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The “new” Turkish foreign policy and its implications for Norwegian peacebuilding

Jean-Paul Marthoz , 15 December 2010

Executive summary

This paper is based on interviews with diplomats, experts and political analysts and provides an overview of Turkey’s foreign policy, particularly in relation to peacebuilding. In the past year, Turkey has moved to the centre stage on the international scene. After making the headlines with its joint mediation initiative with Brazil on Iran’s nuclear issue, in May Ankara clashed with Israel over the storming of the Gaza-bound “humanitarian flotilla”. Suddenly all eyes were on a country situated in this most turbulent and strategic region of the world – a country that had appeared at least until recently to be a reliable and predictable ally of the West, and of Israel.

However, the country’s actions and reactions should not have come as a surprise. Over the past ten years Turkey has been busy developing a very active foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia. It has reached out to countries traditionally considered as adversaries, such as Russia, Iran and Syria. Ankara has also not been afraid to express its differences and diverge from the West on certain issues, from Cyprus to Armenia to Palestine.

In fact, looking increasingly to its eastern neighbours, Turkey has become a key actor in the region by asserting its autonomy in relation to the EU and US, and by developing its own strategy based on a renewed assessment of its assets and interests. In this endeavour, Turkey draws its credibility from its growing economic power, its capacity to be “part of and apart from” the West, its democratic model (compared to its Eastern neighbours) and its relationship to both Islam and secularism.

Despite all the new developments, Ankara – which has put forward its advocacy for dialogue and mediation as a key element of its foreign relations – maintains strong relations with the EU and US, particularly through its Nato membership. The Government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also consistently pushes for Turkey’s accession to the EU. The country could, therefore, become an important partner for Norwegian diplomacy in the future, particularly in the field of peacebuilding initiatives.

Norway could co-operate with Turkey to improve and stabilise its internal democratic system, reinforce civil society, initiate interfaith dialogue, develop mediation and peacebuilding expertise, and co-operate with its army in order to enhance its peacekeeping and peacebuilding capacities. Turkey’s efforts to initiate mediation talks over Iran’s nuclear policies also indicate that there is room for joint efforts by Oslo and Ankara on non-proliferation and denuclearisation issues.

However, unresolved issues internally (minority rights, freedom of expression, the role of the military) and externally (eg, Cyprus, and shifting relations with former key allies like the EU, US and Israel) might add some volatility to any partnership. In particular, the internal tug-of-war between various competing actors (secularists, Muslims, the army and others), which are vying not only for power but for the soul of the country, is of considerable concern.

There is also a special need to clarify Turkey’s long-term foreign policy strategy and objectives, and whether the country’s peacebuilding initiatives are a sign of genuine peaceful diplomacy or a tactical move to build up its strategic interests in the region. These considerations make Turkey a rather unpredictable partner. Nevertheless, the growing influence of Turkey on the international scene and its specific characteristics make this country a potentially very interesting partner for Norway.

For an updated version of this paper, please see http://www.thebrokeronline.eu/en/Magazine/articles/Turkey-turns-the-tide

The Broker is publishing a series of articles on emerging powers in the 21st century. The series was launched at the Oslo seminar "Emerging Powers in the 21st Century: the regional and global significance of Brazil, India, Indonesia, China and Turkey" organised by the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre (NOREF) and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). Please click here  to see a blog that accompanies the article series.

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