Turkey’s greatest threat is US Azerbaijan only ally, survey says
Turkish people believe that the United States poses the biggest threat to Turkey and Azerbaijan is its closest friend, according to the 2017 edition of Kadir Has University’s annual survey canvassing Turkish public opinion on the country’s foreign policy.
In contrast to last year’s survey, when relations with Russia were ranked Turkey’s fourth most important foreign policy issue (at 11.7%), Russia is no longer considered a foreign policy problem.
The results of the Public Perceptions on Turkish Foreign Policy survey, based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults in 26 Turkish provinces and conducted by the Center for Turkish Studies at one of Istanbul’s most prestigious universities, were released last week.
Terrorism is increasingly perceived as a ‘foreign policy problem’ according to the survey, which indicates that Turkey’s public now defines terror as a problem of foreign policy as well as a domestic issue. In the survey, terrorism was cited as the main foreign policy issue, with 44.2% of respondents believing it to be the single biggest problem relating to Turkish foreign policy. The Syrian conflict (24.6%) and Turkey’s relations with Israel (8.3%) came second and third.
Higher foreign policy success rating
Despite the problems cited, a 4.5% larger share of Turkey’s public (38.5%) now considers the country’s foreign policy to be successful compared with the 2016 survey. Nevertheless, a majority (51.7%) of the survey participants believe the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016 had a negative impact on Turkish foreign policy, and a substantial number (42.7%) stated that measures taken during the State of Emergency implemented a week after the coup had harmed Turkey’s foreign policy image.
When it came to Turkey’s threats and friends, the survey once again revealed that Azerbaijan is seen as Turkey’s best friend, with more than 12% of respondents (71.3%) defining Azerbaijan as the country’s ‘closest friend’ compared with last year. The percentage of those who think that ‘Turkey has allies’ has decreased from 23.1% in 2016 to 17.2% in 2017.
According to the participants, the US (66.5%), Israel (37.4%) and EU members (24%) are perceived to pose the biggest threat to Turkey. Strikingly, the perception of the threat from the EU doubled from last year. Contrastingly, the threat perception from Russia almost halved, falling from 34.9% in 2016 to 18.5% this year.
When asked to choose among a small group of actions that should be prioritized to strengthen Turkish foreign policy, the majority (61.2%) chose ‘strengthening political relations with other countries’ – an increasingly favored choice over the past few years (with 53% in 2015 and 45.4% in 2013).
Support for EU accession down
On the question as to whether Turkey is an Islamic or European country, the research showed that 39.9% identify Turkey as an Islamic country, yet those who see Turkey as a European country has been steadily increasing in each of the past three years. In 2015, 26.4% of the survey participants said ‘Turkey is a European country,’ a percentage that increased to 31.8% in 2016 and 32.7% in 2017. While those saying that ‘Turkey is a Middle Eastern country’ fell by 3% to 23%.
Despite the growing belief that Turkey is a European country, the research also concludes that Turkish public support for the EU accession process has been decreasing over the years. Current support for Turkey to become a member of the EU was marked at 48.4% – and a large majority (81.3%) of the public carries the opinion that EU accession will never occur.
However, the support for an alternative model for Turkey-EU relations other than membership was measured at 30.4%. The number considering strategic cooperation with Russia as an alternative to EU membership has increased from 14.8% to 27.6%. Despite all these negative indicators, the majority of respondents believe that neither Turkey nor the EU will abandon accession talks anytime soon, with 70% believing the EU will not terminate the negotiations and 73.7% stating that Turkey will not call a halt to the proceedings.
Inconclusive views on Syrian foreign policy
The survey offered inconclusive evidence regarding the nation’s views on Turkey’s foreign policy on Syria. When asked ‘Which policy Turkey should adopt towards Syria?’ practically half (49.9%) of the participants agreed that ‘it should remain neutral, and not intervene at all.’ In addition, the majority (54.5%) voiced their discontent with Syrian immigrants and almost half (46.4%) of the participants believe the government should call a halt to the intake of immigrants.
On the issue of who determines Turkish foreign policy, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came out on top. The president is seen as the main actor who formulates and implements foreign policy, with a large majority (69.2%) stating that he shapes foreign policy, while slightly fewer (67.2%) suggest he is the ‘most active person or institution’ in the implementation of foreign policy. The perceived influence of the government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the prime minister has been decreasing, though the National Intelligence Organization and Turkish General Staff are seen as becoming more influential.
The research was supervised by Professor Mustafa Aydin, rector at Kadir Has University, and coordinated by Professor Sinem Akgul Acikmese from Kadir Has University’s Department of International Relations.