Turkey lacks staff and fund for regional role

Turkey lacks staff and fund for regional role

Sibel Utku Bila ANKARA
Turkey lacks staff and fund for regional role

Turkish Deputy PM Babacan (R) and Foreign Minister Davutoğlu are included in the Top 100 Influential People in the World List released by the Time magazine. AA photo

Over the past decade Turkey may have significantly boosted its profile in the Middle East, but it still has a large gap to close between its expectations and capabilities in order to become a true “regional power,” according to a study by the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

The report, which examined Turkey’s clout in the diplomatic, economic and “soft power” areas, called for comprehensive joint efforts by the state, the private sector and civic society in all three fields as “a great disparity exists between the role that Turkey wants to play and the capacity it has.”

It also cautioned that Turkey’s newly-found regional influence could be short-lived. “We cannot say that regional actors, be them small or big, are following Turkey’s lead. The current attention accorded to Turkey is at the level of just sympathy. Any mistakes or Arab misunderstanding of certain rhetoric or policies hold the potential of quickly eroding the favorable attitudes that Turkey enjoys,” it said.

The study found that the Turkish Foreign Ministry was severely underfunded and understaffed when compared to those of leading nations. Its budget of €436 million is the lowest among 10 countries, including both global heavyweights and emerging powers, such as India and Brazil. With 5,533 employees, the ministry is better staffed than Brazil and India, but lags well behind Britain and France, who employ 17,100 and 15,008 people respectively. The report also stressed that only 26 diplomats spoke Arabic which hampers the “penetration of local information resources.”

In the economic field, trade with regional countries is booming, but Turkish exports are easily-replaceable cheap goods, with high-technology products making up only 3.5 percent of the total, the report said. Turkey had failed to determine any “centers of gravity” for trade, which could turn into a major disadvantage in the future, the report concluded.

In terms of “soft power,” Turkish soap operas enjoy vast popularity in the region and tourism is flourishing. The Turkish media, however, is almost absent from the Arab-language realm and Turkey has little clout in influencing the regional news agenda, the report said, adding that TRT’s Arab-language channel lagged behind competitors from Iran, France, Germany, China and the United States.

The study also cautioned that the popularity of Turkish soap operas in Arab countries does not necessarily mean there is a positive perception of Turkey. The report cited a public opinion poll conducted in Jordan in which 83 percent of respondents said they watched Turkish shows, but that 51 percent viewed them as “a cultural attack” with “disguised secularist values,” and 47 percent said they had a negative influence on local youth. The report did not include an assessment of Turkey’s military power.

USAK analysts cautioned against any unilateral Turkish military action in Syria when speaking at a press conference where the report was presented yesterday. USAK chairman Özdem Sanberk said he did not expect an international consensus on a military intervention in the short-run. Because the channels for a negotiated settlement are also blocked, Syria is braced for more bloodshed and uncertainty, he said.