Zengin: Turkish foreign policy rehabilitated with regional integration

Zengin: Turkish foreign policy rehabilitated with regional integration

Gürkan Zengin, author of the recently released book “Hoca, Türk Dış Politikası’nda ‘Davutoğlu Etkisi’” (Hodja, Professor, Teacher -- the ‘Davutoğlu Influence’ in Turkish Foreign Policy), told Sunday’s Zaman that Turkey has started to handle its regional problems in a more democratic and peaceful way as the end of the Cold War presented new opportunities for the country. He said Turkey has been maintaining its old alliances but at the same time it has been establishing relations with new power centers.
“Turkey has been economically integrating with its region. Ten years ago, Turkey’s neighbors had only an 8 percent share in Turkey’s trade volume, but today this share has risen to 30,” he said. “Turkish foreign policy has been rehabilitated. Our bad and ugly neighbors have now become our good neighbors.”
A journalist for over 20 years, who produced “Editor” at CNN Türk for 10 years, Zengin has a passion for observing the democratic transformation of Turkish foreign policy. He hosted Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister who is widely recognized as the man behind Turkey’s new proactive stance since 2003, a number of times on his program.
Zengin told us about how Davutoğlu proved the skeptics who feared that the great theoretician could fail to adjust to the fast-changing reality of world politics wrong, as well as shed light on other issues concerning Turkey’s foreign policy.
Why did you decide to write a book on Davutoğlu’s influence on Turkish foreign policy?
I’ve always been curious about how Davutoğlu’s academic concept of “strategic depth” in Turkish foreign policy could be implemented in real life. I’ve been curious about how his concepts would match the reality. He revealed his “zero problems with neighbors” policy on my television program at CNN Türk in 2004.
You write in your book that you found that idea of Davutoğlu’s quite unrealistic at the time…
Yes, I know that he comes from a realist school of thought and he is not a dreamer but I’ve had doubts about the applicability of this policy in reality.
What do you think about this policy now?
I’ve seen that his idea has become a reality. There have been joint cabinet meetings with Damascus and Baghdad, where there has been a regime change. Even under the chaotic circumstances in Iraq, a joint cabinet meeting with Baghdad was realized. Similar close relationships were being developed with Greece, Georgia and Russia. There has been a process of functioning social and economic integration with Turkey’s neighbors. There are still problems with the northern Iraqi administration but it has been amazing that Ankara was able to establish such a good relationship with the central administration in Iraq. Who could imagine a few years ago that the Syrian president [Bashar al-Assad] and his family would spend their vacation time on the Turkish coast?
There have been profound changes in Turkish foreign policy, such as the improvement of relations between Turkey and Syria, two states who were enemies for a long time. Why do you think this is?
The end of the Cold War has brought remarkable changes for Turkey. That period was a nightmare. Its end opened doors for Turkey to realize its potential. In addition to “strategic depth” and the Davutoğlu factor, political will and political stability, which have been provided by one-party rule, have been also important.
‘Is a CHP or MHP government going to change these policies?’
There is a concern: What if one day Davutoğlu is not there as the foreign minister? Are we still going to see a continuation of his “strategic depth” in Turkish foreign policy? How sustainable do you think his policies are?
This question is on everybody’s mind. I believe his policies have spread extensive through the Turkish state, including civilian, military and bureaucratic circles. This has been a period which has enlightened the minds of many people, whether they come from a civilian or military background. Let’s say that there is a CHP [main opposition Republican People’s Party] or MHP [Nationalist Movement Party] government in Turkey. Are Turkey’s relations with Syria going to be ruined? Should they be ruined? What is the alternative? Georgia’s Batumi airport has been opened to joint use by both Turkey and Georgia. Both countries have been developing their relations. Is a CHP or MHP government going to change this even though we have seen the benefits of these policies? Turkish foreign policy has been rehabilitated. Our bad and ugly neighbors have now become our good neighbors.
Some people in Turkey, especially the isolationist nationalist circles, argue that these policies are forced on Turkey by the United States and Turkey is merely being used for the larger aims of the US. What do you think about this?
When we look back at the crises between Turkey and the United States -- the March 1 vote in Turkey in 2003 and the recently differing views regarding the missile shield project -- we see that Turkey’s policies are not always in line with the expectations of the United States. The March 1 crisis was the most severe crisis between Turkey and the United States after the Johnson letter. What would the isolationist nationalist circles do? Would they carry Turkey into a deeper crisis with the United States in 2003 if they were in power?
You wrote in your book that “March 1 was the date of Turkey’s new declaration of independence.”
This sentence came from a Justice and Development Party [AK Party] deputy who voted “no” on March 1 [so as not to allow the US to open up a northern front against Iraq from Turkey]. And I agree with him.
‘NATO was able to keep its policy straight, thanks to Turkey’
Let’s talk about the missile shield system. Turkey was wary of this project and did not want to take part in it if it were to be aimed at a specific country, namely Iran. In the end, NATO leaders who met recently in Lisbon did not target any specific country. Is this a success for Turkish foreign policy or just the postponement of a potential conflict with Turkey’s allies?
With that push from Turkey, NATO was able to keep its policy straight as no NATO document before targeted any states or identified any states as a threat; even the Soviet Union was never singled out as threat. It is not a NATO practice to do that. NATO is a defense organization for the Western alliance. So Turkey has kept NATO on track; even the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] has not singled out Iran as threat. In addition, one thing to note about the summit is that it was important in areas other than the Iran question. We can expect crises in the future related to the rising role of China and how NATO braces itself against it.
Do you expect Iran to be a point of friction in Turkey-US relations as the Republican Party is now more powerful in the US Congress?
We are all aware of the Republican Party’s hawkish position regarding Iran. But there are so many hot spots in the region where the interests of both Turkey and US lie. Iran is not the only friction point. Turkish-American relations are deep -- some aspects out in the open, some not. One point of friction cannot cause an end to the relations nor can one area of cooperation save the relations.
Is there one Davutoğlu formula that could make the Turkish-American relations better and sustainable in the Cold War period?
The Cold War, during which the United States served as the boss of the region where Turkey is located, is over. The bipolar world is not here anymore. The argument that the Cold War is over and there is now a unipolar world has been over, too. There are now new political, economic and military power centers. Turkey has been keeping its old alliances but it has been also establishing relations with new power centers in the post-Cold War period. Turkey has been economically integrating with its region. Ten years ago, Turkey’s neighbors had only an 8 percent share in Turkey’s trade volume, but today this share has risen to 30 percent. Some Turkish provinces -- like Şanlıurfa, Mardin, Kilis and Gaziantep -- stand economically strong due to this development. There are 300,000 Russians who live in Turkey. The trade volume with Russia has gone up to $38 million from $3-4 million in 2004. During the Cold War years, Turkey served as the frontline country for NATO but now Turkey is present in Afghanistan and eases the job of the United States. Turkey also helps the United States establish dialogue with Iran. Both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary William Hague would testify to the fact that Turkey has been playing an important role when it comes to talking with Iran. Neo-cons consciously put pressure on Turkey by claiming that there has been a shift in axis, but the relations are on track both for Ankara and Washington.
‘Americans need to get used to the new situation in relations with Turkey’
Some Republican Party representatives in the United States say they are confused by Turkish foreign policy. Is this understandable and how could this confusion be alleviated?
If they were expressing this confusion in 2003, that would be understandable. But there have been consistent policies for the last eight years. There is a consistent government. It is hard to understand that why Turkey’s alignment is still not being comprehended. Is it not understood or do they not want to understand it? Or are there some efforts to create confusion about Turkish foreign policy in order to disrupt Turkish-American relations? Davutoğlu’s policies are based on principles. They are explained in writing. He defends a multi-dimensional foreign policy.
The problem is probably about the change in the way the relationship went on for so long. It seems like the Americans are not used to the way Turkey now acts, which is different from the way it was in the past.
OK, this is something that can be discussed. In the past, Americans would say something and some Turkish officials would implement it. Or Americans talked directly with the Turkish military. It was a patronizing relationship in the bipolar world. The Americans were the boss in the region where Turkey is located. This is not valid anymore. The Americans need to get used to the new situation. The Cold War is over. They might also need to review the book written by professors from Harvard on how Israel influences US foreign policy.
‘More Russian cooperation needed to open border with Armenia’
About the “zero problems with neighbors” policy and Armenia…

28 Kasım 2010

Today's Zaman