The New Turn in Turkey's Foreign Policy in the Middle East: Regional and Domestic Insecurities

Turkey has conducted four military operations in Syria in the last four years and two in northern Iraq since May 2019, signed a maritime delimitation and military cooperation agreement with the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya, engaged in intense competition with both the Iran-led axis and the Saudi–United Arab Emirates (UAE) bloc and engaged in a balancing game between its traditional US ally and Russia in Syria. All of this points to a significant shift in Turkey’s foreign policy in the Middle East. While in the first decade of the 2000s Turkey focused on opportunities in the region rather than threats and engaged the Middle East through the use of soft power, economic interdependence, third party roles and soft balancing, in the post-2011 era Turkey began identifying more threats, and consequently demonstrated a greater propensity to use military means to deal with them, becoming part of the regional polarisation, both material and ideational. The analysis will address the changing nature of Turkey’s engagement in the Middle East since the Arab uprisings and especially after 2016, within an evolving geostrategic and domestic context. It focuses on the viewpoints of the political elite in Turkey about the changing security environment in the region, their perceptions of threats and opportunities, and how they have responded to them. Finally, there is a discussion on how to account for Turkey’s new foreign policy in the Middle East.92 FOSTERING A NEW SECURITY ARCHITECTURE IN THE MIDDLE EAST MELIHA BENLI ALTUNIŞIK The 2010–2011 Arab uprisings have been a major turning point for the whole region. In geostrategic terms, Turkey finds itself in a region rife with civil wars, intensification of violence as well as military interventions by regional and international actors, multi-layered and complex conflicts where states and non-state actors engage in a myriad of shifting alliances. Furthermore, this coincides with a period where Turkey’s traditional alliances with the US and the EU have weakened. On the other hand, domestically, the Middle East policy pursued by the governing Justice and Development party (AKP) has been haunted by the collapse of the Kurdish peace process (2014–2015) and the increased concerns over regime security especially after the failed coup attempt in July 2016. Against this strategic backdrop, the analysis argues that the frequent use of military power, risk-taking and an inclination for “standing alone”1 – the constitutive elements of Turkey’s “new foreign policy” – have become the preferred means for protecting Turkey’s interests in the Middle East, redefining Turkey’s role vis-à-vis partners and adversaries alike while maintaining regime security and alliances domestically. Thus, the AKP’s new foreign policy doctrine is a product of shifts occurring both in Turkey’s geostrategic neighbourhood and parallel changes at the domestic level. Yet it also reflects the way the AKP political elite has read and understood this new environment, which in turn has reflected its ideological inclinations as well as its transformation.
Citation Formats
M. Altunışık, The New Turn in Turkey’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East: Regional and Domestic Insecurities. 2020, p. 113.