Analysis of Turkish Foreign Policy: The Influence of Internal and External Factors in the Last Decade (2010-2020)
The foreign policies of the countries change every day under the influence of the period. Significant issues have occurred both in the world and in the Middle East in the last decade. Incidents that happened around the world also affected Turkey. Besides that, Turkey has also become a milestone. The Arab movement that started in the early 10s brought immigration, border issues, security issues and international conflicts of interest to the region and the world. Especially the Syrian civil war hardly affected Turkey’s Foreign Policy because of immigrants and border security issues. The economic crisis that took place between 2008 and 2012, and efforts to enter the European Union also affected the foreign policies (FP) of the nation externally. At the same time; developing technology, espionage leaks, terrorist incidents and ISIS affected the first half of 2010’s TFP. In fact, during this period of change in Turkey itself, the most important name influencing the foreign policy was Ahmet Davutoglu, who became Minister of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister, respectively. Political science professor Ahmet Davutoglu has advocated Neo-Ottomanist position to have a say in Turkey’s region. Besides all, TFP was affected by Turkey’s chronic problems of the PKK and new terrorist organizations. Additionally, the July 15 Coup attempt and the regime changes are also important for TFP internally. Under the influence of all these events, this study will examine Turkey’s foreign policy in the last decade within the framework of internal and external factors, dynamics and issues.
Generally, Foreign Policy is the policy that a state decides considering foreign states. Joseph Frankel defines foreign policy as “the decision taken by a state in terms of its relations with other states and the efforts it makes”. The definition of the foreign policy of Charles Hermann, who belongs to the behavioural school, is “official actions to affect the behaviour of the competent decision-makers of the country’s government or their representatives, international actors outside of their own domestic policies”. Likewise, according to Suat Bilge, foreign policy is “the purpose, mode of action and procedures used by a state to realize its national interests outside its borders”. In Ramazan Gözen’s definition of foreign policy, he emphasizes the concepts of “nation-state interest” and “international system” and states that “the nation-state has a policy towards the world outside the world, in other words, to protect and develop its goals and ideals defined as a national interest”.
Many factors affect states foreign policies. These factors can be grouped as internal and external factors. Traditional approaches to international relations sharply distinguish domestic and foreign policy from each other and ignore internal factors affecting foreign policy. However, political regimes of states and state identity of these regimes are one of the most important factors affecting foreign policy. Qualities of the political regime appear to be an element that provides continuity in Turkish foreign policy. First, internal and external stability that needed by the regime in order to ensure its own survival has led Turkey to follow the status quo and balanced foreign policy. On the other hand, the Westernist character of the regime has brought the Western-oriented foreign policy.
Basic description of TFP by Turkish Foreign Affairs’ own words “At a time of volatilities and uncertainties on the world stage, our policies adapt to constant changes and strive to shape the dynamics around us towards peace, prosperity and stability. Humans are at the heart of our endeavours. We are living in politically and economically fragile geography at a time when the world is undergoing radical changes. Turkey pursues a foreign policy that does not shy away from taking initiative and in the words of our President, “reflects the enterprising spirit and humanitarian values of our nation.” This is, as our Minister calls it, an “Enterprising and Humanitarian Foreign Policy.” It is guided by our enduring objective to achieve “Peace at Home, Peace in the World” as set out by the founder of our Republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.”
TFP is in favour of using international organizations actively, which Turkey emphasizes for the sake of a peaceful solution in all circumstances. According to Baskın Oran, due to the fact that it is a medium-power (medium-size) state, it has to maintain power balances. A member of NATO and G20 and accession candidate to the EU, Turkey has developed a globally extensive network of cooperation including High-Level Cooperation Councils with 25 countries, trilateral or other multilateral regional formations, as well as 20 Free Trade Agreements. Resolutions of global challenges depend on collective efforts forged by cooperation and effective multilateralism. This reality guides Turkey’s active diplomacy within multilateral fora.
1. Internal Factors That Influenced TFP in the 2010s
Many internal causes that affect Foreign Policy Analysis. If we mention about the main topics; geography, size of the state, level of economic development, regime type, qualification of the leader and national capacity come to the fore. In addition, social structure, political organizations, civil society organizations, the role of the press and technology also affect foreign policy internally.
When we look at Turkey as an example we can see easily the effects of the factors mentioned above. The geographical location of Turkey, the problems inherited from the past has brought in. These problems have become chronic over time and it has been used from time to time against Turkey. The Cyprus problem, the Armenian Genocide claims, the Aegean islands and the continental shelf problems, the southern border problems and the PKK are the main these chronic problems. Besides all these, political power and the rise of Political Islam thought in Turkey is reflected in the foreign policy. In addition, Turkey’s foreign policy as an important factor in the lack of natural resources and energy problems are encountered.
1.1. Geography, History, Culture and State Size
Turkey as the heir of the Ottoman Empire is a medium-sized country in the middle of the three continents. Although a large part of its population is Muslim, it also contains many minorities. Turkey has a society that is loyal to national and cultural elements and this situation reflected TFP. At the same time; Cyprus issue Armenian claims and Aegean problems have been transferred to TFP from the Ottoman Empire Foreign Policy, so these historical backgrounds include the internal factors which affected the FP.
This historical background still affects TFP because of the Ottoman Diplomacy tradition is used to some extent as a habit. When the Republic of Turkey founded Turkey took over Ottoman bureaucrats and this situation has shown its effect on TFP from past to present. At the same time, AKP and Ahmet Davutoglu adopted these policies with their Neo-Ottoman approach and strategic depth doctrine, in the first half of the last decade. The concept of Strategic Depth emphasizes the importance of Turkey’s Ottoman past and its historical and cultural ties to the Balkans, the Middle East, and Central Asia. These ties are seen as important assets that can enable Turkey to become a regional power. The doctrine also suggests that Turkey should counterbalance its ties to the West by establishing multiple alliances, which would enhance its freedom of action and increase its leverage, both regionally and globally. Davutoglu’s book was seen as little more than the musings of an academic with a pro-Islamic background when it was published in 2001. While it would be wrong to exaggerate Davutoglu’s influence in the formulation of Turkish foreign policy, many of his ideas, particularly his suggestion that Turkey should exploit its Ottoman legacy and play a more active role in the Middle East, have found strong resonance among AKP members and have been influential in shaping the broad contours of AKP policy. Increased contact with the Eastern countries in the TFP during the Erdogan-Davutoglu period led to discussions of “axis shift in the TFP” inside.
Another geographical factor is the number of neighbouring states. Turkey has relating the 8 countries via land and 4 countries via sea. Especially brings with it security issues that being neighbourhood the Middle-East. Syria’s civil war has triggered security issues of Turkey. For this reason, Ahmet Davutoglu’s “zero problems with neighbours” policy was implemented at the beginning, but it was unsuccessful. Turkey in the second half of the decade, the military has intervened militarily in Syria. At the same time, continental shelf problems with the Greek islands in the Aegean are another example of geographical factors. Turkey lived in tension with Greece because of the problems of the continental shelf and immigrants want to move to Europe. Besides all these, the lack of sufficient energy resources has made it dependent on outside of Turkey.
State size is another important term because of the fact that Turkey is a medium-power state and this condition forces to be balanced in their foreign policy. The effects of the international system are marginal but may affect regional policy (in particular, their little neighbours). However, more importantly, can withstand some of the enforcement from major states, negotiate with them from time to time, and even evaluate their behaviour (conjuncture) to a certain extent state that can affect.
1.2. Economic Development and Technology
When we look at the economic history of Turkey, we see serious effects of external influences. We see many crises caused by foreign exchange deprivation and consequently changes in the economic system. Turkey’s economy is developing in a fragile economic structure. Turkey needs to find an economic resource and this also affects foreign policy. Turkey has tense relations with international credit rating agencies over the last decade. Turkey’s credit rating is lowered by the agencies and the government has reacted to this.
Turkey is making new breakthroughs in technology. It has developed the weapon index from the Cyprus Peace Operation to this day. However, foreign dependence still continues in the face of rapidly developing technology. At this point, the Cyprus issue and PKK problem have triggered the increase in Turkey’s economic and technological requirements. Turkey tends to increase especially imports and this situation brings market searches together, so greatly influences the shaping of TFP.
1.3. Regime Type and Leadership
Turkey has undergone a drastic system changes in the past decade. Although the ruling party (AKP) is not changed in the last decade, Turkey also made the transition to the presidential system of government from parliamentary democracy system in 2018. In the new system, the centre of the power moved from parliament to the presidency. Turkey aimed at sustainability and stability, thereby reducing the need for a political coalition with this amendment. With the new system, the role and importance of the leader have increased in TFP.
Although the first people that come to mind about foreign affairs are foreign ministers, diplomacy among leaders is more important. If we examine Turkey’s foreign policy in the last decade, we notice that the most significant figure was President Erdogan despite Ahmet Davutoglu and Mevlut Cavusoglu, who also were important figures in the first and the last 5 years, respectively. The characters of the leaders are quite effective for foreign policy. For example, Erdogan’s sensitivity to Islam is reflected in the TFP. This is why many Muslim countries sympathize Erdogan.
On the other hand, before April 16, 2017, constitutional referendum, upon blocking referendum events that Turkish politicians will participate in European countries, Erdogan said that “If you continue to act like this, no European can safely step into the streets anywhere in the world tomorrow. You will see the damage.” After these words, the Foreign Relations Department of the European Commission urged the ambassadors of Turkey in the European Union. And then while evaluating the Islamophobia events that took place in Europe in the same period, he called some European leaders as fascists and nazis. On the reactions he received, Erdogan made the analogy of the “Crusader Alliance” for the EU. These speeches about European states cause tensions. As can be seen from these, the Leader’s characteristic features or discourses can affect the FP.
1.4. Public Mood and Role of Media
The starting point of foreign policy is national interests. One of the sources of activity is public opinion. Be a topic of public goods, the provision of support, acceptance outside, increases the possibility of being effective. The inclusion of the state among the people in national cases provides great support for the implementation of the decisions in foreign policy. One aspect of the public opinion factor is to form internal public opinion and the other aspect is to prepare the foreign public opinion.
In order to talk about the public in foreign policy, the people must have an idea about that issue. Here is the media that will provide it. The media is a primary factor in forming public opinion. For this reason, the press should be impartial and very sensitive when publicizing foreign policy issues. In developing countries therefore in Turkey, the press reflects exaggerate news about foreign policy issues to the public for several reasons. Like other developing countries in Turkey, the press acts as the opposition to the government or takes side with the government. The press misleads the public by putting aside the harmful or beneficial aspects of the Government.
The important events happened in Turkey also have effects on its foreign policy. Gezi Park protests drew the attention of the EU and the EU put pressure on Turkey about human rights related with regard to detainees and police interventions. At the same time, organized NGOs became an internal pressure factor. Likewise, after the years the people, who came together in the July 15 coup attempt, pressured the government to neutralize the external side of FETO. The important thing here is that the events that are inside may somehow trigger an external pressure or turn into external pressure. In this case, Turkey has experienced two events in two different ways as it is mentioned above.
2. External Factors That Influenced TFP in the 2010s
2.1. Alliances, International Organisation
Turkey’s always support international organizations and cooperation because of its foreign policy principles. Turkey recognizes the supremacy of law in the international arena and actively plays a role. If we give an example by Turkish MFA’s own words “A member of NATO and G20 and accession candidate to the EU, Turkey has developed a globally extensive network of cooperation including High-Level Cooperation Councils with 25 countries, trilateral or other multilateral regional formations, as well as 20 Free Trade Agreements. Turkey maintains close ties with the countries in the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa, Southern Caucasus, South and Central Asia. In a world where technology shrinks distances, Turkey is deepening its African Partnership Policy and expanding the scope of its outreach policies to Latin America, the Caribbean and the Asia-Pacific. Resolution of global challenges depends on collective efforts forged by cooperation and effective multilateralism. This reality guides Turkey’s active diplomacy within multilateral fora. Turkey has also been an active member of the G20 since its inception and held its term presidency for 2015. Within the G20, Turkey has been promoting the humanitarian-development nexus, as well as inclusive economic growth and equitable distribution. Turkey served at the UN Security Council during 2009-2010 as a constructive member contributing to global peace, stability and security. Under the motto of “the world is bigger than five” coined by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has been advocating the reform of the UN and the UN Security Council to meet the current needs of the world”. Turkey’s active attitude can be observed by these words from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Besides all these, Turkey bought air defence system from a country outside the NATO. There was tension between Turkey and NATO for the use of the S-400 air defence systems that came from Russia. In addition, Turkey’s military operations in Syria was criticized by its ally NATO. It is also Turkey strained often ally EU because of alleged Armenian genocide and Cyprus issue.
2.2. Agreement Conflicts and Regional Issues
Turkey has the power to influence its regional area as a medium power country but also influenced by the region at the same time. Turkey endeavoured for ending of civil war in Syria, especially the last five years. Besides; Mediterranean issues, continental shelf problems, the Russian invasion of Crimea, Nagorno-Karabakh problem are other events affecting TFP.
Turkey is constant negotiations with Russia Iran and the US about the solution of the Syrian crisis. The Astana talks and the Sochi agreement made for the solution of the Syrian crisis are important at this point. Despite all these diplomatic efforts, Russia and Turkey had tensions in time to time. What turned friends into the worst of foes overnight in November 2015 with the downing of the Russian plane was mainly the two countries’ uncompromising perspectives towards Syria. Syria had been the top political issue for Turkey and Russia since 2012. Russia’s Ambassador in Ankara Andrei Karlov was assassinated on December 19, 2016. This situation has a negative impact on the relations between Russia and Turkey.
Turkey has begun searching for oil in the Mediterranean Sea and it faced once again with the Greek Cyprus Administration and Greece. The crisis grew further with the involvement of international oil companies. Turkey has signed a sea border treaty with Libya to solve this crisis and in order to protect their rights. The treaty opposed by the European Union and the Arab League. Turkey clarified their sea border with this treaty.
The US opposes Iran’s atomic energy research but Turkey gave support to Iran. In this case, since the beginning of 2010 has led to an increase in precarious the US-Turkey relations. At the same time, S-400s purchased from Russia, it was described as distrustful by the USA. The United States has announced that Turkey removes it from the F-35 fighter jet project in retaliation.
2.3. External Pressure
TFP is influenced by external pressures because of Turkey’s geopolitical position, historical background, country size, relations with other states and interests. Turkey is exposed to pressure in particular by powerful states and it can resist these pressures and to a certain extent because Turkey is a medium power state as described above.
Turkey in the EU accession process has been frequently exposed to external pressure in this process. In particular, the Armenian genocide allegations and the Cyprus issue effect for TFP in decades and Turkey is working hard to clarify these issues. During his visits to Switzerland, Dogu Perincek, a Turkish political activist, repeatedly called the Armenian Genocide of 1915 a “great international lie”. He was found guilty of racial discrimination by a Swiss district court in Lausanne in March 2007. He was sentenced to 90 days imprisonment and fined 3000 Swiss francs. Perincek then appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. It is stated multiple times in the Grand Chamber Judgment that the applicant did not express contempt or hatred for the victims of the events of 1915 and the following years. The Grand Chamber held, by ten votes to seven, that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention and ruled in favour of Perincek on 15 October 2015. This decision, which was taken in favour of Perincek’s freedom of thought and expression, was a precedent that it would be possible to deny Armenian claims.
Also in November 2019, the EU has decided to sanction Turkey. The EU, in the territorial waters of Cyprus, expressed as found in warning to Turkey started its natural gas exploration operation. Southern Cyprus and Greece say drilling activities are a violation of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone. On the other hand, Turkey denies this statement because it thinks these statements ignore the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus territorial waters by the EU. The European Union, Egypt, Israel and the United States also opposed Turkey’s activities there. Turkey said that drilling is going on according to the permissions toward drilling activities and the search will continue. Turkey was forced to find support in the process of gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The purpose of this forum was defined as reducing infrastructure costs in order to create a regional natural gas market and offer competitive prices. Turkey was left out by Forum members in the region. This loneliness continued until an Exclusive Economic Zone agreement was signed with Libya.
On the other hand, Turkey bought S-400 air defence systems from Russia so the US put pressure on Turkey because of that and the US said they are against to Turkey’s receiving weapons from outside of NATO. In addition to the US and Turkey have faced because of Operation Peace Spring. The US President Trump sent a letter to Erdogan that is ineligible for diplomatic correspondence. This letter is a confession that the United States has intervened to Turkey’s economy. After the July 15 coup attempt already strained relations because of priest Brunson and extradition of FETÖ terrorists has become a more fragile state with these events. On these events, the US Senate has been mention of sanctions against Turkey.
As can be seen from the examples mentioned above, Turkey can resist the intervention from the outside but which nonetheless impressed. It can direct the events in its own region. Turkey is trying to get the support of the international community to appease external pressures.
As a result, when we evaluate the last decade of TFP under the influence of internal and external factors, we see that there are new problems and strategies along with some historical or chronic problems. The effects of problems inherited from the Ottoman Empire in Turkey still be seen in the TFP like Armenian claims, Aegean problems and Cyprus issues. In addition to this, we see that the neo-Ottomanist and political Islamist perspective has directed TFP in the last decade together with Ahmet Davutoglu. The important point is here that country size and the interaction of historical roots with each other. The coming together of these two facts has pushed Turkey to take active roles in foreign policy. Neo-Ottomanist approach and Political Islam has attracted Turkey from the west towards to the Muslim countries. Turkey, trying to lead forth the countries in the first half of the last decade, it was more concerned with their issues after the second half especially under the influence of the Syrian civil war.
The Syrian issue has triggered Turkey’s security problems and this has required the use of hard power elements by Turkey and this situation caused increase external pressures. At the same time, Turkey is turning to new ways to meet needs security. Turkey to buy the S400 air defence systems from Russia has not been convenient by NATO, EU and the US. Turkey remained alone most of the time when watching the balance of policy but maintained its determined attitude. The fact that Turkey is a state in the medium power means to be able to withstand a certain degree of external pressure.
On the other point, the events in Turkey that are inside may somehow reflect on foreign policy or turn into foreign policy. The details of which we mentioned above, such as Gezi Park events, July 15 coup attempt, Presidential regime change. Especially with the Presidential government system, the increasing role of the leader is reflected in the TFP.
In fact, we see that internal and external factors can trigger each other. That the factors we mentioned above are intertwined like the rings of a chain for TFP. Therefore, it should be considered multi-faceted while forming foreign policy. In light of all these, if we evaluate the TFP in the last decade, it did succeed in critical times, but it did not show a long-term sustainable success. As a result of all these works, it is a fact that TFP needs too more rational and self-interested decisions.
Arslan, Hicabi. “Basının Türk Dış Politikası Üzerindeki Yönlendirici Etkisi, Doktora Tezi.” İstanbul: İstanbul Ünivesitesi Siysal Bilimler Enstitüsü, 2007. 35.