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Turkiye foreign policy in the new era

June 15, 2023 at 7:30 pm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan participates in the opening ceremony of the Digital Exhibition “1 Poem 1 Life/Sakarya Turkusu (Ballad for Sakarya)” at Ataturk Cultural Center, in Istanbul, Turkiye on June 11, 2023 [Mustafa Kamacı – Anadolu Agency]

Turkiye is a middle power, and the transformation of the international system from the US-led unipolarity to a multi-actor centric multipolarity over the last decade is in its national interest. Assessing how Turkish foreign policy might evolve in the years to come with Hakan Fidan at the helm of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be incomplete if the changing dynamics of the international system were not taken into account.

Fidan as the core of Turkish foreign policy

Fidan has been in the inner circle of foreign policy-making process since his appointment to the head of the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) in 2010. He has played a critical role in shaping and implementation of various foreign policy decisions that were built on the assumptions that we are now living in a post-American international order and putting the concept of “strategic autonomy” at the very centre of Turkiye’s international engagements would yield positive results.

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Fidan appears to have played critical roles in Turkiye’s involvement in the civil wars in Syria and Libya during the process of the Arab Spring, establishing cordial strategic relations with Russia, in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict and paving the way for normalisation of relations with Sunni regimes in the Middle East and Israel. He was also included in many high-level meetings between Turkish authorities and their traditional Western counterparts. With such a professional performance and institutional experience in the background, Fidan’s appointment as the Minister of Foreign Affairs suggests that the main dynamics of Turkish foreign policy will likely continue in the near future.

Fidan has academic degrees in International Relations at undergraduate and graduate levels and this suggests that he could successfully combine theoretical and conceptual skills with practical necessities of foreign policy.

Having served as Turkiye’s intelligence chief and engineered a radical transformation of the National Intelligence Agency in such a way to equip it with conceptual, institutional and operational requirements of the contemporary age, Fidan has proved his capacity to modernise state institutions and make them more relevant to the needs of today’s world. He could engineer such a transformation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and catapult the Ministry to a more vital role in the formulation and execution of foreign policies.

Continuity of multidimensional policies

The core issues concerning Turkish foreign policy in the recent past will continue to keep busy the new presidential government in the near to mid-term, as well. Of all, the enlargement of NATO to Sweden is the most urgent one. With the war in Ukraine getting more intractable each passing day, and the Western commitment to Ukraine’s security and defence increasing, Turkiye might be exposed to growing Western pressure to lift its embargo on Sweden’s accession to NATO. Having joined the trilateral negotiations among Turkiye, Sweden and Finland since May 2002, Fidan will be the most competent person to oversee this process on Turkiye’s behalf by the time NATO’s next summit gathers in Vilnius in July. Having won the latest parliamentary and presidential elections, and aspiring to improve relations with traditional Western partners in the context of deteriorating security environment in its neighbourhood, as well as securing Western backing to putting the Turkish economy in a much healthier path, Turkish statesmen, including Fidan, will likely play facilitative and constructive roles in this process.

Turkiye’s determination to contribute to the end of the civil war in Syria will also continue during Fidan’s reign in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Paving the way for Syria-origin immigrants in Turkiye to go back to their country of origin in safety will require not only the continuation of multilateral negotiations among Turkish, Russian, Iranian and Syrian officials, but also improving the strategic dialogue between Turkish and American authorities. No one could rival Fidan in this regard, given his competence, experience and acquaintance with his counterparts. The same logic does also apply to the civil war in Libya.

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Even though the consensus view among academics and pundits who study Turkiye – European Union (EU) relations is that bilateral relations have, in recent years, become more transactional, pragmatic and interest-driven than value-oriented, this does in no way suggest that Turkish authorities, including Fidan, will not ask their European counterparts to put more efforts on improving the Customs Union with Turkiye, facilitating the visa liberalisation process and taking Turkiye’s concerns on the refugee deal more into account.

Turkish authorities are aware of the fact that cold war like tension and confrontations between rival blocs, liberal democracies and illiberal autocracies, has been on the rise in recent years and this produces negative outcomes on Turkiye’s “Ankara-centric” multi-dimensional and multi-directional foreign policy orientation. As a middle power with strong geopolitical ambitions in its region and globally, Turkiye benefits from the emerging multipolarity in the international system and finds pursuing balance of power politics among regional and global powers in its national interest. Any worsening of the international environment, in which the manoeuvring capability of such middle powers as Turkiye decreases, will not serve Turkiye’s interests. Turkish authorities are also cognizant of the fact that Turkiye is a swing state, whose geopolitical orientation would matter to how geopolitical competition among global heavyweights would evolve. Turkiye’s geopolitical preferences are vital to the end result of the emerging cold war like competition. That said, just as Turkiye will continue its strategic working relationship and dialogue with Russia as well as China, and the key countries of the so-called Global South, it will simultaneously value its membership in NATO and the accession process with the EU.

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While taking great pains at playing great powers off against each other, Turkiye’s efforts to improve its relations with the countries of the Global South in order to help preserve its strategic manoeuvring capability, as well as putting constrains on the United States, China and Russia will continue. It is, after all, in Turkiye’s national interest that the Hobbesian-confrontational characters of the international system are replaced by a more Kantian-cooperative environment.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.