomplish what they want. The impression among ordinary citizens is that Turkey is a weak country and that Turkey is forced to accept things contradictory to its will. Obviously this is not the reality. NATO gives us the means to be in the game and to affect the decisions that are being made. This, however, is not known by the people.
Q: It seems that this misperception has existed for the past 60 years.
A: When you go to another NATO member, people can severely criticize the alliance. But they will say, “We, NATO.” In Turkey, both the politicians and the people talk as if NATO forms policies and Turkey does not contribute to these policies, as if we are not in NATO or as if we are not taken seriously in NATO. This has not been explained to the people for 60 years. But I am not suggesting that people are totally influenced by politicians. Sometimes politicians act accordingly as they see this is the feeling among the people.
Q: What are the other points Turks continue to find surprising?
A: Actually, we’ve started not to get surprised at this point. In Turkey we have internalized the concept of “There is no other friend to a Turk than a Turk.” Everybody is our enemy; we should trust no one but ourselves. You can see this type of feeling in other countries as well, but in Turkey’s case this goes to the extreme. In opinion polls you have around 70 percent of people saying Turkey should act alone. I call this “the lone wolf syndrome.” You can feel this during the meetings as well. Conspiracy theories are extremely widespread.
Q: What is the role of NATO in Turkey’s foreign policy?
A: Very important. If I had to say it in one phrase; it’s Turkey’s link to the West. NATO is the strongest and only institution in Turkey’s decades-long integration efforts to the West. Our position with the European Union is unclear, it’s not clear what the Council of Europe is; at the end of the day we are also a member of UEFA. But at the end of the day when we talk about security, NATO is the nearest point we are in regarding the Western decision-making mechanism. There is a Western alliance that came out victorious from the Cold War, defeating its rival. We in Turkey never felt that we were in the winning part of the alliance. This of course has to do with the fact that Turkey became surrounded by several conflicts after the Cold War. But it has also to do with the fact that we never totally felt a part of that club. But when you look today at the powers that are shaping the world, when we look to where decisions are made behind closed doors, well, one of the places where decisions are taken is NATO.
Q: But at one stage the relevance of NATO has been questioned.
A: Yes, but NATO changed its function. There was no reason for NATO to continue its Cold War presence the way it did. NATO was formed to counter nuclear or non-nuclear threats from the Soviet Union and as the Soviet Union collapsed it was clear there was no need for that type of NATO. But in time we started to face international terrorism problems, cyber attacks etc. The issue of international intervention came on the agenda. Who is going to do that? Leave aside military operations. When you want to take humanitarian aid to a crisis region in the word, you rely on NATO’s infrastructure and experience. NATO is still relevant today since it has transformed itself. NATO is still very important today for providing security to Turkey. There is no conventional threat for Turkey to fear, but this is not the case when we are talking about unconventional threats. Turkey is still under the NATO umbrella when it comes to countering threats of ballistic missiles or nuclear arms. The primary reason why we have entered into NATO’s nuclear defense shield system is the fact that we do not have our own national nuclear defense system.
Q: Many believe Turkey’s decision to host the radars for NATO’s nuclear defense shield was a turning point in Turkey’s relations with the alliance and the U.S. Do you share this view?
A: I agreed that it has been a very important turning point, but this decision was not just limited to refreshing mutual confidence. I look at the bigger picture. Turkey’s links to the West were questioned. Recall the discussions on whether Turkey was changing its axis. There was confusion. The [nuclear defense shield] decision is a psychological sign that Turkey, under the ruling Justice and Development Party, has chosen its side. What does Turkey want? It wants to be powerful in its region. It wants to have good relations in its neighborhood. But when it comes to joint decisions about the future of the world, Turkey says “We still want to move together with the West and want to cooperate more with the U.S.,” and this [hosting the radars] is not an isolated decision. Look at the change in rhetoric of the politicians. Take the example of Syria. Turkey and the U.S. have similar policies and similar rhetoric on Syria. It was absolutely the opposite a bit ago. Turkey’s prime minister went to Egypt and told the Egyptians to have a secular constitution. Was his message to Egyptians, to Turks or to the West? We need to ask this question as the amount of oil bought from Iran starts to diminish. All these are messages that say “I will act with the West in shaping the world; I want to be an influential country in this region, but I’ll do this without cutting my links to the West.”
Q: How do you assess Davutoğlu’s last speech where he said Turkey will lead the wave of change in the Middle East?
A: Some elements of his speech already existed in the foreign policy discourse of the past year. He had already said that Turkey will set the order. States can come up in certain periods with foreign policy visions or doctrines. In the U.S. we witnessed such doctrines like the Reagan doctrine or the Bush doctrine. This has nearly never happened in Turkey. There has been only one foreign policy vision of that type in the republic’s history and that was “Peace at home, peace in the world.” From the time he became foreign minister to now, in four years time, we’ve heard two statements of vision which have been in contradiction to each other. “Zero problems with neighbors” was a big doctrinaire statement. You might agree or disagree. A rhetoric was endorsed. We explained it to the world. But the latest statement is a totally different vision. The minister himself announced the end of the “zero problems with neighbors” policy.
Q: What makes it is so contradictory?
A: Because it presents a very different vision. You say “I will be the one to enforce the change, to stand behind the change.” In the “zero problems” policy you said, “I am indifferent to the rulers in a region. I will solve the problems we have with them. I will befriend everybody. I’ll be their friend and brother.” Right now you say “I am interested in who is in power in the region. I am interested in what kind of people are in government. I will make the effort to change them.” You no longer say “I will be friends with everybody.” You say “I have established the people and administrations whom I will befriend and I will make sure they come to power.” This is similar to Clinton’s doctrine, which was based on the promotion of democracy.
WHO IS MUSTAFA AYDIN?
Professor Mustafa Aydın was appointed Rector of Kadir Has University in February 2010. Prior to that he served as head of the Department of International Relations at Ankara’s University of Economics and Technology
As a guest researcher and visiting professor, Aydın has worked at the University of Michigan (1998), Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government (2002) and the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (2003).
He is a member of the International Studies Association (ISA), the Turkish Atlantic Council, the Turkish Political Sciences Association, the European Society for Central Asian Studies (ESCAS). Aydın’s academic interests include foreign policy analysis, security policies of Turkey, and Eurasian politics.