Transformation of Turkey’s Foreign Policy: From EU Membership to Neo-Ottomanism?

By Emrullah Uslu
Submitted to Session P6176 (Ottoman Revival and Return in Turkey, 2020 Annual Meeting
Intl Rltns/Aff
Foreign Relations;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In the last decade, academics have been debating whether Turkey has been breaking away from the West (Kalin, 2011). The purchase of Russian made the S-400 air defense system and military operations in Syria and Libya sparked a debate on whether Turkey should be expelled from NATO (Boot 2019). Along with the orientation, Turkey's foreign policy instruments have changed too.

Turkey extensively uses militant proxies in Syria and Libya, arrest foreign individuals for hostage diplomacy (Cuplo 2018), and Syrian refugees to blackmail the European countr?es. Besides, employing Muslim Brotherhood ideology to penetrate the Muslim world, reaching out to Muslim Diasporas in the West to buy influence, and conducting well-calculated counter-terrorism operations to use it as a bargaining chip are the other tools that the Erdogan government often use.

Losing his hope in the EU process, facing a popular uprising in Gezi protests, and witnessing the Western support to the military coup in Egypt made Erdogan reconsider his relations with the actors in the international arena. Since then, he has adopted a survival strategy. As a result, instead of a long-term pro-Western foreign policy for absolute gain through EU membership, he chose a Waltzian view of international politics. Now, for Erdogan, "relative gain is more important than absolute gain" (Waltz 1959, 198).

This paper argues, since the Arab Spring, Erdogan has transformed Turkey's foreign policy from long-term pro-Western oriented policy to a sort-term transactional foreign policy. Currently, Turkey's foreign policy has three aims: first and the most crucial objective is to maintain public support for his reign by using foreign policy tools for domestic political consumption. Second, Erdogan uses the new tools to repel Western criticism towards deteriorating human rights records and gaining the upper hand in negotiations with Europe and Russia. The third aim is to insert himself into Muslim affairs to grab a chair to sit on the negotiation tables.

This study aims to understand the transformation of Turkey's foreign policy through the lenses of neoliberalism and to neorealism. The main question that this paper addresses is why Erdogan has adopted a new foreign policy perspective that requires him to focus more on the Middle East and Muslim affairs? What Turkey calculates to gain by employing new foreign policy strategies and tools? These research questions are addressed by using qualitative methodology, including in-depth interviews with diplomats, military officials, and academics and analyzing official statements, press news, and publications.