The AKP’s underappreciated foreign policy achievement

The AKP’s underappreciated foreign policy achievement

A recent survey has indicated an unprecedented low in popular approval for the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) foreign policy. As the Hürriyet Daily News reported on July 14, only 41 percent of Turks believe the government’s foreign policy is successful. This result markedly contrasts to 2011 when 71 percent deemed Turkey’s foreign policy as successful. The surveys conducted by MetroPOLL indicate that the precipitous decline is a result of Turkey’s policies in Iraq and Syria, with a majority of Turks wanting their government not to intervene in Middle Eastern conflicts. The post-‘Arab Spring’ Middle East crises have obscured Turkey’s sustained diplomatic success in developing the Caspian-Anatolian regional bloc. Turkey’s consistent advancement of Caspian-Anatolian cooperation, particularly through Turkey’s deepening partnership with Azerbaijan, may be the AKP government’s foreign policy achievement of singular importance for Turkey’s long term geo-strategic position. 

Turkey’s partnership with Azerbaijan in constructing the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), as well as Azerbaijan’s construction of the new STAR oil refinery and the “Aegean Gateway Terminal” container port on Turkey’s Aegean coast, is raising the level of Turkey’s economic partnership with Azerbaijan in the energy and transportation sectors to an unprecedented strategic level. TANAP is expected to be fully operational by 2018 and initially will transport 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas to the EU. The volume of natural gas transported via TANAP to European markets is expected to increase by one billion cubic meters per year particularly as Azerbaijan’s gas-rich, Caspian neighbor Turkmenistan also begins to market its natural gas to Europe via TANAP.

In addition, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway will become operational by the end of 2015 providing the final link in a China-to-Europe overland transport route via Kazakhstan that strategically bypasses the Russian territory entirely. The BTK railway will carry an estimated 10 million tons of Chinese goods from Azerbaijan for further transport across Turkey to European markets. The BTK railway is also being constructed to accommodate the shipment of oil exports from Kazakhstan’s Kashagan oil field in the Caspian Sea, the largest oil discovery in the last forty years. 

While Turkey and Azerbaijan have already partnered to establish the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, TANAP, the STAR refinery, and Aegean Gateway Terminal, taken together with the BTK railway will create an energy and commercial transport corridor bridging Asia and Europe. The continued deepening of the Turkey-Azerbaijan partnership is creating the framework for wider Caspian-Anatolian cooperation from which a new “Capanatolian” geo-political reality is emerging. In 2010, Turkey and Azerbaijan signed an Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Mutual Support that in some manner resembles the Franco-German 1963 Élysée Treaty of Friendship that created the political mechanism for Franco-German cooperation in the creation of what today is the European Union. The European integration project was driven foremost by the economic cooperation of the Franco-German partnership. A parallel level of economic cooperation in the fields of energy and commercial transport is emerging from the Turkish-Azerbaijani partnership that could become its functional equivalent.  The participation of Georgia and the Caspian littoral states of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan could lead to something resembling the 1950s European Coal and Steel Community, the first institution of European integration.

Indeed, the first trilateral summit of the presidents of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia was held in May 2014. Twenty days later, the first trilateral summit of the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan occurred, with Ankara playing a pivotal role in repairing the strained relations between Baku and Ashgabat. The planned institutionalization of these summit meetings and the regularization of high-level bureaucratic coordination seem to indicate that the Turkey-Azerbaijan partnership has succeeded in laying the basis for a wider Caspian-Anatolian regional organization and the momentum Caspanatolian integration. On June 30, Turkmenistan decided to open an embassy in Tbilisi to develop interstate relations. Aligning with Turkish popular sentiment, Turkey’s role in advancing Caspian-Anatolian cooperation is the AKP’s most underappreciated foreign policy achievement.

*Micha’el Tanchum is a fellow at Shalem College, Jerusalem, and at the Middle East and Asia Units, Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, Hebrew University. Dr. Tanchum also teaches in the Department of Middle Eastern History, Tel Aviv University.