Turkey's new foreign policy has raised several question marks not only in the minds of NATO's members but also in the minds of the Turkish public. For the first time in Turkish history, it has adopted an assertive foreign policy. After coming to power in 2002, the AKP regime asserted that Turkey's economic development, cultural and historical richness, defense industrialization and geographical position are important assets to pursue this policy.
This situation is not embraced by Turkey's traditional allies, mainly NATO members. According to their analysis, Turkey is turning towards the east and "Islamizing" its foreign policy. However, what they lack in their analysis is that it is Turkey's right to implement this active foreign policy with these resources.
The West insists upon Turkey following its path because of its dependency on them. One of the reasons of this "active" policy is also the West's attitude toward Turkey. It is a common belief in Turkey that it has faced discriminative policies from its Western allies for a long time. For example, whenever Turkey demanded the implementation of Article V of the NATO treaty during the First and Second Gulf War, NATO allies were always hesitant to comply.
Although the Turkish Armed Forces' infrastructure is mainly based on NATO's assistance, new developments in the Turkish defense industry indicate a different path. Since Turkey aims to pursue an independent foreign policy, Turkey has extended its arms suppliers to several states. Decreasing total dependence on NATO states and pursuing an active foreign policy is highly likely and as such NATO will face difficulties over its Middle Eastern policies. On the other hand, Turkey's geopolitical position and cultural affinity with Middle East, its economic accomplishments during the period of economic recession in the world, its youthful population are important assets for an organization like NATO, whose existence and image are still questionable in most of the world. Supporting Turkey rather than punishing it will strengthen NATO's position both in the mind of the Turkish public and in the world.
After 2002, Turkey has reoriented its foreign policy based on diplomatic assertiveness and active involvement to the Middle East region by emphasizing its Islamic ties. The new foreign policy elaborates on a "zero-problem" in the region. Although pre-AKP foreign policy was hesitant to deepen its relationship with Middle Eastern and Islamic states, Turkey has deepened its relationships with its neighbors, Syria, Iran and Iraq and signed military partnership agreement with Syria in 2010. Although these countries were categorized as threats in Turkey's National Security Defense Policy, their names were delisted in 2010. Turkey engages in bilateral and multilateral relations with them depending on its own historical and cultural bonds with these states.
While intensifying its relations with these states, the AKP closed its ears to the West's critiques. Prime Minister Erdoğan underlined in his speeches that Turkey is an independent actor in the international arena and will act according to its concerns. This independency notion is underlined in the arms procurement process. Turkey started to shift its suppliers from traditional Western allies to new emerging defense industries. This trend started with Israeli defense cooperation in 1996. After increasing tension with Israel in 2009, Turkey initiated to grant tenders to Russia, China and South Korea. It extended its local investments in its own defense industry and adopted aggressive policies to develop an indigenous defense market.
After the 9/11 attacks, international terrorism has been the main concern for NATO states. Failed states in the Middle East and Islamic countries are safe havens for the emergence of terrorist organizations. Strengthening these countries and transforming them to liberal democracies has been the main agenda for Western policy makers. Being a secular and democratic state with a 90% Muslim population, Turkey is attributed as a model for these countries. Although the democratization of Arab states does not follow Turkey's model, the public in the Middle Eastern states admire Turkey's way of life.Strengthening the role of Turkey in NATO can therefore be a significant tool for the organization's soft power in the Middle East.
As history has shown, military power is not the means through which to transform states. Soft power is a trusted tool to replace weapons. Although diplomacy is listed as NATO's number one tool for security crises, most Western states only have economic underpinnings for the realization of this tool. However, Turkey has both cultural and historical bonds, which are more important for sustaining trust between two parties. NATO, in the new century, should give importance to Turkey's cultural sensitivities and back up Turkey's position in the new arena. Islamic states will trust a Muslim one more than "ex-colonial" powers. This situation has become more evident during Turkey's command in Afghanistan. With the successful administration of Hikmet Cetin, ISAF is able to represent itself not as a threat to the public, but as a help to the community.
The danger, however, lies in the extent to which the AKP can go. The reason is that in the upcoming elections in 2011, the AKP will likely cement its power. As a result of this support for four years and facing several crises with European states, the AKP government will strengthen its position for this policy. In the coming years, NATO is likely to face difficulties carrying out its policies in the Islamic world. However, Turkey opting out or keeping Turkey out of modern weapon technology projects will not be the solution for NATO. These measures will only boost the AKP's and Turkish public's beliefs regarding Western states. The radicalization of Turkey would be dangerous to Western states, keeping in mind Turkey's geostrategic position. Instead, NATO could keep this tiger in the cage by supporting some of its activities in the region. By discrediting the "European" hypocrisy image, NATO will win an ally and hold a successful position both in Turkey and the Islamic world.
Efsun Kizmaz is a PhD student at Nottingham University. She is conducting research on the Turkish defense industry and foreign policy correlation. She is the author of "Turkish Defense Industry and Undersecretariat for Defense Industries."
This article was submitted for the atlantic-community.org's competition: "Empowering Women in International Relations." It coincides with the 10th Anniversary of UN resolution 1325 calling for an increased influence of women in all aspects of peace and security. The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Mission to NATO and the NATO Public Diplomacy Division.
You can read more submissions from the competition here.