Editor's Note - Volume 11 No 3
The Turkish political scene did not witness a profound change with the local elections of March 2009. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) continued its strong electoral performance and maintained its status as the most popular political force. One change following the election was the cabinet reshuffle in May in which Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu was appointed as Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs. Such an appointment was hardly a surprise, since it is no secret that he had been the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy under the AK Party government as the chief foreign policy advisor to the prime minister.
Professor Davutoğlu’s appearance on the foreign policy stage is timely. He brings a strong personality to tackle tough issues such as the Armenian rapprochement, the rebuilding of Turkish-US relations and the brokering of peace in the Middle East, the Caucasus and Afghanistan. His vision, experience and personal contacts, all backed up now with political power, will be needed to address these issues.
Though he is presented as a “strategist” due to his seminal book, Strategic Depth, such a label undervalues his vision for Turkish foreign policy as during the AK Party years he has initiated policies that went beyond a simple realpolitik/ strategic perspective.
Take the example of his policy of “zero problems with neighbors,” which marks a revolutionary change in the Turkish perception of the external world. I say revolutionary because it is a radical departure from the conventional view that Turkey is surrounded by enemy countries against which it should be prepared to defend itself. This was a worldview based on an amalgam of insecurity, antagonism, confrontation and shortsighted realism. Moreover, this “siege mentality” was used to construct and justify authoritarian elements in Turkish politics.
The zero problems policy has redefined Turkey’s relations with its neighbors. The avenues of mutual understanding, trust and cooperation were opened with this change of perspective. As such, a liberal approach based on cooperation instead of confrontation was inserted into foreign policy, embracing a non-zero sum strategy benefiting all parties involved.
Engaging with all the actors in the region to settle problems will also continue under the ministerial leadership of Davutoğlu. Turkey has invested much to win the trust of all actors in the region. However, Turkey does not see its engagements with regional actors as a means to increase its influence in the region, but to build peace in the surrounding area, because peace and stability are needed for Turkey to continue with the consolidation of democracy at home, secure full membership in the EU—which was recently described by Davutoğlu as “Turkey’s main strategic goal”—and sustain its economic development.
We will continue to see culture and identity being brought into Turkish foreign policy making. Turkey’s cultural and economic space goes beyond its political boundaries, as is the case for many other countries. The challenge is to conduct a foreign policy that is in line with this reality. Turkey’s wider cultural geography may enable it to reach out to people in the region and develop contacts at the inter-societal level, thus creating social bonds of understanding and interaction, while its wider economic geography establishes unbreakable linkages and interdependencies.
The Alliance of Civilizations, a UN project co-chaired by Turkey and Spain, is a perfect platform for Davutoğlu whose academic endeavors started with civilizational studies. As an attempt to bring civilizations together for dialogue and cooperation, the Alliance of Civilizations reflects Turkey’s “central country” status and as such is likely to be taken further by Turkey’s new foreign policy chief.
In sum, the Davutoğlu perspective has broken the siege mentality in Turkey’s regional politics, contributing democratic openings at home while establishing good neighborly relationships with surrounding countries. That is to say that democratic peace at home turned into a vision for peace in the neighborhood. All these help Turkey emerge as a center of “soft power” in the region. Davutoğlu, the architect of this policy, made clear that “Turkey’s most important soft power tool is its democracy.” Thus, it is expected that Turkish foreign policy under Davutoğlu is likely to also contribute to democratization in order to improve Turkey’s attractiveness in the region.
Apart from focusing on Turkey’s foreign policy and domestic politics, this issue of Insight Turkey explores the possibility of an “alliance of civilizations” with perspectives from Spain and Turkey. Moreover in this issue you will find pieces on the Islam-modernity debate, Iranian presidential elections, the Armenian question and the quagmire in the Caucasus, as well as a resourceful book reviews section.