From Zero Problems With Neighbours To Zero Neighbours Without Problems

Before 2011, Turkey was at the zenith of its foreign policy. The foreign minister at that time was Ahmet Davutoglu, who is currently the Turkish Prime Minister after Recep Tayyip Erdogan became President.

Davutoglu was a professor in International Relations and he brought his expertise to the service of the Turkish government. The golden age of Turkish foreign policy began with his innovations.

Turkey at that time too, was at crossroads and a dilemma because it had been trying to become a member of the EU for many years and it seemed to be a losing battle. From all indicators, it seemed that Turkey was fighting a losing battle.

Davutoglu abandoned this courting of the EU and decided on a new approach with its neighbours. Turkey then embarked on mending fences with its neighbours and improving relations. Turkey’s geographical position had given it the advantage of getting the best of both, Asia and Europe, and they pressed this advantage perfectly. Turkey began courting the Arab world and this translated into greater investments from the Arab world, particularly the Gulf and the increase in regional clout.

Turkey repaired its relationship with Syria and inter-border trade had just begun to pick up. The courting of the Arab World was beneficial for Turkey because it provided for a huge market for its goods and was a good source of investment. The Turkish economy really picked up at this time and it had translated to a much bigger growth rate.

Turkish foreign policy became a model to be replicated. Of course, it is hard to replicate foreign policy given that conditions vary from country to country, but the basic principles of Turkish foreign policy became really note-worthy. Turkey had always insisted that such a policy was inherent in the foundation of the Turkish state itself because it was none other than Mustafa Kemal Ataturk himself who said “Peace at home, peace in the world”.

The Arab Spring saw and became the end of this glorious streak of foreign policy which demonstrated the importance of a peaceful neighbourhood.

To be clear, the people of the Arab world never opposed Turkey. It was actions of the states and state leaders which eventually led to the breakdown of relations everywhere.

It was manageable when Ben Ali of Tunisia was overthrown, but as the dominoes of the Middle East started to fall leading to the ouster of many leaders, the problem came to Turkey’s borders when it also rocked Syria. Turkey was in a big fix because it had to take a stand as to whether it was with the regimes in these countries or was it with the people protesting. Turkey tried to avoid the question as much as it could and didn’t make a stand. When things came to a head in Syria, Turkey couldn’t stay silent any longer.

In the coming days, when it was clear that Assad was using excessive force against people protesting him, Turkey denounced the regime. It was supposed to be a strategic move in the hope that they would be able to topple Assad and the new government would be interested in improving ties with Turkey. It was without a doubt, a big gamble because there was no way of knowing how this would end, and then it did end badly. By upsetting the Assad regime, Turkey strained the relationship and they became hostile to each other.

It turned worse as the years passed and at this point, we see Turkey suffering geo-politically.

While most of Turkey’s foreign policy problems can be attributed to the internal problems of its neighbours such as Syria and Iraq, there can be some factors that can be attributed to Turkey itself. For one, Erdogan’s support for Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood has not been received well by many Egyptians and most importantly, the current government in Egypt. Turkish-Egyptian relations as a result have been strained.

Secondly, Turkey’s role in the current ISIS quagmire in Iraq has irked a lot of people. There are several allegations against Turkey which include:

1. Turkey purchases ISIS oil which then in turn finances the activities of the ISIS
2. Turkey allows itself to be a transit point for people wanting to join the ISIS
3. Turkey has impeded international coalition efforts of attacking the ISIS by restricting the use of its bases to conduct airstrikes.

These have alienated Turkey in not only its neighbourhood, but also in the world, which now views Turkey with a lot of suspicion. The fall from such an elevated position in international relations to being suspected in aiding the ISIS is truly a spectacular fall in stature.


Ashwath Komath
An article by:
Ashwath Komath

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