Book Review: Türkiye’s Foreign Policy in the 21st Century



Türkiye’s Foreign Policy in the 21st Century

Edited by Ramazan ERDAĞ*

Kadim Publications, Ankara, 2023, 344 pg.

Reviewed by: Pınar Hilal Balta**

Rapid technological, cultural, sociological, and economic changes have immensely impacted the world’s political framework. The remnants of the bipolar world and the evolution of traditional media into “new media” have led to a widely accepted perspective on foreign policy in the era of the new millennium. Based on this perspective, foreign policy has been categorized as “pre-2000 and post-2000” both in Türkiye and the international arena. The subsequent “post-2000 period” has been analyzed in three widely recognized categories on the basis of its problems and consequences: the first decade (2000-2010), the Arab Uprisings (2010-2011), and the post-Arab Uprisings (2011-2021). The actions and risks undertaken by Ankara in these incremental procedures are frequently evaluated without acknowledging their underlying motives. A comprehensive view of the ongoing effort is necessary to comprehend the global events that influenced Türkiye’s foreign policy, the actions of international and local players, and the pragmatic aspects behind the decisions that contributed to Türkiye’s ascension as a regional leader. The reason for this necessity lies in Türkiye’s ability to maintain “stability and determination” in its “multidimensional” foreign policy, which often goes unnoticed when viewed in a fragmented manner.

Ramazan Erdağ’s edited book, “Türkiye’s Foreign Policy in the 21st Century”, fills a gap in the literature by providing a comprehensive perspective. The book charts Türkiye’s diplomatic journey due to its proactive strategy, which has enabled it to advance from the periphery to become a central player on the international stage. In the book, experts in the field of foreign policy evaluate developments under eighteen headings. Technical term abbreviations are explained when first used.

The opening article of the chapter features Ramazan Erdağ’s “Change and Transformation in the International System and Turkish Foreign Policy in the 2000s.”. The article analyses the 21st century through three breaks: the 9/11 attacks, the Arab Spring and the Covid-19 pandemic. It illustrates how the first two events were interdependent and delve into the power dynamics and impacts of competing state and non-state actors. Erdağ identifies “the deep disconnect in global cooperation” and explains how Türkiye’s rise in the international arena is affected by global actors’ limited sphere of influence. This leads to a more significant issue symptomatic of the transition to multipolarity in the international system: the rivalry between the US and Russia.

The topic of “global actors and the ineffectiveness of international organizations,” highlighted by Erdağ under the framework of the Covid-19 pandemic, is explored further in Tamer Kaşıkçı’s article “Relations with International Organizations”: Türkiye’s experiences in the United Nations (UN) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As mentioned in the introduction, this article focuses on Türkiye’s proactive policies, which have paved the way for Türkiye’s diplomatic journey from the periphery to the center. These policies involve perceiving international organizations as platforms that enhance Türkiye’s recognition in the international system, increasing the physical presence of the missions and naturally strengthening Türkiye’s position in international politics—the article “Türkiye-EU relations”, authored by Filiz Cicioğlu, analyses the European Union (EU) journey. It details how the process, which had been progressing with the reforms of the AK Party governments, began to disintegrate due to the Union’s distant approach to Türkiye.

Meanwhile, an article by Bora Bayraktar and Ebuzer Demirci explores relations between Türkiye and the United States. The article by Muhammet Koçak highlights Türkiye’s pursuit of more independent international policies due to the political context. Specifically, the American administration has largely ignored Türkiye’s security concerns.

As a result, the article describes areas of competition between Russia and Türkiye, as the global hegemonic influence of the US continues to erode. Koçak explains that the growing closeness between Ankara and Moscow, which has its roots in their flourishing commercial ties, has resulted in strategic collaboration. This partnership has brought about significant diplomatic and humanitarian benefits.

As For Relations with Neighbors…

Contemporary conditions have caused direct issues with Israel, a neighboring country of Türkiye. The article by Haydar Oruç discusses the state of Turkish-Israeli relations, examining how the Arab Uprisings, Mavi Marmara, the coup attempts on 15 July, 2016 and decisions made by Donald Trump after his election as President of the United States have had an impact on bilateral relations.

Iraq was created by joining three Ottoman provinces (Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra) during the British occupation at the start of the previous century. Differences in religion, language, and sect hindered its formal unification. Mehmet Alaca analyses this in the article. Türkiye’s policies towards Iraq, a close neighbor where instability has become routine due to reasons such as the incomplete nation-state process and the US occupation, are explained in the Erbil-Baghdad line.

İsmail Sarı examines Iran, our neighboring country with whom Türkiye has a historical rivalry that cannot be ignored. Sarı argues that Türkiye’s political, cultural, and economic advancements are met with Iran’s opposition. Iran purports to be a leader in the Islamic world and cautions against overestimating the extent of collaboration while discussing the areas of both countries’ rivalry and partnership. Sarı outlines the “historical” antagonism between Ankara and Tehran, which they have strived to keep from escalating into direct conflict.

Chapter nine focuses on the Syrian crisis, which has had the most far-reaching impact on the Middle East since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. This authored chapter, by Oytun Orhan and Recep Tayyip Teke, sheds light on Türkiye’s gradual response to the Syrian civil war and explains how the conflict culminated in a national security threat for Türkiye.

Türkiye’s relationship with the Gulf countries, which remains delicate due to historical issues, is analyzed in this chapter by Mehmet Rakipoğlu. Rakipoğlu outlines how the power vacuum caused by the Arab uprisings has led to a contest for influence between Türkiye and the Gulf states. He highlights the tensions created by Turkish ascendancy in the region and Iranian expansionism and how this has resulted in conflict and cooperation between Türkiye and the Gulf nations. The article also analyses the generally favorable relationships between Qatar and Kuwait.

Balkans, Caucasus and Soft Power

In the Balkans, which endured a turbulent period in the 1990s due to the collapse of Yugoslavia and holds a significant place in our historical and cultural heritage, stable policies have been established in the 21st century, presenting favorable conditions for developing political, economic, and social relations. Similarly, the conflicts and unrest in the Caucasus region have subsided since 2010. The Balkans and the Caucasus, discussed in the articles by Mehmet Uğur Ekinci and Merve Zorlu, are central to Ankara’s foreign policy due to Türkiye’s mediation and balanced approach. The articles explain Türkiye’s efforts to establish diplomatic contacts within the region while also highlighting Ankara’s decision to refrain from interfering in the domestic politics of these countries. This stance is crucial in countering the accusations of hegemonic power aspirations against the Turkish Foreign Ministry, particularly in domestic politics.

The notion of “soft power,” frequently referenced prior to 2010, focusing on the Arab world, is also relevant here. The text elucidates how Türkiye has cultivated public diplomacy with the Turkic Republics in the Caucasus based on shared language and culture. The concept of “soft power” is present in Latin America and Africa, marking the second area of its application.

Latin America and Africa

In their article, Hüsna Taş Yetim and Mustafa Yetim emphasize the growing demand for Turkish TV shows in Latin American countries, collaborations in education, the establishment of Turkish cultural centers, and human-economic development initiatives led by organizations like TIKA. The authors elaborated on the successful partnership strategies in trade relations, tourism, and other sectors.

The article by Abdurrahim Sıradağ discusses Türkiye’s rapidly developing relations with Africa and the processes of institutionalization for these ties. Sıradağ notes two factors bolstering Ankara’s influence in Africa: Türkiye’s policies supporting human and economic development and the continent’s lack of a colonial past.

Libya and Cyprus

Articles by Furkan Polat and Recep Yorulmaz discuss Libya and Cyprus, which are relevant to the Arab Uprisings, the EU process, and the Eastern Mediterranean crisis. These countries are crucial to Türkiye’s rising regional power, and the articles highlight the effects of military measures on expanding diplomatic and de facto influence. The discussion of Greece and Türkiye’s policies is also presented under the headings of the Balkans, Libya and Cyprus.

A Political Economy Perspective

In the article “Political Economy Determinants of Turkish Foreign Policy in the 21st Century”, Emre Saygın and Tahsin Yamak offer a political economy perspective on how the Turkish Foreign Affairs bureaucracy regained its competence in foreign policy operations during the 2000s. For many years, the military had overshadowed legitimate political administrations, causing the Foreign Affairs bureaucracy to lose its competence. Saygın and Yamak outline the measures employed to achieve macroeconomic supremacy for the all-encompassing foreign policy standpoint and examine whether this objective has been fulfilled.

The piece by Gürol Baba analyses the argument that both worldwide trade and power balance are relocating towards the Asia-Pacific region, which gains prominence in the economic framework. Additionally, the inquiry regarding how to expedite trade is addressed.

What Have We Learnt and What Not?

The book “Türkiye’s Foreign Policy in the 21st Century”, edited by Ramazan Erdağ, has succeeded in providing a “holistic view of Turkish foreign policy”, as it claims. The book shows that the proactive policies of the Turkish foreign policy bureaucracy in all areas in particular the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leader diplomacy- as Erdağ notes in the book’s concluding chapter – paved the way for a domino effect that led to the nationalization of Turkish defense industry, which in turn led to military moves and generated other conditions that fed Türkiye’s assertive rise. It also provides a bird’s-eye view of the “humanitarian” aspect of Turkish foreign policy, which continues to affect all areas without exception. The fact that the book lacks a theoretical section may be a deficiency. However, in my opinion, all chapters support one another and form a complete integrity. Thus, the book constitutes a major source in its area of study.

On the other hand, the absence of a separate chapter on the Russian-Ukrainian war is noteworthy. Erdağ explains that this issue arose during the preparation of the book and could be included in later editions. We can say that the war in Ukraine was a historic diplomatic adventure for Türkiye in terms of strengthening its presence in the Black Sea, the appearance of UAVs and UCAVs, which led to a doctrinal change in the national defense industry, the sale of UAVs and UCAVs to one of the parties, and Türkiye’s ability to maintain open relations with both countries despite explicitly stating that it did not approve of the invasion. This issue should be treated with its internal dynamics and developments to complete a holistic view of Turkish foreign policy.

The book also allows us to look at an important detail from a broader perspective: Türkiye is accused of “axis shifting” after every “independent” move. However, the holistic perspective provided by the book shows us that Turkish foreign policy cannot be read with a Cold War-era habit, that Türkiye is not obliged to prefer either the East or the West, and that it rejects this approach.

From President Erdoğan’s statement of 19 September 2023, we can easily read that Türkiye’s multifaceted foreign policy is far from being that of a novice who grabs every branch he finds with appetite and that cautious and thoughtful steps shape it: “Russia is (exactly) as reliable as the West is reliable.”

* Ramazan ERDAĞ, Professor of International Relations at Eskişehir Osmangazi University. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Anadolu University, Master’s and PhD in International Relations from Sakarya University. He also conducted postdoctoral research at the Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security Program (ACDIS) at the Center for Global Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. His research interests include Türkiye’s foreign and security policy, current issues in international security and Türkiye’s foreign policy.

**Pınar Hilal BALTA, a graduate in sociology and an editor of domestic and foreign news for over a decade. Contact via: pinarhilalb@gmail.com















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