Turkish foreign policy in fall

Turkish foreign policy in fall

It has been almost a month since the autumnal equinox. We are now deep in fall. This is the season when foreign policies are fine-tuned, reviewed and reformulated. There are several reasons for this.

First and foremost it is the requirement of the international agenda; in fall, the United Nations General Assembly begins its new session. Second, spring and summer months generally witness active developments in international affairs; confrontations grow into hot conflicts and wars erupt. We witnessed this not only at the start of the two world wars but also during the last two decades of recent history. Foreign policy, therefore, becomes a major discussion in many circles in the autumn; it is the same in Turkey.

This year, Turkey had an additional reason to focus on foreign policy issues. On Oct. 16, the new non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the term 2015-2016 were elected. Turkey, Spain and New Zealand were the candidates of the West European and Others Group.

The latter two were elected, Turkey was not. If one makes the comparison with the achievement in Turkish foreign policy in 2008 when the country was elected as a non-permanent member of the UNSC for the term 2009-2010, this result would appear to be disappointing. It would therefore be necessary to look into the causes of such a reverse.

Prevailing conditions in the neighborhood dictate that Turkey is and will be compelled to have the Middle East, eastern Mediterranean and North Africa as a major focus in its foreign policy. The Arab revival in the region starting from the end of 2010 onward obliges Turkey not to remain indifferent to the attempts of its neighbors to transform from authoritarian societies into reasonable forms of democracies. This, however, ignites a growing perception in Turkey’s strategic allies that Turkey is leaning toward a cultural estrangement from the West in general, which may result in strategic repercussions. Is the common ground of shared values bonding Turkey and its allies withering away? The Western reply to that question would hardly affirm that Turkey has been successful in convincing them to the contrary.

Developments in North Africa and the Middle East raised question marks in the neighborhood too, particularly among Arab countries and the Islamic world, about Turkey’s foreign policy conduct. In general, Turkey appeared to pursue a consistent policy of non-participation in foreign military interventions into the countries of the region. Turkey’s contribution to operations were limited to humanitarian purposes. This did not change in Iraq, nor in Libya. The following democratization processes in all the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries, however, created a perception in the region that Turkey was not genuinely interested in the democratization of those societies but rather in their transformation into more religious political regimes. Was Turkey pursuing a sectarian or a factionist policy in the region? Turkey’s friends who had appreciated Turkey’s proactive foreign policy conduct prior to the Arab revival, this time failed to hail Turkey’s approach to the unfolding events in the region in the post-revival period. Some observers argued that an acutely graphic demonstration of this confusing policy was illustrated particularly in Egypt.

Finally, in Syria, Turkey found itself in an entirely different position from both its allies and its neighbors. For the first time, Turkey appeared to be willing to become more actively involved in a military coalition if it would ultimately end up with the demise of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syria has been in turmoil since 2011. True, Turkey has done its utmost at all levels to secure a peaceful transformation of the Syrian political system into a democratic one. Turkey also extended a devoted humanitarian assistance and support to Syrians by welcoming approximately 2 million refugees onto its territory.

It is also a fact, however, that the summer of 2014 has witnessed the unfolding of a new phenomenon in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). There is a general understanding that the immediate threat to security and stability is the growing terrorism in the region which is spearheaded by the ISIL militia. According to the rest of the international community, Turkey has failed to identify the bigger threat in the region and created the perception that it is reluctant to participate in combat against terror but favors targeting al-Assad.

Regrettably, Turkey’s incapacity to change the perceptions about its image has resulted in isolation and alienation. The result of the vote for UNSC, therefore, should not be surprising. As the autumn evolves, the winter solstice appears on the horizon; it will be the darkest day of the year. One hopes that Turkey will not experience it literally.

In 2014, however, this is the appearance of Turkish foreign policy in fall.

Ünal Çeviköz is Turkey’s former ambassador to the United Kingdom.