A New Approach to the Turkey-West Relationships

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Turkey’s relations with the West have continued to deteriorate in recent years. This tension manifests itself both in Turkey’s domestic politics and in regional and global politics. In this context, the interests of the parties are contradictory in issues such as the Syrian crisis, the East Euphrates, the S-400 air defense system, F-35 military aircraft, economic sanctions against Iran and the Venezuelan crisis. The problem between Turkey and the West lies not only in the different stands towards circumstantial crisis. The opposition of the parties is the result of structural causes. In this regard, the idea that Turkey is moving away from the West is gaining prevalence in the international community. In this article, we offer an alternative view to the thesis “Turkey is moving away from the West.”

Firstly, it is important to recall that the first rule of geopolitics is to develop an egocentric approach. In other words, any geopolitical actor should develop a geographical, geopolitical and geo-cultural concepts, that it can strongly identify itself. Subjects in international politics are successful to the extent that they can develop this approach. Otherwise, they are doomed to be divided by the neighboring great powers. This is especially important for countries that are at the intersection of geopolitical and geocultural structures competing with each other. Ukraine is a crucial example of this definition today.

Indeed, the country was trapped between the European/Western world and Russia/Eurasia and couldn’t respond to this challenge. Perception of the country itself as an extension of Russia is not conceded by the West likewise the identification of Ukraine with the West is perceived as a threat by Russia.  Although not easy, it would save the country from this catastrophe if Kiev emphasized the self-centered Slavic identity. Because, the failure of foreign policy is based on the inability of countries to build self-centered identity and that they accept the identity and concepts created by others.

In the example of Turkey, the country is located at the junction of the regions classified as European/Western world, the Arab/Islamic world and the Eurasian/Turkic world. We can define these three regions as the three main axes/directions of Turkish foreign policy. Each of the three axis has reflections on Turkey’s domestic policy. While a segment of Turkish society identifies itself with Western values, another part identifies itself with Islamic values. The third part suggests that Turkey is part of the Eurasia/Turkic world. However, if Turkey describes itself as the center of these regions but not an extension or part of them it would have built an egocentric identity.

Due to the bipolar world order during the Cold War, Turkey has had to define itself as a part of the European/Western world. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Ankara’s sphere of influence expanded to the depths of Asia. By the 2000s, when the country’s Islamic identity came to power, Ankara began to consider itself responsible for solving problems in the Arab/Islamic world. According to the leaders of the Justice and Development Party, historical legacy makes it mandatory for Turkey to take responsibility. Until early 2010s, Turkish foreign policy managed to maintain a balance between these three areas, and Ankara rose as a power center in the region.

But, Ankara’s Western partners, through institutional relations established during the Cold War, want to continue to use Turkey to their own advantage. The discrepancy of interests between Ankara and the West is pushing Turkey to establish new partnerships in the Eurasian and Islamic worlds. But here we must pay attention to the fact that Turkey is in no way detrimental to its allied duties within NATO. Nevertheless, the so-called allies of Turkey in the European/Western world are building active cooperation with the groups that Ankara describes as a threat to its national security. In other words, the western partners of Turkey are not fulfilling their allied responsibility. Based on this, it can be said that the thesis “Turkey is moving away from the West” is wrong. On the contrary, it is the West which moves away from Turkey.

In the final analysis, Turkey is not a “part”, “periphery” or “outpost” of the Western world. Due to security threats, Ankara has become a member of Western institutions as an equal partner and a subject of international politics due to security risks. However, this should not mean that Turkey will continue to serve the West by abandoning its own interests. Naturally, Ankara’s preservation of its interests cannot be interpreted as its divergence from the West. On the contrary, they are the Western alliance partners who do not fulfill their duties and are pursuing a policy against Turkey. In this case, Turkey should strengthen cooperation with its partners in the Islamic world and Eurasia. This is the right step towards the formation of a geopolitical and geo-cultural structure around Ankara.