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Independence Foreign Policy Bait

The foreign policies of the countries are carried out by the people. So is foreign policies! Foreign policy is categorized into two main fields; answering the goings-on in the world (reactionist), and steps taken towards actualizing own interests (actionist). Security policies comprise all of the policies of the state in order to provide domestic and foreign security. The primary security concern of the states is to continue their existence and providing this is the primary objective of every state. 

Foreign policy and security policy always interact with each other. First one is an accessory used in order to provide the second one. This situation generates a very important boundary towards making foreign policy. This boundary is prioritizing the security of the state. All of the other foreign policy matters may show an alteration. However, no healthy foreign policy may put the security of the state in danger. If the security of the state is endangered because of the foreign policy; that foreign policy is unsuccessful. The correlation of this foreign policy and security policy are identified as a rational political behavior which is separate from other ideologies and regimes.

Turkey is in danger at present. I am talking about the fact that the foreign policy preferences endanger the security of the country independent from the regime or the economic problems. All of the academicians, who are honest to themselves, will confess that the foreign policy preferences pose major security concerns for Turkey. I will focus on the relation between the gradually increasing existential risk factor and foreign policy in this article. As might be expected, parting ways with the US nearly without the possibility of reuniting again after the start of the deliveries of the S-400 weapon systems to Turkey will be the main topic of this article. The other topic is about the matter of “exclusive economic zone” blazed up recently in the Eastern Mediterranean and the fossil energy fields. Both topics are directly related to Turkey’s main foreign policy tendencies and require deep evaluations. 

The purchase of the S-400s is rather a preference related to foreign policy tendency and far from being a technical problem that can be evaluated merely as a new addition to the equipment. 

It is not a secret that Turkey is in the process of estrangement and even disengagement with NATO. Associating the US and some other Western allies with the coup attempt after 15 July and even announcing Washington as the main coup plotter indicate that the disengagement in relations happens at a perceptual level. The government in Ankara has a downer on the US; moreover, the US is not trusted. The perception universe of the rulers in Turkey sees the US and NATO not as allies but as enemies on the contrary. The decision of the US to support and protect the Kurds in Iraq since the Operation Provide Comfort in the 1990s, although Turkey is inside this mechanism, disturbed the security elites in Ankara and caused an attitude which does not trust the US.

On the other hand, the unsuccessful attempts of the US to receive the expected support from Ankara to fight against ISIL in Syria forced the US to form an alliance with the Syrian Kurds. The fact that secular Kurds are a rising enemy against the Islamist-jihadist fanatic factions generated a harmony for this tactical-strategic allegiance on the values plane. And Ankara, on the contrary, lost its edge of being a secular state and trusted partner, which Turkey managed to protect until the 2000s, nearly altogether after 2016.

Turkey perceived the Sunnist-Islamist groups friendly on the field and supported Al-Qaeda derivative Al-Nusra overtly and organizations such as ISIL covertly. It viewed all of the groups friendly, which fought against Al-Assad, without considering what they actually wanted. It allowed the use of its soil as a passage route without making an issue of the radical Islamist worldview of these groups. Majority of the accession to Al-Nusra and ISIL has been through Turkey.

Thus, a serious disengagement happened between the US-NATO and Turkey about the Syria perception and the factual politics as a reflection of this. Ankara tried to patronize the Kurds, who are the partners of the US in Syria, in the very beginning.  However, the ideological differences between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian Kurds were close to the differences between the Kurds and ISIL. A constant militia circulation had already existed between ISIL, FSA, and Al-Nusra in action. In other words, it would have been a suicide for the Syrian Kurds to partner up with the movements which had the same mentality of these groups. Therefore, Syrian Kurds kept their distance with Ankara which flirted with these jihadist fanatics on the field. Despite this distance, the diplomatic and intelligence communications continued between the Syrian Kurds and Ankara. The incident that changed this situation was the coup attempt on 15 July. 

To crayon the situation, Turkey disengaged with the West after 15 July and entered into the orbit of Russia. If we leave aside the points such as ideological reasons and the preferences of some of the factions who are effective in Turkey’s domestic policy, the following are the main reasons for the alternation of this policy; (i) the US providing Syrian Kurds with weapons and ammunition, supporting and protecting them; (ii) Russia controlling the west of Euphrates completely and the obligation of the security elites to convince Moscow about Syrian Kurds; (iii) the fact that it is a widely accepted perception in Turkey that the US was behind 15 July; (iv) Turkey entering in a period where the features of a state of law were put aside and the disengagement from the Western standards.

As a matter of fact, each of these reasons is the result of the mistakes of Ankara. If Ankara could have managed to act coordinated with the US on the field about the future of ISIL and Syria from the very beginning; both continue the Resolution Process inside and establish a healthy dialogue with the Syrian Kurds by not imagining the worst about the Syrian Kurds; it would have received more positive results in terms of its own security. Furthermore, if Turkey could have managed to analyze the reason for Russia’s long and short term existence in Syria, it would have managed to see how big of an unfavorableness it could generate for its own security. Aside from all this, if Turkey was not so insisting about a reason which is manipulative and artificial that the US was behind the 15 July attempt, did not disengage from the human rights standards of the West without abandoning the state of law; it would have been a more powerful player both inside and outside. Thus, this policy alternation I talk about would not exist and Turkey’s tendency would remain stable. 

None of the groups supported by Turkey in Syria contributed to the security of Turkey. Let alone a contribution, they even knocked the legs out from under it! Players such as Al-Nusra, FSA, and ISIL were the rotten ground Turkey relied on for Syrian policy. The correct thing to do was not to provide any support to these groups since the very beginning. Turkey could have controlled its borders; cut out the jihadist flow through the country; not provided health services for the killer jihadist fanatics; dealt a big blow by not buying their oil; give its own citizens no quarters towards joining these organizations. Moreover, it could not have shared intelligence; stopped using them as instruments for its own interests; chosen to provide security for its own borders instead of going from one adventure to another in Syria. Unfortunately, it did not do any of these. It made the wrong choices and took action in favor of its domestic policy expectations.

Turkey has become a country that formed a close alliance with Russia which is an anti-status-quo country in Eastern Mediterranean, expectant to instabilities, deficient of integrity in itself, disconnected from democracy and human rights, and openly challenges NATO. This makes Turkey very fragile. Ankara tends to use force in the expectation that it will maximize its own status in Cyprus and this led Ankara to shoot itself in the foot by causing Greek Cypriot State to receive uniform support from the US and EU. Ankara, which has been approaching Cyprus with military-strategic motives since 1974 and hides this under the cover of humanitarian reasons and quantitative of being a guarantor state, could not manage to prevent Greek Cypriot State to join the EU as a legitimate state first by gradually losing power after showing the Annan Plan of Rauf Denktas in 2002 as an excuse only to end up failing its own EU process.

Although Ankara tried to compensate this situation in a referendum in 2004, the Greek side played its cards well and said “no” against the “yes” vote of Turkey and Greek side joined the EU despite the fact that it voted against the coalescence of two regions. Although the EU is not as pure as the driven snow; it is a fact that Denktas and the nationalist fraction behind him, who did not approve the first Annan Plan on the negotiation table, latched on Turkey’s Cyprus policy. Briefly, Turkey missed an opportunity while it had the chance to terminate its invader epithet in Cyprus, ensure Cyprus’ integrity and join the EU together with Cyprus. Greek Cypriot State is the sole representative of the Republic of Cyprus according to international law. Nobody recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus other than Turkey.

Therefore, the EU plans to drill for natural gas together with the US and other regional countries and international companies in the waters parcelled by the Greek Cypriot State as its own exclusive economic zone. And Turkey tries to stand alone against this international community and their international law. While the tension rises around Cyprus, Ankara tries to show the purchase of S-400s and Russian allegiance rightful to its own domestic public opinion around this equation. Since Cyprus means a “national” matter, it is all in the hands of the nationalitarian-chauvinist state factions. It is more difficult to arrange alternative approaches and resolutions about Cyprus at present compared to the EU process at the beginning of the 2000s, and it even looks impossible. 

In this context, Turkey faces three possible dangers; the first one is the sanctions of the US because of S-400 matter, and the second one is the sanctions of the EU because of its attitude about the matter of Cyprus. There are two further outcomes of these sanctions; Turkey might even get closer to Russia about its foreign policy, security and economic matters. And after the centrifugal effect as a result of this; there is a possibility for Turkey to even break off further from the Western norms and values domestically. 

As it is seen, a thoughtless foreign policy strategy posed and still poses serious and even vital dangers for Turkey. The matter is not merely related to the purchasing of a weapon system from the Russians or protecting Turkey’s interests in the eastern Mediterranean. Without a doubt, public opinion in Turkey can buy these justifications; as a matter of fact, it already does.

Because the situation indigenous to the ideologic reasons, characteristics and internal balance of the regime, which are not mentioned in this article, degrades the whole equation I mentioned to “a matter of national pride” for the ordinary Turkish citizen. And this makes the situation rather easy for the decision-makers on the top. Furthermore, the rulers of the regime procure acceptance from the opposition to their approach monopoly for their tendencies in foreign policy. Besides, while the nationalitarian-chauvinist opposition buys this “independent foreign policy” bait; it does not object to the one-sided and excessive Russian dependency full of dangers.           

I will try to focus on the economic extent and ideologic/domestic policy dynamics in other articles. 

The Turkish version of the article appeared at Tr724.com.

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Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.


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