Erman Akıllı, Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University
Alessia Chiriatti, Instituto Affari Internazionali
Magdalena Kumelska-Koniecko, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn
Ali Bakır, Qatar University
Chiriatti started her speech by saying that Italy-Türkiye bilateral relations haven’t been discussed sufficiently in the international relations discourse. In terms of geopolitical influence, Italy and Türkiye have a common interest in the Mediterranean space, which requires both countries to have a strategic understanding of this issue. On the other hand, the participation of both countries in international organizations has also strengthened the relationship between Italy and Türkiye, within the framework of NATO both Italy and Türkiye have established strategic ties and intense relationships. Furthermore, she examines the reasons for Italy-Türkiye relations becoming more robust in the last decade, especially after the war erupted in Ukraine.
Chiriatti explains that there are four points that intensify the Italy-Türkiye relations within the framework of the war in Ukraine. First, it increases the cooperation between both countries in the development of their respective defense technology sectors. Second, in the energy sector, Italy considers Türkiye as an alternative source with the supply from Russia currently hampered. Third, Italy sees Türkiye as the first actor with whom they should discuss the migration issue. Fourth is the food diplomacy of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which Chiriatti emphasized as holding the key role in addressing the global food crisis, especially for the Mediterranean region, which has become increasingly dependent on food imports.
Kumelska examines the failure of the American Middle East strategy and the emergence of new powers in the Middle East represented by the Iran-Russia-Türkiye triangle. She begins by commenting on the United States’ policy in the Middle East in the twenty-first century, which she described as ‘a series of errors’ and the impossibility of recovering the hegemonic status of the U.S. in the region. She argues that the U.S. was unable to create effective instruments for managing international conflict with its strategy that over-emphasized the machinery of hard power and the promotion of Western universal values. American Middle East strategy also lacked stabilizing instruments and pro-development stimulators. Consequently, the regional actors were unsatisfied with the status quo and felt that hegemonic order was not offering a benefit for the region.
In her study, Kumelska claims that Syria’s civil war triggered the power redistribution in the region which eventually led to the creation of Iran-Russia-Türkiye triangle as the new balance of powers in the region. In this context, all three countries have a similar oppositional view against the U.S. in the region. Iran perceives the U.S. as a hostile country, Russia too sees the U.S. as a global rival. Although Türkiye does not have the same hostile relation with the U.S. as the other two countries in the triangle, it has been disappointed by the policies of the U.S. in the Middle East. All these factors combined will challenge the American interests and position in the Middle East and will serve to establish a new balance of power in the region.
In his speech, Bakır evaluates the development of Turkish Middle East foreign policy in the framework of the century of Türkiye. He divided his study into three themes: the formulation and conduct of Turkish foreign policy with a focus on the last two decades, the perception of Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East, and the Palestinian issue in Turkish foreign policy.
The formulation of Turkish foreign policy has always been characterized by the Western narratives as being ideological and inflexible. In other words, the foreign policymaking of the Republic of Türkiye has always been determined by either the secular or Islamic consideration. Moreover, Western narratives often personalize Turkish foreign policy by saying that Turkish foreign policy always depends on the personal traits of its leaders. However, Bakır rejects these assumptions and argues that the formulation of Turkish foreign policy is not a straightforward decision; it is a dynamic and adaptive according to the Turkish national interest and security perceptions. After all, Bakır stated that Turkish foreign policy formulation is very pragmatic, dynamic and flexible. He adds that there are five factors that determine the formulation and conduct of Turkish foreign policy: (1) Türkiye’s geographic location. (2) Domestic political, economic and social dynamics. (3) Regional and international situations. (4) Personal traits of decision makers. (5) Economic, security and threat perceptions.
Regarding the perception of Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East, the Western narratives again describe Türkiye as a humble servant for the U.S. and Europeans. But Bakır says that this assumption is completely wrong especially after the AK Party gained power in 2002. Accordingly, there are three events that change this perception. First, when the Turkish parliament rejected the U.S.’ demand to use Turkish soil as a base for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Second, the attack on the Mavi Marmara ship in 2010 by the Israeli government forced Türkiye to take a strong stance against Israel. Third, in the event of the Arab Uprisings Türkiye decided to choose to stand with the public aspirations of the people of the Middle East. According to Bakır, all these three combined to change the Turkish image in the Middle East and shift the Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East towards one that is more assertive and autonomous.
Finally, Bakır explained that Türkiye’s supportive stance for the Palestinian cause is not new or something that has happened recently. In fact, the Palestinian issue has been a primary issue in Turkish foreign policy since the 1960s. It developed after Ankara realized that Western countries were not taking Turkish interests into consideration when they formulated their Middle East policies. To give an example, during the 1973 Arab-Israel war Türkiye allowed the Soviet Union to support Arab states and use Türkiye’s airspace while rejecting the U.S. attempts to utilize the İncirlik air base.
Insight Turkey hopes that the panel was beneficial and provides a better understanding of this critical issue. You can find the full video of our panel on our YouTube channel.