Quo Vadis Turkey?

3 February 2015
Turkey’s traditional foreign policy, bitterly criticized by the present Government for having betrayed Turkey’s potential, stood on pillars. Our relations with the United States and the European Union constituted the first two. A third one was our relations with our neighbors and the region. Prominently among those was Russia. Since the world is in a constant process of transformation Turkey was searching for new pillars to add to the existing ones. Relations with China, India and other emerging powers offered new prospects.
Turkish foreign policy’s success depends on every one of these pillars being strong. Had Turkey not been a member of NATO, maintained excellent relations with the US, started an accession process with the EU and enjoyed the trust of neighboring countries, we would have confined ourselves in a corner. The EU accession process, in spite of all the difficulties, added a positive dimension to our regional role. Our relations with region were an asset for the EU. In other words, our foreign policy pillars did not constitute alternatives. On the contrary, together, they supported the same structure.
Our relations with the US are now characterized by mutual distrust.
President Obama says that the US will at times work with governments that do not meet the highest international expectations, but who work with the US on America’s core interests. And, former Ambassador to Ankara Frank Ricciardone recently said in a forum in Washington that Turkey and the US have “shared interests,” rather than “shared values” and that we are “kind of stuck with each other”. Put together, these sadly leave nothing to add.
The EU accession process exits only on paper. The death warrant is not written because the Europeans do not wish to see Turkey continue its metamorphosis.
Nearly six years ago, a policy of “zero problems with neighbors” was announced. Today, we have more problems than ever before. With the beginning of the Arab Spring, the Government, defying the legacy of history, embarked on a project reminiscent of the Ottoman era to assume regional leadership. This too has proved to be a costly illusion. The abandoning of our tradition of non-involvement in intra-Arab affairs made us part of every problem rather than any solution.
We seem to have lost the trust of our friends, allies and neighbors.
In recent years, our internal politics have come to be characterized by increasing tension and polarization. There is disagreement on the very fundamentals of democracy. Some years ago, in view of the difficulties experienced in the accession negotiations with the European Union, we were saying that even if our membership in the Union failed to materialize, we would turn the “Copenhagen criteria” into “Ankara criteria” and continue our pursuit of democracy. This is now forgotten. We no longer consider the separation of powers as the cornerstone of democracy but see it as an obstacle to “effective government”.
We Turks need to understand that our success as a nation, especially in the field of foreign policy depends first and foremost upon our internal peace and stability. The amount of respect we enjoy, our international status, our regional role, our effectiveness at international organizations, they all depend upon our giving final proof that Turkey is a secular democracy. Since the founding of the Republic by Atatürk in 1923, this has been the world’s expectation because we are or were, the only country with a predominantly Moslem population to have come this far. Turkey needs to prove, once and for all, that we are a democracy and that the point of no return has been crossed.
Until we do that even the right foreign policy initiatives will yield no result.
Unfortunately, the “once in a century” historic opportunity is slipping away…


About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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