1 Mar 2019
Two Modalities of Foreign and Domestic Policies in Turkey From Soft Power to War Rhetoric
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The AKP government, since 2002, government has had two modalities of bridging domestic and foreign policy. The first modality was the civilizationist foreign policy vision, which was coupled with democratic reform agenda on the domestic level. However, as of 2018, this modality has been replaced. The new modality is a search for positioning Turkey within BRICS, and this foreign policy vision is coupled with the shift to a presidential system on the domestic level, a system of “one strong man”. It is based on a consistently rising authoritarianism on the domestic level; yet when it comes to the foreign policy it fails to have a consistent plan. Erdoğan-style foreign policy attempts to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia and F-35 stealth fighters from the US at the same time, or to have a joint plan with Russia about the future of Syria, although Turkey and Syria do not have a common understanding about which groups are to be labeled as terrorist. It also aims to show some progress on the EU relations, but without taking the necessary steps for a comprehensive European integration of Turkey. This inconsistent foreign policy vision disables Turkey’s already limited chance to contribute towards regional stability.
What is then the impact of this new modality led by Erdoğan on the South Caucasus? First of all, with the second modality, Turkey is much more preoccupied with its internal agenda. In this sense, regional stability and the South Caucasus corresponds simply to an absence in Turkey’s agenda. In the early 2000s, the US predicted that without achieving a normalization process between Ankara and Yerevan, there would be little hope to achieve a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Then, the US government initiated a track-two diplomacy process. Although public opinion in Armenia and in the diaspora expressed doubts about this dialogue channel, which failed to achieve a concrete outcome, it was still an important attempt in bringing some former diplomats and experts from Armenia and Turkey to the same table. As of 2018, this formula still holds validity: normalization between Ankara and Yerevan would significantly contribute to de-escalating the tension in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. As Ankara gets closer to Russia and intensifies the authoritarian ruling style domestically, there is no realistic hope for normalization with Yerevan and the initiation of a positive contribution to regional stability in the South Caucasus. Moreover, the ties between Ankara and Baku are not limited to ethnic identity, but also to energy and trade, which make these two countries strong allies in the realm of realpolitik.
When it comes to prospects for the future, although one-man ruling style seem powerful today in Turkey, international observers in the Caucasus and Europe need to note that this authoritarian phase in Turkish politics is not a viable path in the long run. Today’s economic crisis in Turkey is only one of the reasons for a sustainability issue for the à la turca authoritarianism. Equally important, the current constitutionalized authoritarianism lacks institutional basis, which will turn out to be the major problem for the sustainability of this ruling style.
First, the European institutions need to take the de-democratization of Turkey seriously, together with their responsibility of taking action towards re-democratization. Their first responsibility is not to reduce Turkey to a country with which to negotiate only about the issue of refugees. The European institutions need to show that disregarding basic principles of freedom and rule of law will bring certain costs and consequences for Ankara. The motion recently accepted by the European Parliament to pursue unprecedented disciplinary action against Hungary for violating the EU’s core values, should be taken as benchmark.
Second, the European institutions need to find innovative methods to engage with the regions outside of its borders. This new perspective has to include more direct engagement with the Middle East and the Caucasus and hence should give Erdoğan the message that the only viable option for Turkey to overcome its current crisis is bridging its domestic and foreign policy perspectives in a reasonable manner, which means undoing the war rhetoric.
Third, taking the current authoritarianism in Turkey seriously, the European institutions need to act on various levels, including strengthening the ties with the NGOs in Turkey. The responsibility is not limited to the EU – the Council of Europe’s share is equally important, if not more. ECHR’s recent ruling, urging Turkey to release HDP former leader Selahattin Demirtaş, is a decision compatible with this kind of responsibility.
*The feature photo of this publication is taken from AFP Photo / Turkish Prime Minister Press Office– Kayhan Ozer. The picture portrays the election rally of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s supporters in Istanbul on March 23, 2014.