More of the same
The results mean Turkey’s foreign policy will change little.
Is that a good thing?
Turkey’s historic elections are over. Expectations were big but the outcomes deceptively banal. Judging by the hype in the lead up to June 24, Turkey was on the cusp of monumental political transformation but in the end, not much really changed. The government is, by and large, the same as it was before the vote; the transition to the presidential system will now be official but much of its effective provisions had been in place for nearly two years, under the state of emergency. In some ways, the resumption of the status quo is a good thing: it injects an immediate dose of predictability into a Turkey’s political and economic environment. On the other hand, a rejuvenated presidency also poses some mid- to longterm uncertainties. How will the election results impact Turkey’s foreign relations?
S0, same government, same geopolitical challenges. How do you see Turkey’s key relationships going forward?
Clearly outside actors will have to take note that they are likely to deal with the same administration for the next five years. That, in itself, may have a stabilizing effect on Turkey’s relations because the elements of unpredictability are reduced. But then, one might question the substance of foreign policy. Is anything likely to change? Will the government, now that there are no more elections, feel more secure in conducting its foreign policy? While it’s not easy to make predictions, it seems both Turkey and the U.S. are interested in trying to stabilize their relationship. This means that they have to work on resolving issues that are proving to be problematical. There is a list of items here: the purchase of the S-400 missile defense system, the case of the American preacher and some local U.S. embassy personnel who are under arrest, the U.S. court’s decision on Halkbank’s executive, the return of Gülen to Turkey, and continuing questions over the U.S. support for the YPG. In short, there is a long list of issues. When you have two big countries, it’s impossible to have a harmonious relationship on every front. The question is how you manage your conflicts. I anticipate that both parties will try to tone down making challenging and unfriendly remarks and try to work through their problems.
The EU, however, is a different story. The EU is facing difficulties. This will render improving relations with the European Union more difficult. The EU is currently discussing the inclusion of western Balkan countries as members. There is considerable reluctance on the part of France and Holland to accept these countries. On the other hand, others are concerned that if these countries are not integrated into the EU, they will be susceptible to greater Russian penetration. It seems one way the issue may be solved is to reassure those who harbor reservations that the inclusion of these small countries does not in any way imply that Turkey would also be welcome. By adopting an unfriendly and critical approach to Turkey, the EU may be softening resistance to the membership of Western Balkan countries. Turkey-EU relations seem to be going in an undesirable direction. The EU keeps adding new conditions to working with Turkey on the customs union and they display a reluctant attitude on visa waivers. They have not delivered on their promise to provide funding to Syrian refugees, at least not fully. Since it seems that the EU is unable to get its own act together, there is no reason to expect that relations with Turkey will get any better.
Do you th nk, now that Pres dent Erdogan has a renewed mandate, he m ght pursue these fore gn pol cy challenges more aggress vely?
Foreign policy is not a function only of domestic politics. You also have to take into consideration the goals of other actors and the means available to them. Already, prior to the elections, we observed a toning down of the unfriendly language against the U.S. and a greater willingness to solve problems through negotiations and communications. There are still outstanding problems and some symbolic issues have become substantive, like the arrest of the preacher. It may be useful for Turkish courts to proceed as rapidly as possible and reach a decision. But more broadly, when we examine US-Turkey relationships, we have to keep in mind that there are a variety of actors involved in American foreign policy making. Trump administration is not the only policymaker. The Congress is also an independent actor and concerns emanating from it need also to be addressed. Similarly, with the EU: Turkey must deal with a variety of countries and institutions and tailor its approach accordingly.
The AK Party doesn’t have a parl amentary major ty for the f rst t me n ts h story. Does that constra n t?
Much of foreign policy does not require parliamentary approval, so I think the executive will have a relatively free hand. Second, on quite a number of issues there is a convergence of viewpoints between the governing party and its alliance part- ner, the MHP. Third, the numbers needed for the governing party to establish a majority are not very big and it may be possible to persuade some non-AK Party deputies to help reach a majority if parliamentary action is needed. I would be inclined to think that the small shortage in parliament will not constrain the government in implementing its policy in any significant way.
Do you expect the fore gn m n ster to change?
The current foreign minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, has been elected to parliament. The rule is that if he is appointed as foreign minister, he would have to resign his parliamentary seat. I think there will be reluctance on the part of the executive to recruit people out of the parliament. Therefore, it is possible that we will get a new foreign minister. But then, Mr. Çavuşoğlu may well become the head of the foreign relations committee in the parliament. And as we have seen, Mr. Erdoğan likes to conduct foreign policy himself leading to suggest that the foreign minister, whoever he may be, will anyhow play a secondary role.
Over time, he had developed a certain amount of visibility and recognition, and apparently he has some skills as demonstrated by his previous service as the president of the European Parliament. He was then a recognized and respected figure. We don’t know who the next person might be and what his stature will be. If a retired diplomat is appointed, we can at least be assured that he will know how to behave in international circles. The choice appears to be between technicians and politicians. Under the new system, it’s entirely possible that the president will opt for technicians as ministers and formulate policy with a small group of political advisors. Then, the technicians will implement foreign policy while the president exercises his prerogative as the chief policy maker.