In recent years, Turkey has expanded its foreign policy parameters not only in theory but in practice and reached out to disparate corners of the world. Turkey’s present success offers challenges and opportunities together. While trying to contribute to international security, Turkey will face the requirement of transforming its domestic politics in accordance with the realities of the post Cold War era. Turkey’s policies of bringing the conflicting sides together and initiating platforms for cooperation will be seen more often now in international politics.
TURKEY IN THE UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Turkey won a seat as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in the election held on October 17, 2008. Turkey had competed in the “Western European and Others” bloc along with Austria and Iceland; out of 192 voting members of the UN General Assembly, 151 voted for Turkey. Turkey and the second winner in the same bloc, Austria, will replace Belgium and Italy. The responsibilities of the seat will resume on January 1, 2009 and end on December 31, 2010.
The United Nations Security Council is formed around five major permanent members (also called the big five), the United States, Russia, China, the UK, and France. The permanent members represent the real power distribution, each holding the power to veto any decision. In addition to these five permanent members, the United Nations General Assembly elects ten non-permanent members from among five blocs representing different regions in the world. Non-permanent members of the UNSC are elected for a two years term and are not eligible for immediate re-election. Turkey’s new seat in the UNSC is a historic achievement for Turkish foreign policy since 1961. After holding a non-permanent member seat three times, in 1951–1952, 1954–1955 and in 1961, Turkey tried its hand throughout the 1970s and twice in the 1990s with no success. Turkey’s present success was not won easily and reflects the dynamic transformation in Turkish foreign policy over the last few years. The success came with hard work and coordinated diplomacy, and it promises to offer challenges and opportunities together. The following lines briefly discuss the path that led to Turkey’s present seat in the Security Council, and assess its potential impact on Turkish foreign policy.
Turkey Builds a New Circle of Trust
Turkey’s new government decided to run for a seat in UNSC immediately after its election in 2002. Since then, Turkish foreign policy has demonstrated a remarkable dedication to this goal. Turkish diplomatic corps around the world and political leaders lobbied to achieve this end during the last six years until the last hours before the election. Perhaps for the first time in its modern history, Turkey coordinated a multidimensional diplomacy initiative of this magnitude effectively and successfully. During the campaign Turkey expanded its foreign policy parameters not only in theory but in practice and reached out to disparate corners of the world. The new territories Turkey charted for this goal ranged from Pacific countries (all of whom voted in favor of Turkey in the UN General Assembly) to Sub-Saharan Africa, and from South America to Central Asia.
By hosting various summits in Istanbul, among them one for African countries and another for member states of the Caribbean Community, Turkey exhibited a high level of engagement with countries whose problems had not received a dedicated voice in the Western world. The summit between Turkey and the member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was held on August 21-23 2008. The summit exemplified the evolving nature of Turkish foreign policy and the global nature of its economic relations irrespective of geographical distance. Attendees raised common concerns and emphasized their commitment to advancing economic, political, social and cultural relations. The CARICOM countries welcomed Turkey as a permanent observer to both the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the Organization of the American States (OAS). Turkey’s proposal to raise its level of relations with these countries by establishing a “Consultation and Cooperation Mechanism” was also welcomed.
Another Istanbul summit, which was held right before the Turkey–CARICOM meeting, gathered heads of delegations from the African Union countries with Turkish statesmen in August 18-21 2008. “The First Africa-Turkey Cooperation Summit” embodied Turkey’s most recent openings towards the continent. For too long the continent had escaped the attention of Turkish foreign policy. To rectify this situation and to bring the continent and its problems to the world’s attention Turkey had declared the year 2005 as “The Year of Africa” during which several conferences were held and new initiatives introduced. As part of Turkey’s new opening to Africa, TIKA (the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency) financed and carried out several development projects in different parts of the continent. In addition, for the first time in Turkey, a scholarly journal solely devoted to issues related to the African continent, Afrika began to be published. Africa, beyond a handful of Northern countries, was a recent “discovery” for Turkish statesmen, business people and NGOs; in fact they all discovered how much could be done in the region. In an attempt to fill the gap of representation, Turkey plans to open up ten more embassies in Africa.
In addition to its initiatives in Africa, Turkey’s contributions to the UN and to projects in the least developed regions of the world have been on a steady increase during the last few years. Turkey’s contribution in development assistance programs now amounts annually to more than 700 million US dollars; when combined with the NGOs’ contributions the number reaches to more than one billion annually. Such efforts fall under the Millennium Development Goals promoted by former Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, and contribute to Turkey’s trust building efforts. In sum, despite its limited financial means, Turkey is emerging as a donor country in the UN. The Africa–Turkey cooperation summit in Istanbul emphasized Turkey’s positive role in the world in general and its constructive initiatives for Africa in particular. The declaration of the Summit, announced on August 19, 2008 in Istanbul, welcomed the African Union’s decision to declare Turkey a strategic partner. The declaration recognizes the importance of economic cooperation between Turkey and the growing economies of African states, and also makes significant references to the role of the UNSC. Among these, the declaration calls for the peaceful settlement of international disputes, emphasizing the UNSC’s role in providing peace and security in the world, and demands recognition by the UNSC of the positive role facilitated by the African Union in the settlements of conflicts in the continent. As evidenced by the Summit, Turkey’s objectives and the African Union’s desires to resolve international conflicts through negotiations and peaceful methods compliment each other.
Another highly visible event was the United Nations Ministerial Conference of the Least Developed Countries which took place in Istanbul July 9–11, 2007. The meeting discussed issues around how to increase the participation of LDCs in global business by addressing their specific problems in attracting investment and international trade. Through the UNDP Turkey hosted this event and embraced the problems of the least developed world.
Obviously Turkey did not engage in all of these efforts only to get the non-permanent seat in the UNSC. After the end of the Cold War the international system had to be redefined. And it was redefined by three major events: the first war on Iraq (after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait), the US invasion of Afghanistan, and the second war in Iraq (both of the latter took place after the horrifying terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001). Turkey, along with the rest of the world, was entering unknown territory in terms of its international relations. The world system was becoming increasingly unpredictable, as there was no agreed upon mechanism for re-distribution of world resources by major powers. The showcase territory for the new world order, led by the US, was in close proximity to Turkey, and Turkey’s financial losses from the first war on Iraq were second only to Iraq’s own. In addition, Turkey paid (and is still paying) a heavy price in terms of financial resources and human lives due to terror originating from Northern Iraq. Turkey needed to regain its strength in order to meet new challenges coming from all directions. Turkey’s diplomatic initiatives over the past few years can be interpreted from this perspective, and its successful bid for the nonpermanent seat in the UNSC is emblematic of its new and dynamic approach to the post Cold War world.
The United Nations was formed around three major concerns: development, human rights and security. The Security Council represents the security aspect of these three major pillars. As outlined in the UN charter, the Security Council oversees peace and security operations around the world. The Council has the power to authorize military actions, peacekeeping operations, and international sanctions. In this regard Turkey’s active involvement in the Council’s decision-making process has different dimensions. Main dimension is related to Turkey’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations. In recent years, Turkey has provided a range of military services under the umbrella of the UN (and NATO), in places ranging from Somalia to Bosnia and from Kosovo to Lebanon. Turkey led UN troops (ISAF) in Afghanistan with a large number of military personnel and is currently providing peacekeeping and infrastructure-building services in the war-torn regions of Lebanon. One thing that should be kept in mind is that Turkey’s approach toward UN security operations has traditionally been concentrated around its peacekeeping efforts. Therefore, the non-permanent status of Turkey in the Security Council compliments Turkey’s role and efforts in providing peacekeeping operations around the globe.
Turkey and the UNSC: Challenges
There is no question that non-permanent membership in the UNSC will provide Turkey with great prestige in the international community, or, conversely that it reflects Turkey’s prestige in the world. But in what ways and to what extent can Turkey transform this “capital” into real benefits for itself and for the good of the international community?
Turkey will be serving at the UNSC at a time of a great many challenges. The most recent financial crisis in the US spread to the rest of the world in a matter of days, and with only grim prospects for immediate solution, the same crises is now shaking the very grounds of liberal economies around the globe. The question if and/or to what extent the traditional paradigms of the current international economic system, the parameters of which were set at Bretton Woods after the end of WWII, should be reconsidered revised lies at the core of the uncertainty. The same uncertainty delays and complicates the emergence of a new political international system. What will be the roles of new centers of power in the would-be emerging world system, namely the European Union, China, India and Russia? Maybe there will be no new international “system.” Maybe there will be multiple systems in the world. To debate a clear answer to these issues would be far too ineffectual at this stage. But until that time comes there are many good things to be done, and with its new role Turkey can serve the good of humanity along with the other non-permanent members and the big five of the UNSC.
One of the most urgently needed steps in order for Turkey to function with maximum efficiency in the UNSC is for Turkey to bring its domestic politics urgently into the real world of the post Cold War era. This is necessary for two reasons: the most recent internal political struggles in Turkey (e.g. the closure case against the Justice and Development Party, the relentless rejections of main opposition party, the People’s Republican Party, government proposals for a more democratic constitution, the inability to effectively eradicate the undemocratic environment so that those who aspire to utilize terror will lose their ground, the need to transform unwilling and disgruntled segments of the old fashioned bureaucracy, etc.) are preventing Turkey and its political leaders from tapping their full potential. The second reason is that for outsiders, domestic power struggles invite worries that Turkey’s trends toward greater democratization and economic stability could be temporary rather than the established norm. Turkey needs to eradicate these anomalies and the damaging misperceptions they perpetuate now in order to strengthen its claims for a better and more peaceful world.
Given Turkey’s emphasis on peacekeeping, a major dilemma could arise for Turkey when the issues of using military power or authorizing sanctions against another country are brought before the Security Council. The most immediate issue before the Council will inevitably be the case against Iran because of its nuclear program. The case against Iran has the potential to turn into an international military conflict. While Israel has pressed the US and the UN to take military action against Iran, the EU has shown reluctance. China and Russia likewise disfavor an immediate military operation. Turkey’s position regarding Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weaponry is clear; Turkey does not want a proliferation of nuclear arms in general, and in its neighborhood in particular. Whether Iran’s nuclear program is designed for peaceful civil use or to reach military capability, making Iran a nuclear power posing a viable threat to Israel seems to be at the core of the problem. Turkey has tended to accept Iran’s statements that its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes, while the US and Israel have not. The case against Iran in the UNSC seems to be deadlocked as there is a disagreement among the permanent members: the US and the UK lobby for wider sanctions – perhaps before a military campaign – while China and Russia try to prevent it.
The case is complicated for Turkey for several reasons. First, Turkey does not want another sanctions regime around its borders. Turkey paid a heavy price from the sanctions against Saddam’s Iraq, and was never compensated for its losses. Several Turkish companies operating in Iraq lost billions of dollars when they had to leave the country before the first war on Iraq in 1991. The total losses of Turkish companies are estimated to be around 40–60 billion dollars. Second, although few Turkish companies operate in Iran today, Turkey needs to remain on good terms with this neighbor, because Iran provides the only viable alternative to Turkey’s sole natural gas supplier, Russia. Aware of Turkey’s need to diversify its energy supply, Iran recently offered Turkey a privileged status to supply its energy from Iran, a proposal containing partnership offers for the drilling of oil and natural gas reserves. Although the proposal
has yet to be realized, and although the US does not want Turkey to go ahead with it, the proposal certainly is an attractive offer given Turkey’s currently limited options for energy supplies.
Turkey opposes military operations for another and more humanitarian reason, urging the world to recognize that the region has exhausted its capacity to endure another war. Another unjustified military operation would eradicate the prospects of democratization in the region, this time perhaps forever. As a point of even greater caution, a war against Iran should not at all be compared to the war against Iraq. The consequences of an Iran war would be far more catastrophic than the Iraq war ever was. Although Iran’s military capacity cannot compare with America’s military might, it could still inflict heavy damages on American resources and on US allies in the region.
Turkey can and should mediate between the sides to preempt a large-scale conflict in the region, and it can do so with greater efficiency using the UNSC as a platform for cooperation. The role Turkey would assume to prevent an armed conflict between the US and Iran also fits Turkey’s traditional foreign policy directive, inherited from the founder of the Republic, namely “peace at home, peace abroad.”
Turkey and the UNSC: Opportunities
Through its membership in the UNSC, Turkey should offer its experiences in combating terror for the good of the international community. It is widely known that Turkey sided with the US in the “War on Terror” but received little sympathy from its Western allies in general or from its European partners in particular during its struggle against the PKK. Originating from Northern Iraq where their terrorist activities have yet to be outspokenly and frankly rejected by local authorities, a PKK terror network has long been active in Turkey, causing a wide gap of trust between its supporters behind the scene and Turkey’s people. It would be imprudent for Turkish statesmen not to raise the issue of the PKK and its subsidiary terrorist networks with a stronger voice now, in order to get higher-level attention and cooperation from the international community. No better place exists among the current international institutions than the UNSC to voice such concerns and demand solid contributions from partners to combat terrorism. The most recent conflict between Georgia and Russia has created instability around Turkey which involves the US also. The dimensions of the conflict inevitably invite Turkey to be more proactive in seeking a peaceful solution, as it has good relations with both countries and the Western world. Though the conflict took place between Georgia and Russia, the results would suggest a new geopolitical situation between the US and Russia. The conflict can also be perceived as Russia’s reaction to NATO’s policies of expansion to include the former Soviet republics. The conflict poses a critical challenge to Turkish foreign policy because Turkey is a member of NATO and is also trying to form a high level of economic partnership with Russia. The disagreement between the US and Russia (and to a limited extent between the US and the EU) over NATO’s future role in the region invites careful policymaking as far as Turkey is concerned. Not yet admitted to the decision-making process of the European Union’s major security structures, Turkey faces a dilemma and perhaps a hard choice between two seemingly close but internally rival blocs, the EU and the US. The real dilemma for Turkey appears to lie in how to accommodate Russia’s new aspirations and the United States’ already in-progress designs for the region. Turkey’s choices are quite limited where Russia is involved: Russia is the only major natural gas supplier for Turkey, the only alternative being Iran. Turkish Prime Minister R. Tayyip Erdogan’s recent proposal to form a regional cooperation scheme (the Caucasian Stability and Cooperation Platform) which includes Russia, would serve as a good exit point –if realized meaningfully–from the current impasse and could provide alternative venues to engage the parties involved in the conflict. Despite the possibility that Turkey could find itself in the middle of an international conflict while trying to mediate a regional disagreement, (consider that the conflict in Georgia was perceived by many as between Russia and the US), if used effectively, Turkey can utilize the UNSC as a mediating platform. Turkey will bring more to the table than any other country in the region not only because it is and has been a reliable partner to both Russia and the US, but also because it seeks to expand diplomatic and economic cooperation with the countries in the region. With much to lose in future international conflicts in the Caucasus region Turkey should try to prevent any further expansion of the current conflict.
Turkey will be working with a new American administration in the UNSC. This certainly presents a big opportunity for Turkey because the new secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has a considerable knowledge of Turkey and Turkish leaders. While Clinton has acknowledged Turkey’s positive role in the Middle East and has attended events with Turkish policymakers more than once, Turkey should not expect that the relationship between the two countries will be stress-free. If American-Armenian’s allegations are brought before the House, with Hillary Clinton and the next president of the United States Barack Obama, as well as the current speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, already committed to the Armenian claims; it would mark a catastrophic beginning for bilateral relations. Common sense suggests that the issue should be delayed if not eliminated altogether to let Turkey cultivate alternative venues to reach out to Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora. Turkish President Abdullah Gül’s visit to Armenia in September 2008 is a positive step showing Turkey’s willingness to resolve the issue. But each side needs time to digest the steps taken and prepare for a better future ahead. If third parties cannot remain neutral they should at least encourage the Armenian Diaspora to support Turkey’s recent initiatives. America’s military campaign against Iraq without the authorization of the UNSC was the beginning of a series of events that led to further destabilization of the Middle East and cost America its legitimacy in the region. The US needs to repair at least some of its legitimacy more than ever, and this might not happen without Turkey’s positive input. After a new administration takes office in Washington, how much help Turkey can provide to Obama’s efforts to rebuild American legitimacy in the region will be determined by the level of cooperation offered to Turkey. While working with the US in the Middle East will be one of the most challenging subjects for Turkish foreign policy, American policymakers should also reevaluate their objectives in the region and their methods of reaching those objectives afresh. The US and Turkey will be closer to each other in the corridors of the UN than they have ever been in Iraq, and they should both take time to listen to each other more than they once did. The pragmatics of international affairs dictates more cooperation between Turkey and the US in the near future.
The improvement of bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia started in the post Cold War context with Russia cleverly tapping Turkey’s need to access alternative markets beyond Europe, while at the same time creating an environment in which it can control Turkey’s aspirations toward the Turkic states in Central Asia. The relations between Turkey and Russia are complex, but rich at the same time. Although known as traditional foes, Turkey and Russia have been cultivating venues of cooperation during the last two decades. In an attempt to make the transition to a liberal market economy, Russia invited Turkish business people and welcomed billions of dollars of Turkish investments in several infrastructure projects. Russia has now become one of the major importers from Turkey (second only to Germany), and around two million Russian tourists visit Turkey every year. In addition, Turkey derives its natural gas Supplies almost exclusively from Russia. If the US continues to remain a superpower whose primary foreign policy tool is hard power, Turkish–Russian relations will naturally improve further. The growth recorded in the Russian economy in the last few years seems poised to make Russia to reappear once again as a global actor. But such aspirations may be dimmed by the current global financial crisis that has resulted in an incredible fall in oil prices, the sole pillar of Russia’s economy. Russia and Turkey seem more interdependent now than ever before in history, the positive impacts of which will reflect in the geopolitics of the region in the near future.
Slowly but surely, China has been entering into Turkey’s foreign policymaking parameters since the early 1990s. The constant growth rate of its economy has brought China to a status worth reckoning with. While China, so far, has not openly attempted to translate its economic power into the political realm (with the minor exception of the Hong Kong issue), the future holds more challenges between China and the West. A major reason for the rivalry is that affordable Chinese products are defeating the very grounds of local industries all over the world. The second reason, which has already placed the US and China at odds, is China’s constant need for energy, specifically oil and natural gas, to supply and maintain its growing economy. In an attempt to cultivate alternative resources beyond the Middle East, where it cannot challenge American dominance, China has developed inventive models to gain the trust of some oil-rich countries (Africa for instance) by financing infrastructure projects. Nevertheless, their contribution to China’s thirst for energy has been minimal to date, leaving Iran as one of China’s major suppliers. An ambitious pipeline project to supply China with oil and gas from Russia is already underway. It is perhaps within this context that the brewing crisis between Iran and the US should be read. Last but not least, despite Turkey’s credible worries over the current status of China’s Turkic minorities, Turkey will have more encounters with China while serving in the Security Council.
Despite its recent successes, Turkish foreign policy still suffers from an acute problem of ineffective public relations (PR). While the following examples are real time issues with international consequences they also represent a high level of ineffective PR cases as far as Turkey is concerned. The most recurrent of these cases has been the claims of Armenian Diaspora about the events of 1915. Turkey lagged behind in countering the efforts of the Armenian Diaspora in Europe and the Americas when it chose to remain on the defensive. Neither Turkish historians with international acclaim nor diplomats have shown so far a well-coordinated academic and diplomatic engagement to defeat the accusations. Despite the successful efforts of the Armenian Diaspora in turning their claims to non-binding laws or decisions in different parliaments around the world, the Turkish diplomatic corps still does not seem to posses a sophisticated approach to the issue. Turkey must realize that it cannot continue to its current policies of defense against the Armenian claims and suffice to rely on the power of lobbies alone. Turkey’s systematic denial of Armenian claims should not prevent its policymakers and diplomats from developing a proactive and informative approach. Turkey’s current inactivity with regard to this issue will not be helpful especially when the new administration in the US takes office with some of the major figures in politics already expressing their sympathies for the claims of the American-Armenians. To arrest a catastrophic result in the US, Turkey should use its presence in the UNSC to be more proactive and reach out to clearly explain its position, its willingness to refer the matter to scholars from third party countries, and its recent goodwill efforts toward Armenia. Moreover, the stressful relations with Armenia will certainly ease and gain a deeper momentum when Armenia shows willingness to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh problem by withdrawing its forces from Azeri territories. Turkey should certainly bring this issue, including the plight of about one million Azeri refugees caused by Armenia, to the attention of the members of the UNSC, and must push for a strong UNSC resolution to force a withdrawal.
Another major multi-dimensional problem for Turkey has been the Cyprus issue. Due to its geo-strategic location and loaded history the island is causing challenges far greater than its actual size. Turkey’s historic ties with the Turkish community on the island make Turkey an active participant in the debates surrounding the island. Turkey’s position as a guarantor, recognized by the Zurich and London Agreements of 1959, was challenged when the Cypriot side was unilaterally accepted to the European Union, a clear violation of article 22 of the 1959 Agreement. In the referenda prior to the accession of the Greek side to the EU, the Annan Plan was voted upon by the Turkish and Greek communities. The EU and the US supported the Plan, and Turkish Cypriots were promised that they would be dealt with on equal terms if they voted yes to the Plan. Yet despite the fact that Turkish Cypriots voted yes and the Greek Cypriots voted no, the EU went ahead with the full accession of the Greek Cypriots, as if no referenda had ever taken place. Today, the Turkish side still suffers from the heavy blockade of the international community. While in the UNSC, Turkey should mobilize for the recognition of a new regime for the Turkish Cypriots so that they will be able to live in peace with their immediate neighbors and the rest of the world.
Turkey obviously should not exaggerate its potential role in the UNSC vis-à-vis the real powers of the Council (the big five or permanent members). As the most recent crises in the Middle East demonstrated, the conflict between Israel and Palestine has been a major challenge for the region at large and most recently a turn of events for the idealism that is dominating the Turkish foreign policy. Referring to the peace talks between Israel and Syria Turkey has been mediating; the Turkish prime minister accused his Israeli counterpart that Olmert was preparing for war while talking peace. While Hamas foolishly triggered the Israeli assault, the humanitarian plight in Gaza caused by the use of uncontrolled force must have been disheartening for the party of peace in both sides. With the veto power of the US government, the UNSC becomes literally ineffective when it comes to Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Erdogan’s proposal to mediate the demands of Hamas to the UNSC for a ceasefire seems beyond the interest of Israel and the US. Turkey seems to be caught up in a wide gap between its aspirations for peace and the hard reality on the ground.
SETA Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research
[*] Akif Kirecci, Assistant Prof. Bilkent University, School of Economics, Administrative and Social Sciences.
- Globalization and the Least Developed Countries: Issues in Trade and Investment,” The United Nations Ministerial Conference of the Least Developed World, Making Globalization Work for the LDCs 9–11 July 2007, UNDP & UNCTAD Issues Paper. [http://www.undp.org/poverty/docs/istan/eng/12July07-Globalization_and_LDCs. pdf]. Accessed on December 21, 2008.
- The Bretton Woods system is an international monetary agreement signed in 1944 which gave the US currency a dominant status in the world economy. The agreement made the US dollar the reserve money for the world; the system has been malfunctioning since 1971. On October 13, 2008, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked world leaders to create a new “financial architecture” to replace the current system. For further details, see (inter alia): Joan E. Spero and Jeffrey A. Hart, eds. The Politics of International Economic Relations (Thompson/Wadsworth Publishing Co., 2003), Martin S. Feldstein, ed. The United States in the World Economy (Chicago: Chicago University Press & National Bureau of Economic Research, 1988).
- Turkey’s current constitution was prepared in 1982 at the behest of the military leaders of the 1980 coup d’état.Despite several amendments the current constitution still needs to be improved and brought up to the standards of the established democracies of the European Union.
- Graham E. Fuller, The New Turkish Republic: Turkey as a Pivotal State in the Muslim World. (Washington, DC: The United States Institute of Peace, 2008), pp. 131–132.
- See Murat Metin Hakki, ed. The Cyprus Issue, A Documentary History 1878–2007. (London, New York: I. B. Tauris), pp. 31–40.