The contrary happened and under AK Party rule Turkey passed through the process of creating a foreign policy agenda deeper and denser than it has ever been. We can line up the basic elements of this process thus; speeding up the EU accession process; Turkey’s new move putting in taking the initiative on Cyprus; and, most important of all, the Iraq issue. Along with these the referents and expansions inserted by the AK Party’s foreign policy constructors into Turkey’s agenda became the matter of discussion: examples such as rhythmic diplomacy, problem-free politics with neighboring countries, Latin America and Africa years, taking the initiative in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and co-presidency in the Alliance of Civilizations are just the first that come to mind.
The issue on which the AK Party had difficulties in this period, more than foreign policy dynamics and its conditions, was the transitivity between internal politics and foreign politics. When a situation that could be considered relatively normal within the EU process kept on popping up at every step taken by the AK Party, it made control of the process more difficult. And this problem was felt intensely, especially during the visit of Hamas, which is now supported by various circles, including former US President Jimmy Carter, and under all tensions that still continue regarding the northern Iraq issue. The AK Party had serious problems in establishing comprehensible balance and harmony between foreign and internal politics. We would not be doing the party an injustice if we say that, while one part of these problems were shaped by provocative news in the media, the AK Party also displayed unsuccessful crisis management for some of these problems. As an example of this, we should consider the case of the crisis after Hamas’ visit.
This picture shows the crisis of the transformations in the balance of global powers and within Turkish foreign policy for the AK Party. We are in a period when America has clearly militarized its hegemony and when all conflicts are shaped on the ground of the Middle East. If Turkey had entered this period while following traditional Turkish foreign policies, if we had “wait-and-see” tactics, some of these crises wouldn’t have occurred. But continuing to follow this direction would cause a larger cost to be paid. Therefore we should assess the AK Party’s foreign policy exactly in accordance with this framework: a context where the balance of global powers has been shaken and is now in the process of being restructured. Turkey found two options before it in this process: it could be included into this course by continuously submitting itself to external forces or it could undertake a serious transformation and look for ways to evolve into more active politics. The AK Party’s performance in foreign policy clearly shows that it prefers the second option.
In this context it put forth the vision of “problem-free politics with neighbor countries.” Instead of being a country that adopts limited and distant relationships, often shaped by security concerns, with other countries, Turkey is becoming a nation that puts its problems on the table and is a regional actor. In this way the relationship network was seriously broadened with Syria, Iran, Bulgaria, Greece, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine and Romania. A critical point here is the rapid abolishment of the once prevailing psychology that Turkey is a nation “surrounded by sea on three sides, but by enemies on four sides.” In the Cyprus issue, described as having entered a dead-end street and being troublesome for Turkey, for the first time in many years Turkish foreign policy took the initiative. As an outcome of this, the isolated Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) was transformed into a country hosting high international delegations and attending meetings such as the OIC.
As for the Iraq issue, there were two significant breaks. The initial one was the rejection of the first bill, which was like an unfortunate bullet; a result of perspective discrepancies within the AK Party. We should be aware of the new symbolic powers and values that came out of this rejection, however. In the beginning they shocked some circles, but resulted in protecting Turkey from the quagmire of Iraq, preventing dense “passage” of foreign military, saving Turkey from becoming a side participating directly in the Iraq conflict and affected the relationships with states in the region and with Western countries. As it is for the back studies on the bill regarding the discussions, which mainly focused on Iraq and security issues, they didn’t take into consideration the positive outcomes mentioned above. When they are considered, we can say that the AK Party is actually following the right policies regarding this bill.
The second break concerns the problem of which side in Iraq Turkey should establish a relationship with, and the stress of this issue is still continuing. Historically, with the aim of providing security within relationships with the Middle East, Turkey was always a country that preferred narrow and shallow relationships. As balances didn’t change rapidly during the Cold War and the Middle East issue was relatively stable, this kind of relationship didn’t cause large problems. More recently the issue was affected by anxieties over national security and the rise of Kurdish powers in northern Iraq during the 1990s. Now there is no “old Iraq” and the whole infrastructure has changed. In this environment the issue of deciding with whom and how to cooperate is extremely important for Turkey. The AK Party, who initially followed policies based on a relationship with one group in Iraqi politics, is now adopting policies that give importance to establishing contact with different circles in Iraq and institutionalizing and deepening the relationships. We can say that today Turkey is the only country establishing relationships with different circles within the region. With this it is promising to continue “problem-free politics with neighboring countries,” including Iraq, to become an effective country in establishing relationships in the short term and to become the determining actor in the long term. As for turning this process into a harmonized relationship, it is again continuously sabotaged by reasons rooted in domestic politics.
Turkish foreign policy has broached some new areas during the AK Party period. These developments are related to areas of Latin America and African countries. Regardless of the fact that it is poorly represented on the political agenda, Turkey’s proclaiming 2005 as “The year of Africa” and 2006 as “The year of Latin America” is still extremely important. Relationships with these areas will be seen as supporting an increase in the number of Turkey’s relationships and conducive to efforts for representation at the UN Security Council. Because these steps would, in the long run, merge Turkish foreign politics with a broadened sphere of activity, this policy approach should be supported without making distinctions among parties.
The AK Party’s performance in foreign policy should be assessed under conditions of a period ruled by global transformation and tremors in the balance of powers. Protecting its interests while following traditional Turkish politics in these times is impossible. The price of staying in a passive position and following precedent means turning into a country that doesn’t take any initiative in foreign policy; a country that is totally exposed to the regional design attempts by external powers, not able to protect even its own basic interests. For this reason instead of narrow and shallow relationships shaped by the Cold War mindset, Turkey needs relationships, or relationship networks, shaped by different dynamics and visions. This obliges us to ask again the questions of what Turkey’s interests are and how they would be realized, and to provide answers in accordance to the dynamics.
Within this framework, the point that should be examined concerning the AK Party and its foreign policy engineers is that the mentioned questions were seriously asked by the government and it is controlling efforts to provide new answers to these questions. “Problem-free politics with neighboring countries”; opening toward Africa and Latin America; bringing representation within the OIC to the highest level; continuance of relations with the EU at a comprehensible speed; attempts to establish close relationships with different groups in spite of problems in Iraq; and following active-country policies should be taken as proof of these efforts. Of course these relationships are not without problems, and we could talk about many problems when we look at them individually. From the other side, the more important point here is that all these carry signs of a process of transformation into a country that is active in foreign policy, a country that is, within the framework of new dynamics, giving new answers to the old questions and a country that has the potential to become a central player. Maybe it is here that the disturbance of the balance between foreign and domestic politics could transform into positive dynamics and active foreign policies could prepare the basis for a transformation that would contribute the process of reconciliation between the state and people in Turkey. This is one of the largest favors that could be done to Turkey.
*Member of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA)