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Observers of Turkish foreign policy agree that it has entered a new era of activism over the last decade. In line with its new perception of its role in the world, Turkey has increasingly asserted itself as a rising actor that is determined to make a unique contribution to regional and global affairs. In the process, Turkish foreign policy has been transformed, not only in its content, but also in the instruments and mechanisms for formulating and conducting a proactive foreign-policy agenda. Most attention has been focused on the various regions and issue areas in which Turkey's activism has been demonstrated, and less on Turkey's major restructuring of the institutional architecture to support its new regional and global agenda. Increasingly, Turkish foreign policy has gained a liberal character, in both its formulation and execution, as various actors have become influential in the policy-making processes and a wide array of new liberal instruments has been added to the toolkit of Turkish diplomats.

A LIBERAL TURN

  1. Top of page
  2. A LIBERAL TURN
  3. ECONOMIC INTERDEPENDENCE
  4. HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL DIALOGUE
  5. DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE
  6. CULTURAL DIPLOMACY
  7. PUBLIC DIPLOMACY
  8. CONCLUSION

In many ways, the transformation of Turkey's foreign-policy practices reflects the effect of a more liberal understanding of international relations. A cursory look at the various terms used to summarize the principles of Turkish foreign policy makes this point clear: multidimensional diplomacy, cooperation, zero problems with neighbors, visa liberalization, win-win strategies, limitless cooperation, conflict resolution, mediation, defending democratic ideals and demanding a just international order, among other things.

For instance, let us take the example of Turkey's approach to conflict resolution. It rejects coercive instruments and relies heavily on diplomacy, engagement and dialogue with parties to conflicts. While avoiding taking sides in these conflicts, Ankara argues for the inclusion of major stakeholders in political processes. Prioritizing multilateralism over unilateralism, it seeks to address regional crises with broad-based participation. Likewise, Turkey has been promoting closer economic integration in the neighboring regions and beyond in an effort to deepen interdependence. This reflects very well the liberal functionalist approach to international cooperation, with its emphasis on institutionalization.

Moreover, Turkey's recent activism has also exhibited elements of the liberal-internationalist tradition that highlights the role of justice. Turkish leaders have vocally criticized existing international economic and political orders, arguing that the institutions of global governance need to be redesigned in an inclusive manner so that a new system based on justice and equality can be erected. In recent years, Turkey has also moved further in the direction of defending the principles of democracy and human rights, especially in the context of the political transformation in the Middle East and North Africa.

Turkey's pursuit of these revolutionary initiatives in its region and internationally has been driven to a large extent by the growing number of actors that are now offering their unique input into policy-making processes. Various nongovernmental actors that represent Turkey's flourishing civil society, including such diverse institutions as economic interest groups and humanitarian-aid organizations, have advocated for a proactive foreign policy and as such precipitated Turkey's new worldwide openings. Now, Turkish foreign-policy makers have to respond to a wider array of demands as they conduct the country's international relations. This diversification, moreover, suggests that they also have a larger set of instruments to draw on as they launch new policies to advance the country's regional and global agenda. Indeed, Turkey's soft power now comprises, among others things, cultural diplomacy, development assistance and mediation services.

Let's take a closer look at the new instruments at Turkish diplomats’ disposal and the institutions created to support this new foreign policy.

ECONOMIC INTERDEPENDENCE

  1. Top of page
  2. A LIBERAL TURN
  3. ECONOMIC INTERDEPENDENCE
  4. HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL DIALOGUE
  5. DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE
  6. CULTURAL DIPLOMACY
  7. PUBLIC DIPLOMACY
  8. CONCLUSION

Economic factors have increasingly occupied a major role in the making of Turkish foreign policy. As Turkey has set itself the objective of becoming one of the 10 largest economies in the world by 2023, the nexus between economics and politics has been particularly visible in its international relations. Turkey's impressive economic performance in recent years has distinguished it in its region and worldwide, especially at a time when many other countries have experienced the negative effects of the global financial crisis and its aftermath. It is true that Turkey still needs to increase its competitiveness and address several structural problems in its economy. Nonetheless, Turkey's rising export potential has been at the core of its economically driven foreign policy, given the fact that it has aggressively worked to penetrate new markets. Even prior to the financial crisis, Turkey had embarked on an ambitious program to boost economic exchanges with its neighboring regions and find markets for its expanding line of products. As a matter of fact, these new markets have helped it partly cushion the negative effects of the economic crisis.

While seeking to stimulate economic exchanges at the regional level, Turkey has resorted to a variety of instruments. In addition to its growing volume of investments and construction projects in the surrounding regions, Turkey has initiated visa liberalization programs and, where possible, sought to establish free trade or preferential trade regimes with many regional countries. Although this process seems to have slowed down due to the political turmoil in the Middle East, the real dividends of such initiatives will be reaped after the region normalizes.

In a similar vein, Turkey's Union of Chambers of Commerce and Commodities (TOBB) has been working with its counterparts in the region to facilitate cross-border economic transactions through, for instance, the modernization of customs regimes and procedures. Moreover, it has embarked on ambitious programs to develop transportation infrastructure in Central Asia under the rubric of reviving the historic Silk Road. With such initiatives, Turkey hopes to create a wider economic area where people and goods can move freely.

Another dimension of Turkey's economic activism in external relations has been its opening to new markets, beyond those in the West and its immediate neighborhood. With a strong impetus coming from the business associations that represent the private sector, Turkey has introduced new campaigns to bolster its economic and trade ties with Africa, Latin America and East Asia. The input of private-sector and nongovernmental organizations in these endeavors, which in most cases has been in the form of hosting business forums to raise awareness of trade and investment opportunities in new markets, has been crucial. For instance, while the Marmara Group has organized for many years the Eurasian Economic Summit, the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) has launched influential Turkey-Africa Trade Bridge meetings and Turkish-American business forums. As a result, the amount that Africa contributed to Turkey's foreign trade rose from $4.6 billion in 2000 to $17.1 billion in 2011. With these projects, undertaken both at the bilateral and multilateral levels, Turkey seeks to adjust its position in the rapidly transforming world economy, where the center of gravity is increasingly shifting towards the so-called emerging economies.

To manage this economic activism, Turkey has relied on several institutions. The Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK), formed in 1987, has continued to play an important role in the coordination of economic exchanges. The bilateral councils established with many of Turkey's economic partners have been another venue to coordinate the expansion of international economic activities. In a drastic restructuring, the recently created Ministry of Economy has also assumed the functions of the Undersecretariat for Foreign Trade, which reflects the premium Turkey attaches to generating greater synergy between its domestic economic development and its foreign-trade strategy. Influential business associations have in many cases acted as unofficial envoys to coordinate Turkey's trade and investments in new markets.

HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL DIALOGUE

  1. Top of page
  2. A LIBERAL TURN
  3. ECONOMIC INTERDEPENDENCE
  4. HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL DIALOGUE
  5. DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE
  6. CULTURAL DIPLOMACY
  7. PUBLIC DIPLOMACY
  8. CONCLUSION

As its external relationships have multiplied, Turkey has also paid utmost attention to maintaining high-level political dialogue with its partners. At one level, Turkey has pursued this objective by seeking to become more influential in major international and regional organizations in which it has been a member for many decades. It was no coincidence that in recent years Turkey has gained greater representation in international organizations. It is a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council, and Turkish diplomats have been elected to lead the Council of Europe and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

At another level, Turkey has launched high-level strategic-cooperation councils with many of its neighbors and some regional organizations. While the specific format changes from one case to another, overall they involve annual or semi-annual meetings between state leaders, joint cabinet meetings bringing together ministers from both sides, and technical-level working groups. Functionally, they cover cooperation in various issue areas, ranging from trade and transportation to services and agriculture. These forums provide, first and foremost, venues to address bilateral issues between Turkey and the partners in question. By building on this foundation, Turkey hopes to see such forums as the nucleus of a broader platform to discuss regional and global issues of common concern.

DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE

  1. Top of page
  2. A LIBERAL TURN
  3. ECONOMIC INTERDEPENDENCE
  4. HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL DIALOGUE
  5. DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE
  6. CULTURAL DIPLOMACY
  7. PUBLIC DIPLOMACY
  8. CONCLUSION

The Turkish public's enormous aid campaigns to mobilize humanitarian assistance to African countries suffering from drought, epitomized by Prime Minister Erdoğan's historic visit to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, have put Turkey on the map since the summer of 2011. Earlier, Turkey hosted the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries in May 2011, during which it worked hard to raise international awareness of the plight of these nations and pushed for the adoption of the Istanbul Action plan, laying out a detailed roadmap for projects to be undertaken by international stakeholders by 2020.

These initiatives have highlighted a new instrument in Turkey's foreign-policy toolkit, humanitarian aid and development assistance. Turkey's nongovernmental aid organizations have organized major campaigns to help the needy by offering food and shelter to those affected by natural disasters or famine and providing medical services to the poor in many underdeveloped countries.

At the official level, too, development cooperation has been embraced widely. Reflecting its desire to make a contribution to stability, peace and development in its immediate neighborhood and beyond, Turkey in recent years has provided official development assistance (ODA) to several developing countries to assist their social and economic restructuring. Turkey's transformation from an aid recipient to a donor country has been underscored by the fact that it is now a net contributor of ODA and is considered one of the emerging international donors.

Turkey's transformation from an aid recipient to a donor country has been underscored by the fact that it is now a net contributor of ODA and is considered one of the emerging international donors.

The Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) has been tasked with coordinating Turkey's ODA work with national and international stakeholders. Since its establishment in 1992, TIKA has evolved into a full-fledged official aid agency. While in 2002 it had only 12 field offices, today it operates 28 offices in 25 countries and runs development projects of various kinds in over 100 countries. While originally its area of operations largely covered the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, over time, it has been given a mandate to carry out projects in the MENA countries and Sub-Saharan Africa, which have coalesced with the expansion and diversification of Turkey's foreign-policy agenda. TIKA's projects mainly seek to contribute to institutional capacity building and the training of personnel in partner countries, as well as assisting in infrastructure projects, the construction of hospitals and schools, preservation of cultural heritage, and the provision of humanitarian assistance. Turkey's annual ODA disbursement has well exceeded $1.32 billion.

CULTURAL DIPLOMACY

  1. Top of page
  2. A LIBERAL TURN
  3. ECONOMIC INTERDEPENDENCE
  4. HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL DIALOGUE
  5. DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE
  6. CULTURAL DIPLOMACY
  7. PUBLIC DIPLOMACY
  8. CONCLUSION

The concept of soft power has been widely used to describe Turkey's growing popularity in its region and beyond, especially owing to its cultural products. Turkish soap operas are being aired by many TV stations in the Middle East and the Balkans, and Turkish artists have been embraced as celebrities in these countries. This growing visibility also mirrors the wide brand appeal Turkey has enjoyed, parallel to its emergence as a center of attraction in the region. Overall, such developments have also generated interest in Turkish language and culture. In response, Turkey has become more self-confident in promoting a greater understanding of its culture beyond its borders.

This cultural diplomacy has overlapped well with the new era of Turkish foreign policy. Turkey's proactive regional and global agenda also foresees increased person-to-person interaction, with an aim to further mutual understanding and establish foundations for a sounder partnership at the official level. Turkey has launched many initiatives to revitalize its historical and cultural ties with the people in its immediate neighborhood in an effort not only to compensate for the negative memories of the past, but also to build a joint future.

Toward this end, Turkey has drawn on several instruments. First, development assistance has been partly coordinated with cultural-diplomacy initiatives; some of the projects supported by TIKA have been geared towards the restoration of Turkish and Muslim cultural heritage. Second, Turkey has established the Yunus Emre Foundation, whose sole mission will be to promote Turkish language and culture abroad. It has already opened representations in 22 countries, and more are on the way. Third, the presidency of External Turks and Relative Communities, a new department under the prime minister's office, has also assumed significant responsibilities for cultural diplomacy. In addition to its services for Turkish people living in various countries, the presidency will also support projects for the promotion of Turkish culture abroad, as well as administering scholarships granted by the Turkish government to international students.

PUBLIC DIPLOMACY

  1. Top of page
  2. A LIBERAL TURN
  3. ECONOMIC INTERDEPENDENCE
  4. HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL DIALOGUE
  5. DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE
  6. CULTURAL DIPLOMACY
  7. PUBLIC DIPLOMACY
  8. CONCLUSION

Turkey's proactive foreign-policy agenda has sparked interest among observers of international politics in both the scholarly and policy worlds. The sheer number of reports in the international media attests to the fact that scholars and practitioners around the world want to understand Turkey's dynamism in international relations. However, the debates taking place among the international observers on Turkish foreign policy have occasionally lacked depth and at times have even been manipulative. For instance, Turkey's search for a more independent foreign policy course in recent years has been misinterpreted in some Western circles, and there have been fruitless debates about whether Turkey was trying to shift its axis away from the transatlantic community.

Aware of this growing interest and the need for presenting sound analyses of Turkey's transformation trajectory, Turkey has also taken steps to explain the new activism in Turkish foreign policy in regional and global politics to the international community. The coordinator for public diplomacy, organized under the prime minister's office, has developed various multilateral projects both at home and abroad to establish dialogue with different groups and contribute to a better understanding of Turkish foreign policy. Through such programs, it seeks to increase Turkey's visibility in international public opinion and emerge as a major pillar of Turkey's soft power.

CONCLUSION

  1. Top of page
  2. A LIBERAL TURN
  3. ECONOMIC INTERDEPENDENCE
  4. HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL DIALOGUE
  5. DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE
  6. CULTURAL DIPLOMACY
  7. PUBLIC DIPLOMACY
  8. CONCLUSION

The addition of new instruments in Turkish foreign-policy makers’ toolkit has definitely improved Turkey's soft-power assets. While this process has been underway, the conventional instruments of Turkish diplomacy also have gone through a major improvement. To meet the growing demands of the new diplomatic activism, for instance, Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs is updating its regulations, increasing its personnel, and restructuring training programs for its incoming and active diplomats. At the same time, Turkey has achieved significant progress in bolstering its hard-power resources. The military modernization programs it has been carrying out are gradually producing outcomes. Domestic procurement for Turkey's defense-industry needs has exceeded 50 percent, and several projects for the development of national weapons systems are underway.

With the multiplying of actors and instruments that have an input in the making of Turkish foreign policy, the need for better coordination becomes obvious. Now Turkey needs to develop mechanisms to streamline demands coming from different constituencies, which are channeled through nongovernmental organizations, business associations and other such groups. Also needed is better coordination among various institutions that are tasked to employ the new instruments, and that collectively make up Turkey's soft power. Without coordination, duplication and ineffective outcomes will be unavoidable.