AUIS Board of Trustees

Turkey’s New Role in the Middle East

Dr. Barkey led his in-depth discussion of Turkey’s rise and its impact on foreign policy by identifying four reasons for Turkey’s major strategic shift in the past ten years. The first major influence on Turkey’s more assertive foreign policy is its booming domestic economy. Citing Turkish export growth from $2 billion to $198 billion between 1980 and 2008, Dr. Barkey talked about how Turkish business interests led the Turkish government to establish or improve diplomatic relations. “This has nothing to do with the current government, the AK Party or the Justice and Development Party,” Dr. Barkey explained. “It has to do with a major transformation that started in Turkey in the early 1980s, after the military coup, when Turgut Ozal was prime minister and later president” and led the country through an early series of economic reforms. Second in Turkey’s new foreign policy structure is a shift in the interest of pursuing relations with the European Union. Whereas previous governments sought to expand Turkish-EU relations based on an aversion to relations with Middle Eastern governments, the AK Party sees pursuing EU membership as a necessary check on the Turkish military. This relationship, Dr. Barkey argued in the question and answer period, is not a zero sum game: Turkey’s relationship with Europe makes it even more attractive for business relationships in the East. Third and fourth, Dr. Barkey analyzed how AK Party’s foreign policy ambitions match international developments in the region. AK Party leadership is now pushing Turkey to “punch above its weight,” as Dr. Barkey explained, and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has vamped up diplomatic initiatives as part of his “zero problems with neighbors” policy. This has coincided nicely, Dr. Barkey argued, with international power politics in the region, particularly the vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. These four impacts on Turkish politics have led to a number of new initiatives in the Middle East. No more dramatic has this strategic change occurred than in Turkey’s relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. “I believe the situation for the Kurds is reaching a climax,” remarked Dr. Barkey, who pointed out that only a few years ago it would have been impossible to conceive of Turkish diplomats working with the KRG as an ally. The lecture was part of a two-day visit to AUIS sponsored by CPSS that also included a meeting with select AUIS students in the International Studies program.
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