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A Regional Power Shift: Syria And Turkey – OpEd


By E. Fuat Keyman

Turkish foreign policy has not been reconstructed in light of the global trends that govern world change. As such we do not know what capacity it has to shape and direct new developments.

The foreign policy debate in Turkey is focused exclusively on Syrian and Iraq. This exclusive focus is becoming problematic, insofar as it results in the ignorance of the extremely important debates about global and regional trends. As global politics are facing significant power shifts, both economically, politically, and culturally, from the West to the East, and Europe is confronted by a serious economic crisis capable of disintegrating the European Union, there is a need to revise and renew foreign policy vision and behaviour. Turkey is notvan exception. In one way, though, one can understand the exclusive focus on these countries. Syria and Iraq are undoubtedly the areas that carry the most risk for Turkey in 2012. There is a great uncertainty about the upheavals in Syria and Iraq and how their power struggles and the regional power games will unfold. All of this adds up to a serious security risk for Turkey. Furthermore, the way these countries will be shaped in the future is in essence, a test area to establish the scope of Turkish foreign policy and its transformative capacity. On the other hand, if the foreign policy debate becomes fixated simply on these countries, and thus is a limited and unproductive debate, especially when Turkey in a position where it cannot afford to make mistakes, Turkey will become more susceptible to make mistakes. While it is focused on Syria and Iraq, Turkey is also obliged to correctly interpret the trends changing the world and the discussion that is going on about them, and then lay out a foreign policy vision not just for today but at least for the next ten years. Strategic vision make such a method necessary.

World Change: Four Trends

In the USA and Europe Syria and Iraq are being discussed in a much broader perspective than it is in Turkey; in their regional and global context. For example President Obama in the US has proclaimed that in future the Trans Pacific (especially China and Asia) will be the area of special interest for America. It will be as important as transatlantic relations (i.e. NATO) and perhaps have a higher priority over them. I have recently participated in meetings in the USA, which included Turkey, where the Arab Spring and Translantic and Transpacific issues were examined in a global context. The tendency in Europe is to discuss the Arab Spring, issues concerning the future of Europe and the EU, in a transatlantic global context. The basic reason why an analytical method of this kind was employed is the rapid way in which the world is changing.

The world today is truly changing both extremely rapidly and in a way which is highly uncertain. The decade from 2010 will bear witness to where these changes will go. Old structures and mantras are disintegrating. The new order which will replace them is being born amid uncertainty, risks, and murkiness. Every political actor and ideology is attempting to understand the change and to restructure itself in the light of these changes, and also to steer the direction along which these changes take form. From previous examples supplied by world history we are aware that the political actors who understand these changes and adapt themselves to them will be the ones who succeed and will determine the form and direction of this change.

Let us briefly list the fundamental dimensions of this change. Firstly globalisation is in a large-scale multidimensional crisis ranging from economics to security, from unemployment to poverty, from climate change to food. This multidimensional crisis will continue in the second decade of the 21st century and it will deepen the uncertainties both in politics and economics and in the context of basic needs. This will make the feeling of uncertainty about the future more widespread. The crisis could either cause feelings of uncertainty and lack of confidence to be channelled into a democratic reform process or lead to a chaotic ultra authoritarian process. Second in addition to the multidimensional globalisation crisis, there is a very important shift of global power, economic dynamism, and cultural identity in the world towards the East and away from the West. Henceforth America will not be the world’s sole global superpower and Europe will not possess it former strength. We live in a multipolar world. There is a series of growing powers: China, India, Brazil, and one may add Turkey, which are in key positions and whose strength and importance is steadily growing. But while most of these countries possess economic dynamism, they have serious shortcomings on the ‘human development index’ on issues to that relate to democracy, rights, freedoms, and over gender rights, which in the end ad to the struggle against poverty. So there is an increasingly important question as to whether the global crisis and the global shift of power will make the world more democratic or lead to more authoritarian structures.

Third in the context created by the multidimensional crisis of globalisation, political uprisings, re-awakenings, and movements for change are emerging. These movements, the chief of them being the Arab spring, will continue during this decade. As with the global crisis and the global power shift, it is not clear whether these movements will build a more democratic, just, and equal world or cause a global authoritarianism, steadily strengthened by the far right and political chaos, to emerge. Fourth a political climate is being created in this changing world in which there is not just micro-nationalism and cultural racism at the level of identity but in which ‘resource nationalism’ is also getting stronger based on water, energy, food, and energy resources. The multidimensional crisis of globalism is producing a world which is being rapidly dragged into a spiral of different nationalisms and cultural racisms. While nationalism is growing stronger in the world with the different faces and issues, in Europe the far right is getting stronger and is beginning to win a chance of having a share in government or even of coming to power outright. These are very dangerous developments.

Turkey and Globalisation

As Turkey considers the Arab Spring and regional problems, it has to study the global trends listed above very carefully and make its decisions and take its initiative on the basis of a strategic vision on the global scale. But we in Turkey do not know what this vision is. Turkish foreign policy has not renewed itself along the lines of the global trends that govern changes in the world. We do not know what our capacity is to shape the new and to give it direction. The fact that the foreign policy debate gets bogged down over Syria and Iraq and that tension rises and nerves are tense all stems in part from the fact that we do not have a global strategic vision directed towards the changes going on in the world. The uncertainty will grow steadily worse the more we view the problems of Syria and Iraq simply in terms of these problems and the form they take today. This causes tension which is then reflected in language used by decision takers. When there is no strategic vision, the uncertainty and the risk of making a mistake increase. Turkey must be careful. (For everyone interested in foreign policy I would like to recommend two new and important books which have been of help to me while writing this article . They are Z. Brezinski, Strategic Vision, Basic Books , New York 2012 and C.Kupchan No One’s World, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2012. Both books contain extremely informative discussions and analysis of Turkish foreign policy.)

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JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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