Turkish foreign policy has been the usually been the workmanship of how its military, the foreign ministry and other wings of the civilian government and think-tanks perceived the world. The policy was thus well-crafted after a grinding process of widespread consultations and discussions spanning a range of agencies which shared country’s ethos and interests. The whole scenario stands changed since President Erdogan has taken to office as he has completely chopped off the deliberative tidings and has based his foreign policy as per his own wishes and preferences.
During the developmental days, the founding fathers of the nation namely President Ismet Inonu and his successor President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had carefully worked around the foreign policy matters with survival being the priority. Both the veterans had sound combat experience thus trod their way carefully to avoid falling in the trap of territorial revisionism as a result of World War I which was the cause of the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1920 and the rise of the Turkish Republic after 3 years. The whole foreign policy was then directed inwards towards domestic enhancement to erect an industrialised and capitalist state. Turkish leaders of the time thus channelized their energies to build economic and political links with previous antagonist countries like Britain, Greece, Italy, France etc. primarily the ones which could provide it with good credit along with offering many trade avenues. Turkey also developed a bond with the United States while keeping the Soviet Union at bay with mostly a friendship treaty. All these decisions so far have the result of a deliberative process along with the viewpoint and vision of the leader.
The visionary impact of President Ismet Inonu to keep Turkey neutral in World War II had actually saved its existence in the deadly conflict. The Turkish nation did take part in the Korean War, take up NATO membership and become a member of the European Economic Community-to achieve balanced socio-economic development and strong relations with other member countries of the bloc. Turkish location was highly strategic for its Western allies owing to its proximity to Russia. The events which led to the collapse of Soviet Union, could not deter Turkey from playing a major role in the region. Turkey was actively involved in standing up to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and also contributed to the defeat of the Slobodan Milosevic in 1998. Also, despite having many differences with Greece, Turkish foreign ministry was able to develop a high level of trust which was instrumental in formulating the great peace talks on Cyprus in 2004. Turkey due to its vital role in many regional affairs was able to get membership of European Union in 1999.
President Erdogan has changed the dynamics of the game by completely wiping out the vital analysis and decision-making behind all policy formulations. The whole sphere of foreign policy has been reduced to the personal perceptions and thus a one-man show. The sphere of influence of the President has also put to rest the strong and sound voice of the National Security Council. Thus, the real insights into Turkey’s foreign policy come from the Presidential speeches to his own party rather than from the undertakings of the historically significant institutions. It is this personal envelope on the foreign policy of the President which has upped the anti-Western rhetoric which is evident in many policy pronouncements of Turkey. In an isolated incident, the refusal of some EU nations to the Cabinet ministers of Turkey for conducting election rallies on their soils was met with tough stances and words from President who went to the length of saying that the prevalence of Nazism in Europe was apparent. Erdogan reciprocated by giving stern warnings that Turkey will pull out from European Union and not let Syrian refugees to reach the mainland unless it was awarded financial assistance and its nationals are allowed visa-free travel.
Turkey had always stayed out of the Middle-East political crisis and even during the Cold War, it had restricted its interference to the Baghdad Pact of 1955 which later got morphed into Central Treaty Organization CENTO. The signatories of CENTO were Iran, Iraq, Turkey, UK and Pakistan. The main points of the alliance were the military and economic aid from the US which never happened on the ground due to technical snags it faced while getting the Congress approval at home. The US too joined the military committee in 1958, but the whole thing was dismantled in 1979 as there was nothing conclusive done on the ground. Another notable aim was to contain the Soviet Union by putting up a strong defence along the southwest borders of Soviet. It was known as the Northern Tier.
Turkish stance, however, took a 180-degree turn under Erdogan who plunged the nation head-deep into the simmering Middle-East conflict only to make things worse. The most interesting part of the whole story is that the reason behind its entry was quite alien to any strategic foresight but an outcome of defiance of Assad to step down from power on Erdogan’s suggestion which quite clearly irked the latter. Thus, since 2012 Turkey has been trying end to end to speed the toppling of the Syrian regime. Erdogan has now rested his decisions on the disturbances caused by the outlawed Kurdish organization PKK which has been carrying out attacks along Turkish border areas since last 3 decades. The presence of YPG which is seen by Erdogan as an offshoot of PKK has legitimatized its involvement to some extent but the cost of sinking ties with the US and also a possible confrontation with Turkish troops cannot be overruled or brushed under the rug.
The paradigm shift in foreign policy has not come without costs. The new relations it has built and woven have cost it the previous ones as there is an apparent plummeting in its ties with EU. The bilateral relations with the US also stand on the verge of a compromise. In addition, it has fortified the notion in West that Turkey is not a part of their club fundamentally. This has been due to lack of synergy and an air of mistrust. Turkey hasn’t gained much strategically.
President Erdogan has announced snap elections which may make him the popular and preferred leader of choice based on the tough image he has portrayed. His open defiance to West has helped him foster his charisma at home front which will ensure his second term at the helm. It cannot be ignored that the President will be leading a nation which has failed to sustain let along build-on its traditional friendships and stands marginalised on an international strategic map. The economy and ultimately the populace will have to bear the brunt of outrageous governance model which can be labelled as a one-man government.