Turkey is located between some of the most penetrated and volatile regions in the world, namely the Middle East, the Balkans, Caucasia and the Eastern Mediterranean. Political and economic instability, historical and cultural problems, and the interference of global powers make it difficult for regional countries to pursue an independent foreign policy since these regions are among the main geographies used and sacrificed for the global power calculations. Having to define Turkey’s foreign policy, it can be said that throughout the 20th century Turkey followed a mainly pro-Western foreign policy. Accordingly, as a member of the NATO alliance, as well as many other European institutions, Ankara followed a Western-oriented foreign policy in the context of the Cold War.
In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, similar to many international actors, Turkey attempted to restructure its foreign policy. Ankara has been pursuing a proactive, dynamic, Ankara-centered, multidimensional, multilateral and balanced foreign policy at both the regional and global levels since the early days of the 21st century. For this purpose, the AK
Party governments, since 2002, initiated a comprehensive reform program in economic, political, social and cultural spheres in both domestic and foreign settings. As a geographical bridge, Turkey began to balance its Westward and Eastward relations. While traditional orientation such as the accession process with the European Union and the continuation of being a member in the
Western alliance, Turkey began to implement new strategies such as the “zero problems policy with neighbors” and to initiate new openings towards different regions such as the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and East Asia in its foreign policy. New areas, dimensions, regions, subjects and actors appeared in Turkey’s foreign policy.
Turkey has established new governmental and sub-governmental institutions in order to achieve its newly defined foreign policy strategies. The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) was established in 1992 to improve cooperation between Turkey and Turkic Central Asian Republics. Today it is one of the most well-known actors of Turkey’s of soft power. Yunus Emre Institute, the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB), the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) are some other new actors and instruments of the soft power of Turkey. Besides, some old state institutions such as the Turkish Red Crescent (Türk Kızılayı) and the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı) have redefined their areas of activity and truly become international and transnational actors contributing to Turkey’s foreign policy.
Most notably in the last few years, Turkey has strengthened the humanitarian dimension of its foreign policy. Hosting more than three million refugees, Ankara is now one of the leading donor countries to the humanitarian crises of the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and even Latin America –the most distant lands to Turkey. As it is argued in this issue by Fuat Keyman, Turkey has established a balance between its realist strategies and humane/moral dimensions. Turkey’s open door policy regarding the Syrian crisis has resulted in more than 3.5 million refugees settling in the country to whom the Turkish government still provides shelter and food without much international support. Similarly, Turkey has been providing food and other humanitarian assistance to Somalia which still faces a serious threat of famine. Overall, Turkey’s direct humanitarian and developmental assistance spreads from Haiti in the Caribbean Sea to the Arakan region in Myanmar.
Nevertheless, realism has been shaping the current Turkish foreign policy in terms of the struggle that Turkey is facing against terrorist organizations such as FETÖ, PKK/YPG and their offshoots or ISIS. Operation Euphrates Shield has been a successful strategy followed by Turkey not only to protect its national interests but at the same time to help in solving the bloody quagmire in Syria and Iraq.
In recent years, Turkey began to attach greater emphasis on regional states and its neighboring countries. Turkey, who defines its neighborhood in an inclusive way, has established “joint cabinet meetings” which are called “high-level cooperation councils” with 21 different countries including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Greece, Ukraine and Russia, in order to improve cooperation mechanisms at both regional and global levels.
The economy, with a special focus on sources of energy has been another driving force of the Turkish foreign policy. Turkey has been following a liberal economic foreign policy to complement its resolve for diplomatic rapprochement. While trying to increase its exports by following an export-led economic strategy, Turkey is also attempting to attract more foreign direct investment to the country. Due to its emphasis on economic development and economic growth, many analysts have labelled Turkey a trading state. Moreover, Turkey aims to become an energy hub, and considering the latest developments, it can be argued that Turkey can soon achieve this goal, which will further increase its role in the region and beyond.
As a result, Turkey is now a pivotal regional state as well as an increasingly global power and emerging market. It takes initiatives in almost all regional issues and has begun to get involved more in global issues. However, at the same time, it faces too many challenges and threats emanating mainly from the neighboring states and regional conflicts. The main challenge for Turkey is to overcome these security threats.
There are many regional crises such as those in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Ukraine that constitute vital threats to Turkey as well as to other regional countries. Since there is no consensus or joint commitment to engage in these regional issues between regional and global powers, Turkey needed to take unilateral steps in order to maximize its national security and/or to minimize its costs. Turkey
has been proposing solutions to regional problems that will satisfy all related actors and will provide regional stability. It asks for gradual political change and appeals for a more participatory political order at both regional and global levels. Taking all these developments into consideration, this new issue of Insight Turkey focuses on Turkey’s dynamics and transforming foreign policy orientation and addresses a salient question: Reform or reset? What has happened with Turkey’s foreign policy in the last few years? Three commentaries and six articles –that focus mainly on Turkey’s foreign policy– will help the readers to answer this question.