Turkish foreign policy: where is it headed?

30 October 2009

Yaşar Yakiş, Member of the Justice & Development Party (AKP) and Chair of the Turkish Grand National Assembly EU Integration Committee, said Turkey has improved relations with neighbours and now uses ‘soft power’ to mediate between Israel and Syria, and Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The country will bring many advantages for Europe as it is a bridge to the East, has a large, young, educated population and is in a region with 72% of the world’s fossil fuels. Although some European leaders dispute Turkey’s place in the EU, Turkey is optimistic that both Turkey and the EU will have changed by the time it joins.

Turkey is displaying “enormous policy dynamism in a difficult region”, said Dirk Rochtus, Senior Lecturer for History and International Relations, Lessius University College, Antwerp. It is improving relations with Kurdish populations in Iraq and Turkey, and normalising relations with neighbouring Armenia, although   this risks losing influence with energy-strategic Azerbaijan.

Its negative reactions to Israeli action in the Gaza Strip have dampened Turkish-Israeli relations and threaten Turkey’s ‘zero problems with neighbours’ policy’.

The EU praised Turkish foreign policy, but, he said, the country must continue toward democracy, and will remain close to the EU even without membership.

Chris Brewin, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Keele University, UK, said Turkey will be less involved with the EU and more involved with its ‘zero problems with neighbours’ policy”. The government has held together disparate groups internally and dealt with the Arab world as equals.

Ankara thinks the EU is “naive about the risk of Islamic fundamentalism” in Turkey, but, given the strong EU-Turkish economic links, will not turn away from Europe. However the EU could do more to encourage Turkey, and Turkey could play its cards better in Europe.

The three power centres for Turkey are the US, the EU and Russia, said Hüseyin Bağçi, Professor of International Relations, Middle East Technical University, Ankara. The Turkish Prime Minister is more comfortable with Russia than with the EU, as the Russians do not criticise Turkey and have recently strengthened relations.

With its geographical size, large population and growing economic strength, Turkey now has “space in which to move” as a regional and global player. It is not a secular, Islamic state, but a democratic, secular and open country and could become the “conscience of the Islamic world.”