October 6, 2020
The fundamental reality of foreign relations is that a country’s international standing is largely a reflection of its internal strength. And this invariably depends on respect for the rule of law, strong institutions, and national consensus on where the country should be heading. And geographic location largely impacts a country’s foreign policy. This is a given which can constitute a challenge.
It is generally agreed that Turkey enjoys a unique strategic location. This is true but it is also a double-edged sword. Indeed, Anatolia is unique multilayered piece of land with a rich history joining three continents and two seas. As such it has been a focal point of geopolitics for ages. However, the other side of the coin is that today it is in the middle of three conflict areas: the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. On the Asian side, Turkey shares land borders with Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Our borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria are 560, 384 and 910 kilometers long respectively. Ankara resisted the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 because we did not wish to have a war on our borders.
A country like Turkey has no other option than being internally strong, having the hard power to provide for its security and the soft power to contribute to peace and stability in its vicinity. Thus, Republican Turkey sought to build its foreign and security policy on pillars: relations of partnership and alliance with the West, and steady relations with regional countries prominently among them Russia, a global power.
And for decades, despite ups and downs, Turkey endeavored to build a strong economy, a strong army and to follow a rational security policy based on partnerships. During the last decade, however, the country witnessed a reversal. Our democratic performance, our respect for the rule of law, our attachment to secularism, the antidote to Middle East’s sectarian strife, and the independence of our institutions became questionable. From being a trusted regional partner, we shifted to being an adversary. We became part of problems. Our soft power waned. We put our commitment to NATO in doubt. Our relations with the US and Russia became unsteady. Syria which had become a partner after many years of a confrontational relationship turned into a major security challenge. Worst of all, we became a polarized nation.
In brief, we are not as internally strong as we should be. Our economy is in dire straits and our foreign and security policy is at a dead-end.
Regardless, some still claim that Turkey is on its way to becoming a global power. Advocates of this view conveniently ignore the fact that today’s global players are countries with vast territories and large populations; they are world’s major economic and military powers; they invest heavily in technology, research and development; they cultivate relationships with other countries and always keep diplomatic channels open.
The government obviously believes it is pursuing an assertive foreign policy towards regional supremacy. The question is whether we should be assertive in a confrontational sense or assertive with focus on regional peace. Because in a conflict-ridden region like ours the latter could be a better option.
I know that most of the foregoing sounds repetitive. Yet, our government’s foreign policy rhetoric and its determination to remain on the wrong path leaves me with no other option than parroting what I have said before.
Today, we are militarily involved in Syria and Libya. In eastern Mediterranean we are confronted with a hostile bloc which we helped to create. And now, the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan presents us with yet another challenge.
In 1993, the UN Security Council adopted four resolutions on Nagorno-Karabakh. The first, Resolution 822 (1993), reaffirmed the respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all States in the region. The following three (Resolutions 853, 874, and 884) reaffirmed “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Azerbaijani Republic and of all other States in the region”. Because it was Azerbaijan’s territory that was occupied. Therefore, the Security Council also demanded the immediate cessation of hostilities and the immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of the occupying forces from occupied districts of the Azerbaijan Republic. Nothing changed. Moreover, on March 14, 2008 the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Resolution 62/243 titled “The situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan”. It demanded the immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all the occupied territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Again, the Resolution fell on deaf ears. So, Baku’s frustration with the status quo is no surprise.
The current fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia represents another example a frozen conflict flaring up. As a matter of fact, UN has remained a refrigerator for unresolved disputes and in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, the so-called Minsk Group has been its freezer compartment.
The peoples of Turkey and Azerbaijan call themselves “one nation, two states”. Thus, Ankara’s support to Baku is only understandable. However, the government, while standing behind Azerbaijan, should also keep a close eye on the diplomatic front, perhaps with focus on a reformed, reenergized, and more balanced Minsk Group. Because there would be limits to what can be achieved on the battlefield.