Turkey's role in the Middle East

22 March 2011

Ramazan Gozen, Professor of International Relations, and Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Abant Izzet Baysal University, Ankara, said that the media tended to portray two conflicting views about Turkey. The first portrayed Turkey as an asset in world and regional politics. The contrasting perspective portrays Turkey as a burden, with a shift of foreign policy focus from West to the East. These contrasting views are not surprising, because Turkey is difficult for outsiders to understand.

Turkey is a transition country, moving from East to West in its domestic and foreign policy. The ‘europeanisation’ of Turkey is most evident in its hard efforts to become a member of the European Union. Turkey is trying to combine Western ideals and values with inherent social, cultural and religious values, and to deal tactfully and carefully with change in the region.

In the last ten years Turkey has been using a soft power approach to foreign policy, trying to resolve international problems by negotiation, dialogue, diplomacy. European Union ideals play an important role in this approach. In principle Turkey supports democratic transformation and reform in the Middle East, but reform should be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Democratic reform must come from within and not be imposed externally by military means.

Philip Robins, Lecturer in Politics, Oxford University, said that Turkey has, ‘a 360 degree foreign policy’ that transcends compartmentalised versions of Turkish foreign policies and reflects the geographical position of the country. As Turkish foreign policy has developed it has emerged as a major power centre, increasing its power relative to most of its neighbours and exerting a gravitational pull with itself at the centre.

It is necessary to leave behind the old assumptions about Turkish foreign policy and recognise the more integrated, variegated set of neighbourhood policies. Turkey’s engagement with its former Ottoman space is important, and the opportunities that can come from this at an economic and diplomatic level.

There are important implications for the EU, which needs to be mindful that this ‘big country’ on its border is getting bigger and stronger economically, and becoming more self-confident. The EU needs to decide how it will manage Turkey, and what institutional structures and processes are needed if the relationship is to develop. The USA has to stop focusing on Iraq in bilateral relations with Turkey and concentrate on a day-to-day set of bilateral issues, building on the good relationship that exists.