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Ditchley Foundation Annual Lecture XLVIII

14 July 2012

Changing Turkish Foreign Policy in a Changing World?

A summary of a lecture delivered by

Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs H.E. Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu

Professor Davutoğlu has been Minister of Foreign Affairs of the 60th Government of the Republic of Turkey since May 2009.  Prior to this, he was appointed as Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister and Ambassador at large by the 58th Government of the Republic of Turkey.  Following the November 2002 elections, he continued to serve in the 59th and 60th governments.  He was a professor at Beykent University in Istanbul from 1995 to 2004, serving as Head of the Department of International Relations, Member of University Senate and Member of Board of Management, while also teaching as a visiting scholar at the Marmara University.  He has published several books and articles on foreign policy in Turkish and English, which have also been translated into several other languages, including Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Persian and Albanian.





The Foreign Minister began by recalling Winston Churchill’s dictum that “the farther backward you look, the farther forward you are likely to see”. It was impossible to establish an order for the future without relating this closely to the past and the present. He emphasised the importance of history and geography as two permanent parameters for any country which could not be changed. “Space and time are given to us”.

Looking back at European history, systems of continental and indeed global governance had often changed as a result of the conclusion of major wars and crises. After every major war, there was a new convention, a new set of values, a new set of norms, and a new set of rules of the international system. However, the end of the Cold War had not yet led to a new system in terms of convention, values, norms and rules. In other words, no new rules had emerged and there had been no big agenda-setting conference in the international system. We were therefore still operating with the same institutional apparatus as during the Cold War.

A particular example of this, in the context of the Arab Awakening and Syria, was the way in which veto powers were used in the Security Council. Countries a long way from the action, such as Russia and China, could thwart the wishes of the regional powers, including Turkey and the majority of the members of the Arab League. That was why, as a result of the tremendous “geopolitical changes” in the distribution of military and economic power in recent years, the issue of the “representativeness” of the Security Council had become one of the most crucial challenges for the UN system and its legitimacy in world politics.  Economic institutions such as the IMF also needed much more extensive reform. The global set-up did not yet reflect the reality that the world was no longer Eurocentric. Some people therefore felt comfortable in arguing that the international system—as constructed following the Second World War—would be almost unrecognizable by 2020, owing to the changing geopolitical map of world politics and a transformed global economy. New institutions were needed, and a different economic order, so that babies were not dying of dehydration in one part of the world while pointless consumption continued in another. The present system which was based on the post-second world war order was not sustainable.

This lack of a new system and of new approaches meant that international problems were not really being solved in any permanent way. The Balkans really had only a prolonged ceasefire, as did the Middle East peace process, rather than lasting peace in either case. Nevertheless there had been geopolitical earthquakes which had changed the whole geopolitical balance of the previous era of world politics. The first was the fall of the Berlin Wall. The first indications of this earthquake had come in 1989 (or even 1986, with glasnost) but the real tremor was in 1991 when the Soviet Empire collapsed.  The second earthquake was ten years later in 2001, with the attack of 9/11. This could be defined as a security earthquake. While the first earthquake had allowed democratic values to emerge, and resulted in the democratization process in the Eastern Europe and Balkans, the earthquake of 2001 had tilted policies, particularly in the USA and the EU countries, in a security-dominated direction. The third earthquake in the international system was the economic crisis in Europe, as well as other parts of the world, which had led to very rapid changes of government in many countries. The last earthquake was the Arab Awakening in the Middle East. We had to understand this properly. It was a political and societal earthquake that changed the entire society in the region.

Turkey was perhaps more used to earthquakes and surviving them than other countries, because it was such an earthquake-prone country itself. But it had not done well economically after the fall of the Berlin Wall, unlike other countries in Eastern Europe. The reasons were more political than anything else. The then leaders of Turkey had focused too much on security concerns and not enough on democracy, and had missed the opportunities which had been available. However, after 9/11, when the present government came to power, while other countries had preferred a more security-oriented approach, Turkey had opted for a more democracy-oriented approach. People had not understood him at the time when he had written a book called Strategic Depth saying that use of soft power, based on economy and culture, would serve Turkey much better than hard power, especially as the Turkish economy had been in dire straits at the time. But he had been proved right. Those who had relied on only hard power should think again.

The Syrian regime was a prime example of getting the balance wrong between security and freedom. Bashar al-Assad had thought he needed more security to keep his people safe and united, but in fact he should have provided more freedom. In the same way, Turkish policy before 2002 had been too security-oriented. Turkey had come a long way since then, ending her own Cold War structures and attitudes. Turkey needed to move further in the same direction. On the other hand, if all security were sacrificed in the name of freedom, you would have chaos. Turkey perceived the Arab Awakening as the end of the Cold War structures in the Middle East region. It was vital to be on the right side of history, and that was where Turkey had been from day one in Tunisia, for ethical as well as political reasons.

The minister continued that he was well aware that his statement about the aim of Turkish foreign policy being “zero problems with her neighbours” had been criticised as Utopian. But he had wanted to create a new and less fearful mentality. Neither Russians, nor Greeks, nor Armenians should simply be identified as big enemies for Turkey. It was true that there were now problems with Syria, but they were not Turkey’s fault, and they did not invalidate his approach. On the contrary, the point of Turkey’s current stand was to ensure that there were no future problems with Syria. The regime was doomed, and Turkey wanted to be on the right side of history, with the Syrian people.

Turkey was in fact pursuing a proactive policy in its neighbourhood, including in Central Asia and the Balkans as well as the Middle East. Turkey was for example trying to mediate between Serbia and Bosnia. Turkey was also pursuing actively new agreements with Greece. She was engaged in trilateral diplomacy with Pakistan and Afghanistan. She had tried to mediate between Syria and Israel, and might well have succeeded had it not been for the Israeli invasion of Gaza and subsequent developments. Negotiations with the EU were going nowhere. But Turkey was pursuing a proactive policy in all other parts of the world, opening new Embassies and new relationships in Africa, Latin America and the Far East. She had a dynamic economy and a dynamic middle class and needed new markets.

Until 2009, Turkey had had only 12 Embassies in Africa. Now she had added 21 more and this would continue. The only foreign Embassy in Somalia was that of Turkey. The only Prime Minister to visit Somalia was from Turkey. There were half a dozen new Turkish Embassies in Latin America. Why? Because the world was changing fast and Turkey was determined to be a part of that. Similarly, Turkey had never been a member of the Security Council until 2009, but had attracted a record number of votes for her candidacy, and had been an active and successful member of the Council. She was applying again for 2015/16, and was confident of succeeding again. Turkey was a key player in so many of the issues on the Council’s agenda, including Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Somalia. 

Turkey was also active in the G20, and had become a contributor to the IMF rescue packages, rather than a recipient of its loans. GDP per capita had quintupled since 2002.  She was an active observer and player in all regional organisations in the world. So what had seemed utopian in 2002 was now a reality. Turkey was using her geography and history,  two things you could never change about your country, in non-defensive and creative ways.

Turning in more detail to the Arab Awakening, the Minister said that 20 years had been lost because of the failure to allow democratic forces to prevail in Algeria and Morocco in the early 1990s. But Turkey had had no hesitation in supporting democracy everywhere this time round. Despite their good relations with Mubarak, they had been quick to say he should go when it was clear his time was up. There were of course many challenges, but it was right to support reasonable demands by the peoples of the region, though not violence by any side.

The Turkish government had told Bashar from early on, at a meeting in Aleppo, that he had to reform and hold elections. He had made promises but not fulfilled them. The Minister had later held long, detailed meetings with Bashar, presenting him with a fourteen point plan. Again he had made promises but failed to translate them into action. After that the Turks had realised that they were being used and had made clear that if they had to choose between the nation and its leader, the choice was obvious. They had therefore supported the opposition, while trying to stop the bloodshed. They would continue to support democratic forces and the people.

Summing up, the Minister said that Turkey faced an economic crisis to its west, and a political crisis to its east, but was itself successful, self-confident and creative. They supported all defenders of freedom in the world.


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