Is Turkish Foreign Policy Too Ambitious?

In a recent speech, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke about Turkey’s growing influence in shaping the future of the Middle East. For Sami Kohen, Turkey is a capable regional power, but should not overlook the limitations and risks of being too involved in regional affairs.

al-monitor Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu attends a news conference in Vienna March 22, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger.

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turkish foreign policy, justice and development party, justice, davutoglu, akp

Sep 13, 2013

In his recent speech to parliament, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s expressed his views on the Turkish government’s Middle East policy. While he did not break any new ground on the matter, he was much more explicit than he had been in the past and cleared up any confusion about its “mission.”

Here are the most striking points of his speech:

  • “From now on, Turkey will steer the waves of change in the Middle East. We will continue to spearhead this change. So far, we have done what this mission required, and we will continue to do so.”
  • “A new Middle East is coming to life. We will continue to be the owner, the pioneer and the servant of this Middle East, and we will defend it at all times.
  • “Just as we aspire for a new Turkey, we also aspire for a new Middle East.”
  • “The foundation of a new Middle East is peace. No matter what anyone says, Turkey will be the pioneer and spokesman for this peace.”

These words help us understand in which direction the AKP [Justice and Development Party] government would like to steer the Arab Spring. Its basic premise is this: the region is undergoing profound changes and transformations. Given its political and economic capacity, Turkey is a regional power and therefore cannot be a mere spectator. It is Ankara’s duty to have a strong voice in the region by influencing and guiding the developments taking place. In doing so, Turkey adheres to certain principles, such as supporting an awakening civil society and working against archaic dictatorships. Turkey wants to play an active role in creating a new regional order by standing with the masses that want freedom, justice and equality.

In this context, Davutoglu’s remarks about Turkey being the “owner and spearhead” of the Middle East, and steering the change in the region, create new goals, priorities and responsibilities for Turkish foreign policy. The government is increasingly self-confident and sees itself as a power — or even as the Prime Minister said the other day, a “global state” — that will shape the new regional order.

There is no doubt that thinking big, raising the bar, being creative and showing determination are all admirable qualities. But one must carefully consider the limitations and risks affiliated with these issues:

  • Davutoglu’s above remarks may sound sweet to Turkish ears, but how will Middle Eastern countries interpret them? How will they react? We have been hearing more and more complaints from the region about Turkey’s alleged interference. These complaints come not only from Arab countries, but also from countries closely involved with them, such as Russia and Iran.
  • Turkey supports the people and demands regime change in Syria, and these are justifiable actions. But can our government do the same in every situation, and with the same intensity? There are many other dictatorships in the region. Can Ankara abandon bilateral relations and take a firm stand against them as well.
  • By undertaking such a mission as Syria by supporting the opposition and even the armed resistance, Turkey is becoming a party to the conflict. A similar situation is now underway in Iraq. These both have serious risks, and Turkey may have to forfeit any conciliatory or mediating roles between the parties.

In summary, as Davutoglu said, there are many things Turkey can do as a regional power. But it is imperative to know the limitations and risks involved. Claims, expectations and rhetoric must not be overdone.

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