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.


The stillborn neo-Ottomanist foreign policy aspiration of the Özal era
Soysal, Coşkun; Türkeş, Mustafa; Department of International Relations (2020)
Turkish foreign policy makers have at times become tempted by aspirations of regional leadership. The political leadership of Turgut Özal, first as prime minister from 1983 to 1989 and later as president from 1989 until his death in 1993, is crucial in this sense, as the “neo-Ottomanist” foreign policy aspiration became a much-contested issue during the period of his rule. This thesis, therefore, seeks to examine how and in what circumstances this aspiration flourished under Özal. This thesis argues that th...
The international Jihadism: A new type of threat and regional cooperation as a remedy
Sahara, Tetsuya (Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi (Ankara, Turkey), 2015-8)
The capture of Mosul and the ensuing blitzkrieg of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) over the Sunni majority region of Syria and Iraq reminded the world of the seriousness of the threat posed by the Salafist-jihadists. By connecting the tactic of “the management of savagery” with external resources and links, ISIL seems to have succeeded in materializing the full potential that the new type of conflict can pose to the existing international order. The “New War”, as formulated by Mary Kaldo...
The possibilities and limits of Turkey's soft power in the Middle East
Altunışık, Meliha (2008-01-01)
Turkey has been traditionally viewed mostly as a hard power in the Middle East, due to its military and economic strength. In recent years, however, there has been a discussion on Turkey's soft power. This article focuses on two aspects of Turkey's soft power in the region. First, Turkey's relevance to the debate on political and economic reform is discussed. It is argued that because of Turkey's internal transformations its attractiveness has increased. In addition to having assets, Turkey is generally mor...
The Middle East in Turkey-USA Relations: Managing the Alliance
Altunışık, Meliha (Informa UK Limited, 2013-06-01)
The Middle East has been increasingly factoring into the relations between Turkey and the USA since the end of the cold war. Ironically, the issues related to this region simultaneously intensify and erode the bilateral relations. For the USA, the significance of Turkey has always related to some extent to the Middle East. For Turkey, on the other hand, during the cold war years this connection was not always welcomed. In the aftermath of the cold war, the Middle East became one of the most significant elem...
The Relations between Turkey and Gulf cooperation council countries in the 2000s
Palancı, Memet; Bahçecik, Şerif Onur; Department of International Relations (2015)
Turkey’s relationship with the Gulf Arab States has gained momentum in the new millennium. There exists a wide range of arguments regarding the improvement of relations in political, economic and cultural fields and the factors leading to this development. In this study, the factors that shape the relations between Turkey and member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (the GCC) are analysed multidimensionally within the framework of domestic, regional and international factors as from the 2000s onwards. ...
Citation Formats
M. Altunışık, The New Turn in Turkey’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East: Regional and Domestic Insecurities. 2020, p. 113.