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Turkey’s Recent Foreign Policy: Ideology Over Rationality and the Consequences

Foreign policy is a complex and dynamic process that involves a state’s strategic behavior in the international arena, decision-making processes, and the pursuit of national interests.

Rational states prioritize acting consciously and effectively in global relations when formulating their foreign policies and act according to various criteria and principles. This is because foreign policy is a serious field, much like the economy, and it has objective rules of governance. Just as with the economy, if foreign policy is used for domestic political concerns, the cost can be very heavy for countries.

Especially in Turkey, in the last 10 years, there has been a state of complete chaos in foreign policy management. Analytical approaches are often overlooked. The approach of balancing power calculations and interests has been completely abandoned.

However, foreign policy is a decision behavior that depends on events, interests, and the ability to learn in the relations of decision-makers and competent bodies with their own states or other states and international political action systems. This behavior requires the best fulfillment of interest perceptions and impositions.

The concept of foreign policy emphasizes the perception of interests and the taking of the most rational decisions according to the conditions. International politics is a multi-layered, polycentric, and dynamic interaction system without a central decision-making and coercive legal system. The structure and dynamics of this system consist of foreign policy interaction processes and relationship systems (single-center states and other system types) among coexisting and interdependent action systems.

In such an environment, 1) using foreign policy as a tool for domestic politics and 2) conducting foreign policy with ideological motives are madness.

While the consequences of foreign policy decisions will undoubtedly affect domestic politics, this does not require making decisions based on these results. Results are calculated, but foreign policy behavior cannot be the sole determinant. Especially, a state should not take foreign policy risks just to achieve short-term gains in domestic politics.

Since foreign policy decisions will have long-term effects, making foreign policy decisions solely for short-term gains in domestic politics can bring significant disadvantages, problems, and even destruction to states and societies.

Similarly, looking at international events through ideological lenses and disregarding objectivity are irrational and erroneous approaches with serious consequences. International politics, including states, is an area where actors act according to their interests. In this field, acting emotionally based on human characteristics, in other words, acting emotionally, has negative consequences.

Ideological approaches are generally based on secular or religious ideologies. Ideology refers to a comprehensive and integrated thought system that forms the basis of a social, political, economic, or cultural system, referring to beliefs, values, ideas, and doctrines that shape individuals and societies’ understanding of events on Earth, shape their perceptions, and guide their actions and develop a subjective perspective. Often this ideological perspective hinders understanding the situation as it is, creates interpretations of events according to its own inner world, and creates a perception far from objectivity.

Both using foreign policy for domestic political gain and adopting ideological perspectives are approaches that should be avoided the most in foreign policy making. Both of them sabotage successful foreign policy.

If we delve into it a bit more, foreign policy decisions based on ideology can lead to inflexibility and rigidity. Ideologies often contain fixed principles and beliefs, which can make it difficult to adapt to changing geopolitical landscapes or emerging global issues. Focusing solely on ideology can lead to failure in meeting the practical and realistic needs of the state. This situation can lead to policies disconnected from the real complexities of international relations and national interests.

Giving too much weight to ideology can disregard pragmatic and realistic thinking. In international relations, pragmatic and realistic approaches are often important to achieve practical goals and maintain effective diplomatic relations. Ideology-based foreign policies can lead to tension and conflict with other states with different ideologies. This can hinder diplomatic efforts, cooperation, and the pursuit of common interests on the international stage. Excessive reliance on ideology can lead the state to distance itself from potential allies or partners due to ideological differences. This can limit opportunities for cooperation and mutual benefit.

Furthermore, in crisis situations, rigid adherence to ideology can hinder the state’s ability to respond effectively. Crisis situations often require pragmatic, flexible, and quick decisions, which can be disrupted due to an ideological approach.

Turkey’s foreign policy in recent years has been influenced by two ideologies: Islamism and Eurasianism. Both of these ideologies are isolationist and anti-Western, and they lead decision-makers to make foreign policy decisions not based on Turkey’s national interests but on what should be the situation, not the actual situation. It involves a foreign policy behavior that is detached from reality, unrealistic, and based on the images, ideals, and dreams in their minds.

On one hand, there are Islamist/Neo-Ottoman/Sunni reflexes, and on the other hand, there is a Russian-Eurasianist thought universe built on anti-Western sentiment. This completely shelved Turkish foreign policy from the realist school and canceled out institutionalized foreign policy.

This understanding led Turkey into the quagmire of Syria and caused millions of refugees to permanently enter Turkey. In this quagmire, Turkey began to act alongside many radical Islamist/jihadist groups. It de facto gradually abandoned its NATO and Western-oriented foreign policy behavior. The team governing Turkey began to perceive jihadist groups that posed a danger as potential allies during this process. Unfortunately, the foreign ministry bureaucracy accepted this situation.

On the other hand, as seen in the S-400 crisis, an irrational alignment with Russia was entered into to sabotage the NATO-US orientation. Turkey was expelled from the F-35 consortium of which it was a production partner. It even regressed to a position where it could not purchase these fighter jets. In contrast, Turkey had to beg to buy F-16 fighter jets, which were technology from the 1980s.

Today, Turkey has sunk even further into this foreign policy quagmire. Turkey fervently advocates for HAMAS. Not only do NATO allies not share this position, but no country in the entire Arab and Islamic world, except for Qatar and Iran, has adopted this position. Even Qatar and Iran have not gone so far as to issue passports to HAMAS leadership.

Furthermore, an unprecedented anti-Western sentiment has been escalated in Turkey, affecting the societal psyche. Foreign policy has been built on “mobilizing” this sociology and gaining political benefits from it. The country has lost all its weight in the world and in the region. Soft power has completely disappeared. And, of course, a serious security vulnerability has emerged.

This wretched foreign policy, full of fragility risk and riddled with serial mistakes and increasing vulnerabilities, is the most serious threat to the country’s future, in addition to the current economic collapse.

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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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