There is hardly a more thought-provoking subject in the contemporary political history of Turkey than the country’s transforming state identity vis-à-vis its reflection over the changing foreign policy direction and apparatuses. At this crux, the increasing influence of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on the state’s already shifting ideological orientation has been a remarkable case to tease out.
Since its foundation in 1923, the Turkish bureaucratic elites’ efforts to ensure the state’s physical existence and ‘Westernizing identity’ have found themselves in a critical dilemma: whether to break the cultural codes with its predecessor, the Ottoman Empire, and exist as a Western-oriented nation-state, or to develop its relations with the former Ottoman provinces and embrace a ‘multifaceted’ state identity.
Turkish readers will recognize that the above-mentioned debate, which, at its heart, offers two incompatible narratives, is deeply entrenched not only within Turkish domestic politics, but also in foreign policy. In The Emergence of Kantian Culture in Turkish Foreign Policy (1980-2012), Enes Bayraklı approaches this decades-long dilemma of interpretation, claiming that Turkey’s foreign policy culture has since the 1980s been relocating itself into the Kantian mind-set, putting emphasis on friendship and cooperation.
In exploring this relocation, the manuscript provides a good account of developments since Turkey’s transition to a liberal economy in 1980, and aims at drawing attention to how both external and domestic factors have radically changed the foreign policy course of the country and re-defined its position on the regional and global scale. While Bayraklı’s analysis of various topics offers a comprehensive framework, the book is suitable for the general readership. From the very beginning to the conclusion, the author works to unearth the causal links shedding light on his two hypothesis which will be shown below.
As we have already touched upon, the author’s main purpose is to make sense of how and why the liberal economic policies Turkey introduced in the 1980s have altered its foreign policy direction (1980-2012). The reader, however, might find his second claim more absorbing. Inspired by Alexander Wendt’s ‘Cultures of Anarchy’1 concept, Bayraklı claims that we can trace three different “state cultures” informing the foreign policy orientations of the Ottoman Empire and its descendent, the Republic of Turkey (1919-1980 and 1980-2012). He argues that during the Ottoman Empire period, the Hobbesian understanding of “Culture of War” was rooted in the Empire’s actions, within which context the other states that the Ottomans interacted with had long been perceived as “enemies.” In the post-imperial period, this attitude evolved into a Lockean mind-set in Turkey (1919-1980), relying on international law and apparatuses while highlighting the possibilities of making alliances and states’ right to exist. Finally, Bayraklı argues that since the 1980s, Turkey’s foreign policy (1980-2012) has rested more on a Kantian approach, which supports the idea of non-violent means in bilateral relationships and emphasizes the significance of cooperation as a foreign policy tool.
Bayraklı divides The Emergence of Kantian Culture in Turkish Foreign Policy (1980-2012) into two main parts while examining these hypotheses. The first part deals with the domestic structural determinants as well as the external and internal conjectural elements that have greatly influenced Turkey’s state identity vis-à-vis its foreign policy direction for decades (1919-1980). In this part, the reader is introduced various aspects of events and developments, for example, the early Republican elites’ status-quo-seeking foreign policy agenda and their hesitance to involve the Republic in the former Ottoman territories, namely the Balkan and Caucasus regions. For the author, the existential fears embodied in the Sevres Syndrome, the Kemalism’s radical Westernization objective, and the heavy military tutelage over civil politics are the three fundamental factors that limited Turkey’s alternatives in the international arena. Alongside these structural determinants, Bayraklı puts forward that conjectural constrains, such as the lack of maneuvering room resulting from the Interwar period (1919-1945), the bipolar Cold War setting and the continuing role of the Turkish army, which had staged several coups interrupting the progress of civil democracy until the end of the 1980s, also limited Turkey’s engagement with the Muslim/Eastern World. According to the author, due to these elements, Turkey had been forced to adopt a Lockean culture in its foreign policy for almost six decades. Nevertheless, this culture began to shift from the 1980s onwards and catapulted to a peaceful Kantian mind-set with the signing of the Helsinki Summit in 1999, massively changing Turkey’s socio-political codes.
In the second part of the book, Bayraklı explores the dynamics underlying these changes. He analyses the leverages of several ground-breaking phenomena that have transformed the country. Chronologically-speaking, these are, inter alia, the economic advantages brought by globalization, the emergence of new areas of influence after the Cold War, Turkey’s Europanization process, and the rise of new counter-elites and institutions, such as the AK Party and the Independent Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (MUSİAD), that made this foreign policy relocation (1980-2012) possible. According to the author, Turkey’s social and inter-regional economic relations were redefined by the globalization trend which helped Turkey increased its export-based economy while making its society more liberal. This trend scaled up to a new height with the end of the Cold War and Turkey’s subsequent Europanization journey that contributed to the state’s democracy culture.
For the author, Turkey could have performed better after the Cold War, especially during the 1990s; however, the country’s long attachment to its Western identity and the Kemalist bureaucratic elite could not provide an alternative foreign policy paradigm, which would have established good relationships with Turkey’s neighbors. Bayraklı argues that this void was filled by the former FM and PM Ahmet Davutoglu. Replacing Turkey’s Euro-centric foreign policy with a multi-dimensional understanding, Davutoğlu devised a grand strategy, also known as ‘Strategic Depth’ grasping Turkey’s new role in the region. His paradigm emphasized a “zero-problem” doctrine with neighbors, which offered Turkey a multi-dimensional foreign policy meeting the country’s goal to be a regional soft power, according to Bayraklı.
With that said, while the author tries his best to provide sufficient analysis, he falls short of exploring two key points to account for Turkey’s foreign policy routes in different periods. Firstly, Bayraklı claims that the country has recently developed a self-confident foreign policy, meeting the early state elites’ lack of strategic thinking. This account sounds like there was no deliberate philosophy in Turkish foreign policy until the 1980s. One should not forget two prominent examples from the 1940s: the active neutrality strategy of PM İsmet İnönü and the saving of thousands of Turkish Jews from being sent to the Nazi concentration camps by FM Numan Menemencioğlu manifested high levels of strategic thinking and self-confidence given the Interwar period’s hostile environment. Secondly, the author presents the “Strategic Depth”2 (2001) doctrine as a panacea to Turkey’s previous foreign policy vision. However, before the book was published, the impact of strategic depth had started to decline in the wake of the Arab Spring, followed by Turkey’s involvement in North Syria, indicating a gradual turn back to a Lockean culture prioritizing internal law and “just war” rather than the Kantian preference for non-violent means in international relations.
Attempting to throw light on each of these subjects would an immense task in its own right. In sum, The Emergence of Kantian Culture in Turkish Foreign Policy (1980-2012) is a huge empirical as well as theoretical contribution to the burgeoning Turkish foreign policy literature. The book provides a good historical analysis while informing the reader about the period-by-period transformation of Turkish foreign policy. Thus, it is a valuable manuscript, which I can particularly recommend for general readers.
- Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
- Ahmet Davutoğlu, Stratejik Derinlik, (İstanbul: Küre Yayınları, 2001).