Turkey shaped its foreign policy during the 1950s according to the Cold War conditions in place at the time. Shouldering a role within the Western alliance, Turkey both helped protect Europe’s security and found itself delivered from the responsibility of developing its own defense strategy.
This was a level of comfort that a lethargic mindset could only dream of. No doubt those who made Turkey into a NATO member thought that the struggles between the two main polarized blocs would last forever.
In 1980 though, a polarized world suddenly collapsed. It was as though Turkey fell into a vacuum, splitting off -- if not officially, at least practically -- from the center to which it was connected. One inevitable result of this was to elicit questions in the minds of many of what its “new foreign policy preferences” were going to be. Making a new choice in foreign policy was not slated to be easy for Turkey, as the new choice was going to both force it to emerge from its listless state of the past, as well as force it to find some new defense resources.
And in fact, neither Turkey’s intellectual stock nor its economic strength were sufficient to meet its new demands and situation.
Leaders who came later, clearly having not learned the necessary lessons from the many decades of 1950-1990, thought that Turkey could overcome the new problems it was facing by becoming a full member of the EU. They pointed to the EU as being a gateway to hope in front of Turkey. This despite the truth that, even if Turkey were to become a full EU member, it is doubtful whether Europe would really be interested in protecting Turkey’s real interests.
A decline in support for the EU among Turkish citizens -- from around 78 percent in 2002 to around 30 percent today -- is the result of a lack of trust in the EU on the societal level. As new developments in the Balkans, the Caucuses and the Middle East continue to unfold to the detriment of Turkey, the growing difference between Turkey and the EU emerges with more clarity. As the public sees it, trusting Europe was, from the very beginning, a mistake.
At this point, it might be appropriate to remind those of you who find my comments biased of some words from historian Fernand Braudel. In his book “The Mediterranean and the Ancient World,” this French historian talks about the three civilizations formed in and around the Mediterranean up until today. According to Braudel, these are the Catholic Christian, the Christian Orthodox and the Islamic civilizations. Despite some support shown by Orthodox Slavs for the Muslims against the Catholics during the first Crusades, the fact is that in the Balkan Wars -- which occurred at the start of the 20th century -- these two arms of the Christian world united to fight the Ottoman state and Islamic civilization. What is clear from Braudel’s analysis herein is that the Balkan Wars were a reawakening of the spirit of the Crusades, with cooperative efforts aimed at dealing a deadly blow to the Islamic world.
Can we really say now that this “spirit of the Crusades” has disappeared? For as long as right and fair reasons justifying the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are not found, this question will continue to be asked.
Another significant development is this:
No one can allege that the whole “clash of civilizations” idea has really disappeared from the global agenda. Whether it be Bernard Lewis or Samuel Huntington, those who throw this theory out for people to think about are really talking about religions, not civilizations. Despite the spread of nihilism produced by modernity, the factor of religion looks set to play a stronger and stronger role in international political relations every day.
This being the situation, Turkey must turn to its essential and genuine axis, and find ways to create healthy and sustainable alliances with partners in fate traversing the same axis. And this enterprise is one which will -- in an era when regionalization and new regional integration is occurring parallel to globalization -- happen only through putting the dynamics of an Islamic union into motion.