, , ,

Is Turkey’s time in the limelight over?

By Cristina Casabón

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan most remarkable achievement has been mainly the opposition’s weakness and the rapid economic growth, that has made Turkey the world’s sixteenth largest economy. But it’s not certainly the result of the foreign and security neighbourhood policy, which according to some experts, is currently facing a period of “vulnerability.”

An imperial hangover from the Ottoman era drove home the lesson that Ankara had little to gain and much to lose from interjecting itself into the acrimonious politics of the region. The raise of AKP and the presence of a new elite in the government radically transformed this approach and perceptions, perceiving that its aspirations as a region’s leader were only possible if the country was able to build good relations with its neighbours. 

Instead of knocking desperately on the door of the European Union, the AKP changed focus from West to East. This new approach was linked with the idea of security, as the internal security could only be achieved if the region is safe and stable. As Suat Kiniklioglu, a Turkish analyst mentioned, in the last decade “Turkey’s neighbourhood policy achieved a hight-level political contacts.”

As a result, Turkey inaugurated a gold era in its foreign and security policy, and its approach to the Middle East and North of Africa captured international attention. Its particular success was its reputation as a role model and inspiration for the Arab countries. Furthermore, while the EU had suffered the slowdowns of the economic crisis, Turkey had tripled its GDP in seven years. West watched intrigued how the regional and global aspirations of the country were changing, taking advantage of its membership of the UN Security Council and its role as a proud cofounder member of the G-20.

But more recently, as Dimitar Bechev published in the European Council on Foreign Relations, Turkey has faced a new era of “vulnerability” in its neighbourhood policy. “Instead of changing countries and regions around its borders in its own image, Turkey is now on the defensive as instability spreads around its borders”, says Bechev, who analyses some of the problems that Turkey had to face during the last two

First of all, the failures of democratic transitions in the North of Africa shattered Ankara’s aspirations in this region. After the ‘Arab Spring’, Turkey became a leading country that worked to support the democracy to other Arab countries, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia. The country also helped seeking a solution to the conflict in Libya by supporting the a new multi-party system. Haizam Amirah Fernandez from El Cano Royal Institute described the failed democratic experiment that brought Islamists to power in 2012 and ended a year later with a military coup. Relations between Turkey and Egypt had quickly deteriorated since then, and frictions had increased in its relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries which supported the military coup.

Syria is another big issue for Ankara’s security policy. The war in Syria raised the spectre of violence spilling over into its territory. This case was particularly complicate: the country had to face attacks and Turkish parliament approved cross border operations. Erdogan announced “We are not interested in war, but we’re not far from it either.” The two car bombs at the border town of Reyhanlı as well as the capture of the Turkish diplomatic personnel in the North of Iraq demonstrated that Turkey can not be safe if their neighbours are involved in civil wars.

Meanwhile, the crisis in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea have exposed Turkey’s dependence on Russia. Turkey had called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis and for Ukraine’s territorial integrity to be respected, but the Crimean referendum affected the Tatar minority, ethnically related to the Turks. The Tatars boycotted the referendum, which ultimately resulted in the Crimean peninsula being parcelled off to Moscow. Since then, Turkey has kept tight-lipped, largely due to dependence from Russia’s trade.

Initiating dialogue with Hamas in Palestina after the movement won elections in 2006, engaging Hezbollah in Lebanon and talking to various Sunni groups in Irak gave Turkey certain weigh in regional affairs, but also brought new responsibilities and criticism in the West. The AKP argued that it could function as an interlocutor between regional Iran and the P5+1 but those issues in particular have generated concern about the AKP’s foreign policy intentions. In May 2010 Erdoğan made an appearance in Tehran on the eve of a U.N. Security Council vote on a new round of sanctions on Iran, holding hands with Ahmadinejad and announcing their alternative diplomatic proposal to handle the Iranian nuclear issues. The election of Hassan Rouhani as Iranian president devalued Turkey’s role in the round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group.

Some analysts proclaim that the apparent failure in the face of the EU negotiations should be seen as a problem of management rather than a sign that Turkey does not have the aptitude, capacity or potential for the EU accession. Dimitar Bechev points out that – unlike the 1999-2005 period – “Europe and Turkey now have little time for one another.” He suggests Europe can recover its leverage and press for reforms only if it finds ways of collaborating pragmatically. He adds that if the EU accession deal were to become unstuck, “Turkey and the EU would easily fall back into the usual blame game”.

Whether Turkey has this potential or not, it seems that the country is picking up the pieces in a neighbourhood crisis that it did not cause, not only in the Arab countries but also in Ukraine or Syria. The key task ahead for Erdogan is to restore balance and insulate the country from turmoil coming from neighbouring countries.

0 comentarios

Dejar un comentario

¿Quieres unirte a la conversación?
Siéntete libre de contribuir