New Concept in Turkish Foreign Policy: ‘Virtuous Power’ by Emrah Usta*
ILLUSTRATION: CEM KIZILTUĞ
Even though it has been experiencing trying times since 2007, the Turkish government, having adopted a proactive foreign policy, has recently demonstrated that it can be influential in different parts of the world, as evidenced by recent visits to South Korea and China.
The zero-problem policy coined by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has introduced dynamism in Turkish foreign policy. However, in light of current developments and events, it is possible to argue that it can be problematic. The invisible overlap between perceptions and events during the foreign policy making process allowed those coordinating Turkish foreign policy to respond appropriately to these situations. It is also possible to say that the new actors which emerged out of the economic turmoil of the 2000s, as well as changes in the new world order, have affected Turkish decision makers in the field of policy making. The political institutions which had signaled a proactive style in foreign policy during the era of former Foreign Minister Ismail Cem entered a new period with the beginning of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration in 2002. This foreign policy style, which attempted to deal with dogmas in domestic politics, has expanded its influence in a vast area of hinterland from the center through the periphery.
The Aleppo-Antep and Arbil-Turkey examples, some of the finest expressions of the zero-problems policy, have above all integrated the notions and ideas of Turks, Arabs, Kurds and Persians. The apprehensions regarding Turkey were further removed by Turkish soap operas, which have become very popular in surrounding countries. In the Arab-Turkish world, where ideas and views have been reconciled, the stakeholders have benefited from common trade interests as evidenced in the Libyan case. The Turkish-Arab rapprochement has unified the diverse actors in the region; the combined efforts and struggle against external interventions have become more concrete since Erdoğan stormed off the stage during a discussion of Gaza at the 2009 Davos summit, which could be taken as the point of divergence of Turkish politics from Israel. The harsh stance of the Turkish prime minister at this meeting is one of the factors that triggered the process called the Arab Spring. This stance, which gives an impression of a strong, independent and modern state, has provoked the emotional reflexes of the people in the Arab world against the former order and leaders. Since the Arab-Turk rapprochement the Turkish government answered claims of Neo-Ottomanism, a popular topic at the moment, with its foreign policy and emerged as a virtuous power across a vast area, from Somalia to Gaza, from Paris to Ürümqi. In its broadest sense, virtuous power refers to the consolidation of mutual confidence and cooperation with another state instead of how useful they may be in the future.
It also refers to the types of power applicable to all actors within an understanding of social justice that does not impose on the goals. In reference to this definition, President Abdullah Gül, in a speech delivered at a conference held at the War Academy, underlined that with its advancing democracy, improving economy, strong army, young and qualified population, vibrant business life and rising profile on the international stage, Turkey has become a country of principled policies and visionary approaches whose friendship has become valuable to others and whose voice has become stronger in international politics. Gül also drew attention to the huge transformation in the global strategic balances, noting that we are going through a momentous time in history and that such periods hold risks as well as great opportunities. This signals that Turkish foreign policy may adopt a flexible and active stance in this era. Noting that the recent geopolitical changes include a wave of democratization which has been called the Arab Spring, Gül also pointed to military actions around the globe. Gül said those people who have been subjected to brutality and persecution for a long time have now started a struggle for their honor in the Middle East region, adding: “These popular movements have disappointed the political Orientalists who argued that Islam was not consistent with democracy and the cultural relativists who argued that Oriental people are still far from achieving human rights, democracy and gender equality.” This speech represents a preliminary draft of the virtuous power approach in Turkey.
Gül, who noted that there are soft power elements in the region that would promote a sense of incentive and belonging for lasting peace and stability in the region, said that the notion of smart power has emerged out of this. Smart power refers to an approach that envisages the use of the military and soft power elements based on circumstances. Gül noted that this concept, which reflects the pragmatic mentality of the Anglo-Saxon tradition, does not fully correspond to the power notion that Turkey prefers; this clarifies the difference between smart power and virtuous power. In reference to virtuous society, coined by Turkish thinker Farabi, Gül further said that Turkey’s position as a virtuous power will be in the best interest of the region. On the other hand, the change in Turkish foreign policy is comparable to a fireball whose heat reaches a vast hinterland. The image of Turkey, which has focused on hunger in Somalia and the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza following the Davos meeting, has become a huge supporting power for the people of the region. Turkey, which negotiated the release of the American journalists held hostage in Libya during this process, is the only viable option for a lasting solution in the nuclear talks with Iran. Turkey also has attracted attention because of its successful evacuation of 30,000 people from Libya; this has raised and polished Turkey’s image in the region and in Europe as well. The growing support for Turkey in the region will inevitably serve its interests in the future. In the event that it uses this opportunity wisely and smartly, Turkey may add a whole new dimension to its 2023 vision.
The Camp David order, which has become susceptible to change in the Middle East following the Arab Spring, has made the European Union and NATO adopt new strategic concepts and run additional political analyses that would apply to regional developments. Reference to the trading state by Professor Kemal Kirişçi of Bosporus University has become a discourse demonstrated in Turkish foreign policy in recent times. Whether this definition, which refers to a reliance on strong economic structures to move outwards, is consistent with Turkish foreign policy is a legitimate question that requires a thorough answer. According to Mehmet Özkan, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Seville, the best alternative to the use of the term trading state is to focus on Turkey’s own culture that would expand its influence in the region. Özkan, who is studying the impact of religion and culture in the field of foreign policy in South Africa, India and Turkey, holds that trading-sensitiveness adds a cultural dimension to current relations. This definition and approach by Özkan is obviously consistent with the Turkey’s desire to become a virtuous power.
The economic investments promoted by Turkish foreign policy experts in an attempt to prevent the partition of Iraq in the aftermath of the American invasion confirm this. The economy policy pursued since mid-2007 in Iraq, situated along a dynamic fault line, has turned northern Iraq into another Turkey in terms of economic development. Arbil, a city in northern Iraq, is one of the finest examples of this. Turkey, which has pursued flexible policies in an attempt to reconcile the disagreements between Turkmen, Sunni and Kurdish groups in this region, has picked Arbil as a pilot city and contributed to its restructuring. The contribution of Turkish investors to the construction of hotels, hospitals, airports and trade ventures is a fine example of a trading-sensitive state. On the other hand, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to make his first stop Ürümqi during his official China visit means that the new policies bear a cultural aspect and meaning. Considering all this, it could be said that Turkey’s recent policy, which is being implemented for lasting stability and peace in the region, holds a vision that goes beyond sectarian or religious identities and the ability to maintain ties with all relevant actors and stakeholders; it also raises the image that it would extend support for the protection of peace and stability between nations. It is obvious that there is the warmth of Anatolia in every effort and step in a wide range of issues including the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, the crisis in Lebanon, the service as interlocutor in the dispute between Bosnians and Serbs in the Balkans and relations with Venezuela. Turkey, which has accomplished this, is ready to deliver justice all over the world.
*Emrah Usta is a Istanbul-based Political Analyst and Oped writer. He can be followed on Twitter @StrategcAnalyst