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Friday, May 6, 2011

The breadth of Turkish security policy

Last week, I attended a talk at the Swedish Institute of Foreign Affairs by Dr. Ebru S. Canan-Sokullu, Ass. Professor at Baçheşehir University, Istanbul. The title of her talk was "Turkey's Security Policy in the 21st Century: Change or Continuity?" and it was a very useful and broad overview of Turkish foreign and security policy. I have been meaning to blog about it but haven't had the time, but here are my thoughts.

To me, the very breadth of Dr. Canan-Sokullu's talk was one of the main take-home points. She covered Turkish policy in the Balkans, toward the EU, Russia, NATO, Israel, and the Middle East, as well as more general points about the various dimensions of the foreign policy shift that can be observed with the AKP leadership at the helm, and about such notions as Davutoğlu's "strategic depth." (What she consciously skipped - to my great sorrow - was a slide on Turkey-EU relations, about which she has at least written a book chapter.)

One of the questions she raised was whether there has been a distinct shift toward the East, which I have discussed elsewhere on this blog. As far as I gathered (and recall - I took too few notes, I am afraid), she never came down clearly on one or the other side of the issue but on my interpretation, her entire presentation illustrated the broader nature of the Turkish foreign policy reorientation.

There is no doubt that Turkey has increased trade with and its policy presence in the Middle East (the New York Times has a good piece about the triumphs and pitfalls of this policy in light of the Arab uprisings). It is also clear that the AKP leadership is more cautious in its embrace of NATO policies, as Prof. Canan-Sokullu herself argues (link in Turkish), and it is decidedly unhappy with Israel after its 2008-09 Gaza offensive, which Erdoğan likely took as a personal insult.

But perhaps a better metaphor than the "going East" narrative provides, is of an increasingly well-rounded Turkish foreign policy. Turkey has enhanced its cooperation with Iran and pre-revolt Syria, but those aren't the only neighbors whom Turkey has courted: The EU still accounts for the majority of Turkish trade and its significance to Turkey is perhaps best evidenced by the extensive and often painful reform process that the Turkish leadership has been pursuing over the past decade, despite the often less than lukewarm response from the EU.

Moreover, I recently spoke to someone who has been stationed at the Swedish Embassy in Sarajevo, who emphasized the constructive role that Turkey was playing in Bosnia and the greater region. And thanks to "earthquake" and "soccer diplomacy," Turkey-Greek relations are better now than they have been for many decades, perhaps since before the coup and invasion of Cyprus. Similarly, Turkey has clearly also attempted a rapprochement with Armenia, albeit with moderate success.

Former US ambassador to Turkey, Michael Lake, uses yet another metaphor to describe Turkish foreign policy: On his take, Turkey views its foreign policy as standing on three legs. The first two are the U.S. and Europe, and the third is now the Middle East. This is helpful, but it still somewhat obscures the conscious attempt by Turkey with Davutoğlu at the helm and as its intellectual architect, to develop a well-rounded foreign policy with all its neighbors.

To me, as I said, this breadth was the main take-home point from the very broad overview of Turkish foreign and security policy given by Prof. Canan-Sokullu in Stockholm last week.

UPDATE April 10, 2011

Prof. Canan-Sokullu shared a link to an English version of her research note on support for NATO policies: Here. And I might as well clarify her findings while I am on the topic. From the research note:
The results show that MHP supporters are the fiercest anti-NATO group, AKP supporters are rather moderately against NATO. Those who support CHP have adopted consistently negative attitudes to NATO over time. 

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