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NATO Summit, Turkey and Expectations

The foreign policy of countries is based on long-term principles that involve continuity, a certain direction, values, prioritization of national interests and security, and consideration of external conditions in making political choices. Rationality is inevitable in foreign policy preferences. Foreign policy, along with the economy, is one of the areas least prone to political fluctuations.

The main characteristic of the Republican era was a rational, reasonable, power-balancing, interest-based, and Western-oriented foreign policy that ended the foreign policy fluctuations that led to the end of the Ottoman Empire. Integrating Turkey into a foreign policy network that could satisfy its stability, security, and independence, as well as its civilizational-ideological orientation, was the goal. Atatürk’s prioritization of peace and his choice to stay away from adventurism formed the basis of this political direction.

Under these conditions, Turkey became a founding member of the Council of Europe, joined NATO, and made full membership in European Integration its primary foreign policy goal. In addition, Turkey decided to isolate itself from the futile contradictions of the Middle East.

Oral Sander, one of the veteran political historians, mentions that there has never been a radical anti-Western reactionary attitude in Turkey and explains it by the fact that Turkey has never been subjected to a long-term occupation. In parallel, the prevalence of anti-Western sentiment among Middle Eastern societies, especially Arabs, can be explained by the colonization of the region by imperial powers. Concepts such as jihad and holy war in Islam became instruments of Islamist movements or other political powers using Islam, by disconnecting them from their original context.

In Turkey, this anti-Western sentiment never massified until the Erdogan era. Even the National Salvation Party (Milli Selamet Partisi in Turkish) and the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi in Turkish), which gave rise to political parties such as the National View (Milli Gorus in Turkish) Islamism, could never popularize anti-Western sentiment. This can be explained by the unique balance and control mechanisms in Turkish politics. The tutelage system had established a balance and control mechanism in Turkish politics. Although it was not an extraordinary thing, it was a ‘sui generis’ characteristic. The fact that political parties or leaders could not do whatever they wanted without control, until the Erdogan era, can be explained by this mechanism. The elimination of the tutelage system and democratization, within the framework of the Copenhagen Criteria, was supported by many groups. However, the supporting groups did not foresee that the emerging power vacuum could be used by the civilian government to become authoritarian.

erdo 1
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Erdoğan and his power stakeholders filled the void left by the military through a civilian coup. Power does not tolerate a vacuum. It is a general rule in politics, like the law of gravity. The power vacuum resulting from the neutralization of the military gave Erdoğan the opportunity to cover up his corruption and ensure continuity by becoming authoritarian. The new partners who joined forces with Erdoğan gained the opportunity to implement their foreign policy dreams. Eurasian Russia supporters disrupted Turkey’s Western-oriented foreign policy, putting an end to a 150-year direction. The aim was to create an adventurous foreign policy that would abandon Western values and be included in the Russia-China-Iran axis, pursuing opportunities against the Western camp. While consolidating his power, Erdoğan’s partners (and sponsors) handed over the country to these dark forces step by step. With the acquisition of S-400 systems from Russia, Ankara lost its position as a producer partner for fifth-generation F-35 aircraft, which actually fell victim to a clear sabotage. Thus, the ailing structure at the helm of the country caused a strong and lasting damage to its ties with NATO. However, the Russian S-400 systems had no strategic advantage for Turkey.

In addition, immediately after the controlled coup attempt on July 15th, Turkey accused the United States (and some other allied countries in the Western alliance) of being behind the July 15th coup attempt. Hostility towards the United States reached its peak. NATO began to be seen as an occupation force or enemy alliance. It is probably the most obvious observation that July 15th was an anti-NATO operation. After this operation, fifty percent of the total number of commanders in Turkey’s admiral-general cadre were purged. The most common feature of these commanders was that they were against a war in Syria and were pro-NATO. In addition, a significant number of staff officers in upper, middle, and lower ranks were purged in parallel with the July 15th operation. Except for the abolition of the Janissary Corps in Ottoman-Turkish history, there is no operation of this caliber. Furthermore, there is no other army among all NATO countries that has been subjected to such purges since modern times.

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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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