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Depending on the structure of the international system at different time periods, Turkish foreign policy interests, security definitions, alliance relationships, maneuvering capability and diplomatic practices evinced variations. The time period between 1923 and 1939 had a multipolar international and regional environment with none of the great powers having the ability to set the course of international developments, let alone imposing their will onto others through unilateral and coercive means. During this period, Turkey’s maneuvering capability was high and Turkey pursued a multi-directional foreign policy. Developing closer economic and strategic relations with the communist Soviet Union went hand in hand with establishing friendly cooperative relations with western European powers. Turkey’s regional activism was also noticeable in the Balkans and the Middle East. The formation of Balkan Entente in 1934 and the Saadabad Pact in 1937 became possible through Turkish diplomatic efforts. Despite the fact that Turkey had just left behind its war of independence and its material power capabilities were not match of key regional and global powers, the multipolar character of the international system presented Ankara with opportunities to muddle through its way. Turkey’s foreign policy choices during this period mostly reflected internal political concerns, of which completing the radical transformation process at home stands out. Many foreign policy initiatives undertaken during this era aimed at creating a conducive regional environment so that Turkish decision makers could focus their attention on domestic reforms.

During the Second World War, Turkey continued the multi-directional foreign policy stance of the interwar period and pursued the so-called active neutrality foreign policy. Rather than siding with one side of the warring parties, Turkey tried to benefit from the geopolitical rivalries between the axis powers on the one hand and the allied countries on the other. Turkish decision makers, particularly President Ismet Inonu, conducted tough negotiations with their counterparts in both camps and tried to do their best to keep Turkey outside the great war. The multipolar character of the time period allowed Turkey to play one power off against the other.

The time period between 1945 and 1960 corresponds to a bipolar international structure in which a high level confrontation existed between the US-led western liberal democratic countries on the one hand and the communist countries of the Soviet camp on the other. Turkey felt itself under Soviet threat and wanted to join the western international community in such a way to counterbalance the existential threat to the north. Following its admission to NATO in 1952 and given the increasing tension between the two power blocks, Turkey had to pursue a predominantly pro-western foreign policy course. The rigid atmosphere of the early Cold War years did not offer Turkey the ability to adopt neutrality and pursue an independent/non-aligned foreign policy course. Turkey’s maneuvering capability was extremely limited during this era. This era is considered in the literature as the most pro-American era in Turkish foreign policy.

For about twenty years between 1960 and 1980, Turkey shifted to a more multi-directional and multi-dimensional foreign policy stance as the so-called détente caused a softening of the bipolar confrontation between western and eastern blocks. Turkish rulers came to the conclusion that the pursuit of extremely pro-western foreign policy stance of the previous era did not yield expected benefits. As the United States and the Soviet Union began to search for ways to live in peaceful co-existence, Turkey felt more capable of charting its own ways through regional activism. It is within such an atmosphere that an internal debate on Turkey’s membership in NATO ensued. Critics of NATO argued that membership in Alliance carried the risk of turning Turkey into an American satellite as well as antagonizing the Soviet Union unnecessarily. Even Finlandianization was suggested as an alternative foreign policy course.

During the 1980s, Turkey had to discover the importance of the strategic relations with the Western world once again as the change of regime Iran and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan increased the tension between the two blocks. The second arrival of the Cold War era confrontation helped increase Turkey’s geopolitical significance in western eyes. During the 1980s Turkey predominantly followed a pro-western foreign policy stance despite the emergence of some problems in relations with western countries.

Turkey’s maneuvering capability in its foreign policy radically improved with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. No longer feeling the pressure to the north, Turkey could pursue active and assertive policies in the Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia and Middle East. Even though the evaporation of the Soviet threat contributed to the erosion of the strategic bond between Turkey and its western allies, membership in NATO and the prospective membership in European Union preserved their primacy in Turkey’s strategic thinking. The pro-western stance in Turkish foreign policy was also enabled by the US-led unipolar structure of the international system, the growing appeal of the constitutive norms of the western international community as well as the perception of Turkey in the west as a successful role model for the countries that regained their independence in the post-Soviet geography. The 1990s could be seen as a period in which Turkey tried to strike a balance between pursuing a more independent/multidirectional foreign policy stance on the one hand and increasing its efforts to solidify its presence in the western international community on the other. While the end of the Cold War seems to have increased Turkey’s maneuvering capability, the gradual erosion of Turkey’s strategic value in the eyes of western/European allies absent the common communism threat pushed Turkish leaders to help reassert Turkey’s western/European identity through NATO and the European Union.  This time period between 1991 and 2008 attests to the global primacy of the United States as well as the growing appeal of the US-led globalization process. The appeal of the EU membership was also high in the eyes of Turkish decision makers. Hence, the golden years of Europeanization in Turkish domestic and foreign policies.

The shift to a more multipolar system over the last decade, particularly following the global financial crisis in 2008, and the spectacular increase in Turkey’s material power capabilities seem to have encouraged Turkish rulers to follow a more multi-directional and multi-dimensional foreign policy stance. During this era Turkey has been in search for more strategic autonomy. The relative decline of western powers, the questioning of the western model across the globe, the concomitant rise of non-western powers in global politics and the onset of the Arab Spring seem to have all caused a shift of axis in Turkish foreign policy away from the West to the East. Turkey acting as a ‘central country’ and pursuing a ‘Eurasianist’ foreign policy stance became quite visible during this era. The multipolar character of the emerging world order will likely continue in the post-Covid-19 era in which Turkey’s search for strategic autonomy and balancing foreign policy practices will strengthen.

By THO Contributor, Tarik Oguzlu

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The Leader of Turkish Foreign Policy is Becoming a Distinguished Figure in World Politics


Since becoming the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has encountered many problems facing Turkey’s foreign relations. It is likely that the challenges he faced in the span of a year would far exceeds what his counterpart from a Scandinavian country could in his life time. Turkey is an exceptionally dynamic country due to its geographical position as well as demographic structure, which also makes it uniquely positioned to address regional problems.

When Mr. Çavuşoğlu assumed office, Turkey was already facing severe problems like the Syrian conflict, ISIS, the PKK, migration to Europe through Turkey, the interminable issues in Cyprus, among a myriad of other issues. Coping with one of those problems is quite a feat but handling all of them together at the same time needs a very hard-working mind.

Çavuşoğlu’s educational background and previous positions at the Council of Europe and work with UNDP made him the ideal candidate to assume the onerous task of managing Turkey’s international relations.

Following his first day in office, in August 2014, dramatic events have increased his responsibilities even more. He was immediately tested by a hostage crisis as 48 of Musul Consulate employees were held hostage by ISIS for 101 days but this crisis was peacefully solved within Çavuşoğlu’s first month in office. Soon after, in November 2015, Turkish jets downed a Russian fighter plane triggering an enormous crisis between Turkey and Russia. Solving such a crisis and normalizing Turkish-Russian relations took years and serious efforts by the Turkish Foreign Ministry and by Mr. Çavuşoğlu.

Çavuşoğlu also demonstrated great adroitness in managing the fallout from domestic terrorism. There were major explosions in Ankara between October 2015 and March 2016, which caused hundreds of people to lose their lives. The reverberations from those attacks were felt all around the world and dealing with this issue needed much delicate diplomatic experience.

On July 15, 2016, FETÖ (Fethullah Terrorist Organization) attempted a coup to takeover Turkey. The attempt was not successful but cost hundreds of Turkish lives. Following the attempt, there were mixed messages from around the world. Some of them condemned the attempt while some expressed ambivalence. A deep analysis following the attempt has shown that FETÖ has established a parallel governance network both in the government and military as Gülen’s thralls had taken over key positions and engorged on Turkey’s wealth to enrich themselves.

Alerting the world to the dangers of FETÖ became the main task of Mr. Çavuşoğlu and the Turkish Foreign Ministry. FETÖ not only has ties through its schools in almost every country but has managed to obscure its hidden agenda by posing as a charitable group. Mr. Çavuşoğlu, therefore, has the difficult objective of telling this situation to all possible countries and convincing them to sever their ties with FETÖ. This is obviously a very tiring job.

In December 2016 the Russian Ambassador Karlov was assassinated by a police officer in Ankara. It was later understood that the police officer was a member of FETÖ. This has put additional burden to the shoulders of Mr. Çavuşoğlu as at that time the relations between Turkey and Russia was already very tense because of the plane incident. It is a diplomatic miracle that Turkey and Russia maintain close relations and continue to cooperate on various issues.

One of the main issues troubling Turkey today is the Syrian problem. Turkey officially deployed its military in Syria in August 2016 but not before 4 million Syrian refugees, many of whom still live in Turkish cities and refugee camps. This is a huge domestic and international problem which is not possible to be solved in a close future. In September 2015, a substantial group of immigrants started moving to Europe. This group was mostly comprised of Syrians but not limited only with them. Turkey permitted this migration as a reaction to the insensitive declarations of European nations relating to the Syrian refugee problem. The EU immediately became aware of the looming problem and were convinced to provide financial help to Turkey so as to take care of the refugees. That was a great diplomatic success by Turkish Government and of course by Mr. Çavuşoğlu.

Not all of Turkey’s problems have had such smooth conclusions and required great diplomatic efforts to resolve. In March 2017, a Turkish Minister was accosted by the Dutch government because of her community engagement efforts with the Turks living in the Netherlands. Due to the rising influence of right-wing sentiments in that country, the Dutch authorities did not allow her to engage the Turkish community and the minister was detained by the Dutch police. The traditionally robust relations between Turkey and the Netherlands reached a nadir as Turkish citizens communicated their disapproval through demonstrations against the Dutch government. Coping with this crisis was also a very difficult task but the relationship between the two countries have thankfully returned to its traditional course.

President Erdoğan is unsparing in his criticism of injustice around the world. This quality has led him to verbally clash with Israel, Greece, US, Germany, Syria, Holland, and the EU on occasion. Unfortunately, states rarely learn from criticism and international politics rarely appreciates such candor. Carrying out the functions of a foreign minister for such a forthright President needs extra work due to the need to mend fences with easily-offended countries. As Çavuşoğlu successfully fulfilled that task for a very long time, while also succeeding in establishing the direction of Turkish foreign policy, he became a central figure in global diplomacy. Time and again Çavuşoğlu showcased the hallmarks of a great diplomat and therefore commands respect in the international arena.


Mr. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu CV

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