Conference: Turkish Foreign Policy in the Light of Changing Global Dynamics and Regional Developments, Antalya
The year 2014 has seen radical developments at global and regional levels, and Turkey -- a major player in its neighborhood with strong aspirations to take on a leadership role in foreign policy -- has faced serious challenges. One of the critical questions facing Turkish foreign policy in recent years has been how Turkey can integrate with the emerging global order in terms of its constitutive norms and evolving power alignments. Whether Turkey aligns itself with liberal democratic countries of the developed West or decides that improving its trade and strategic cooperation with rising illiberal autocracies is more vital to its national interests is a burning question both at home and abroad. How Turkey will respond to the emerging geopolitical competition between Russia and the West regarding the Ukraine crisis is another crucial question facing Turkish decision makers. The dynamics of Turkey’s evolving relations with key Middle Eastern actors (most notably Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC, countries) will also be a key factor in analysis of Turkish foreign policy in the years to come.
With these questions looming, Antalya International University’s Center for Social, Economic and Political Research (SEPAM) organized “Turkish Foreign Policy in the Light of Changing Global Dynamics and Regional Developments” on May 5, 2014. This is the second of SEPAM’s Turkish foreign policy symposium series; the first was held on May 10, 2013.
To discuss these critical questions and explore the ambiguities and challenges facing Turkish foreign policy in light of global and regional developments, SEPAM, cognizant of its responsibility to Turkish society, invited a group of distinguished foreign policy scholars and experts to Antalya. The participants included former Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister and retired Ambassador Yaşar Yakış; Prof. Dr. Ersin Kalaycıoğlu from Sabancı University; Prof. Dr. İlter Turan from İstanbul Bilgi University; Prof. Dr. Harun Arıkan of Çukurova University; Prof. Dr. Mustafa Kibaroğlu from Okan University; Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ersel Aydınlı from Bilkent University; Assoc. Prof. Dr. Özlem Tür from Middle East Technical University; Asst. Prof. Birol Başkan from Georgetown University’s Doha campus; Hasan Kanbolat, a columnist for Today’s Zaman; and Nur Batur, a veteran foreign policy columnist.
The symposium consisted of three sessions: one on changing global dynamics and their reflections on Turkish foreign policy, another dealing with Turkish foreign policy in the context of the Ukrainian crisis and relations between Russia and the West, and finally a session on the changing dynamics in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Turkish foreign policy.
The opening remarks, delivered by Rector of Antalya International University Prof. Dr. Cihat Göktepe and this reviewer, SEPAM Director Prof. Dr. Tarık Oğuzlu, were followed by the first session, which was chaired by Oğuzlu. Turan gave a presentation on the changing global order in which he underlined that polarization is not likely to occur in the current circumstances. He pointed out that in the emerging world order, regional structures are weakening. For him, in today’s world no state is powerful enough to emerge as the sole superpower. “We know where we started and how we have come to this point, but we don’t know where we are heading,” he said.
Kalaycıoğlu addressed Turkey’s domestic transformation and the growing challenge of adapting to global trends. He emphasized the connection between democracy and economic development, arguing that in the absence of democracy, economic development is not sustainable. He said: “In terms of the
THE WORLD AROUND TURKEY IS RAPIDLY CHANGING, AND TURKEY IS ITSELF UNDERGOING A RADICAL TRANSFORMATION
independence of the judiciary, Turkey ranks 88 out of 142 countries. We are not doing well, obviously.”
The last speaker of the first session, Aydınlı, discussed localism, regionalism and globalism in Turkish foreign policy. Aydınlı argued that Turkey’s foreign policy interests are experiencing an ongoing shift in geographic focus. Turkey’s contacts with Europe, he said, have sharply decreased in recent years, while contacts with non-European regions -- most notably the Middle East -- have been steadily increasing.
Yakış chaired the second session. After addressing the recent developments in Ukraine, he stated that the EU, NATO, the US and Russia “must be cautious in the Ukraine crisis, but Turkey must be twice as cautious as others.” According to Yakış, Turkey’s geostrategic importance in world politics has increased due to its proximity to turbulent regions, and this should push Turkey’s leaders to adopt a more cautious foreign policy stance.
Kanbolat, then president of the Center of Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, talked about the dynamics of Turkey-Russia relations and underlined the importance of perceptions in bilateral relations. He underlined that “the terms of the Montreux Convention should be respected by all riparian states in the Black Sea, and Turkey needs to walk a fine line between the US and Russia.”
Arıkan gave a presentation on Turkey-EU relations. Europe would likely grow stronger after the Ukraine crisis, he argued, while Turkey’s now-tabled accession process is likely to get a boost in the years to come. For him, the Ukraine crisis could bring Turkey much closer to the EU, mainly for strategic reasons.
In the third session, which was chaired by Batur, Kibaroğlu discussed Turkey’s position on the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries. He underlined that the future of Iran’s nuclear policy will have a large impact on Turkey’s security perceptions and that the sanctions imposed on Iran would not negatively affect Turkey. However, an Iran with nuclear weapons would change the regional balance between Turkey and Iran -- and in the latter’s favor. Of all Turkey’s policy options vis-à-vis a nuclear Iran, he did not recommend that Turkey develop its own nuclear weapons.
Başkan gave a presentation on the important role of Saudi Arabia and the GCC in Turkish foreign policy. He said that Turkey had pursued an impartial policy in the pre-Arab Spring era, which put Turkey in an advantageous position in its relations with these countries. The Arab Spring led Turkey’s leaders to make a choice between peoples and dictators, he added. While he praised Turkey’s efforts to speak the language of human rights and collective consciousness, he criticized the erosion of Turkey’s impartial regional stance as the Arab Spring approached Turkey’s borders.
Tür addressed Turkey’s relations with Israel. She did not foresee a radical improvement in bilateral relations as long as the composition of governments in both countries remains the same.
SEPAM will organize the third symposium of this series next year, 2015. The world around Turkey is rapidly changing, and Turkey is undergoing a radical transformation at home. It is the responsibility of research institutes to make an effort to understand such processes. This will not only help increase social awareness of vital internal and external developments, but also contribute to more sophisticated discussions at the highest levels.
A high-level meeting between the US and Turkey at NATO headquarters in Brussels.