Experts, analysts and politicians have deliberated, compounded and written on the world's growing multi-polarity. As the geopolitical tussling unfolds what remains to be seen is how states like Brazil, Germany and South Africa deal with their de facto responsibilities. Much like the United States post-WWI, such countries will influence surrounding regions according to the principals they govern and live by.
A prominent rising middle power is Turkey. Its political institutions remain stable and democratic and its economy flexible and multifaceted, while its military is regionally capable and is specifically suited for the Middle East. Turkish stability was highlighted as the Arab world was rocked by protests and uprisings. After decades of institutionalized Kemalism, Ankara's democratic reforms circumvent the need to overthrow the political establishment and now give Turkey a unique window of opportunity.
As surrounding countries reel from civil strife, Turkey is in a position to help promote, develop and stand steadfastly behind democratic values. Although some Europeans may not consider Turkey the democratic ideal, it remains an excellent example of a country's adaptation in a region that has little to no democracy of its own.
In comparison to the regional alternatives Turkey deserves US-EU support. The Arab Spring has left a power vacuum with three regional catalysts: Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. Of the three options it is in the best interest of the United States and Europe to work with Turkey. Iran remains an exporter of terrorism and is highly repressive while Saudi Arabia teeters internally with an uncertain post-Abdullah Al Saud future. It is at Turkish institutions that that budding democracies in the region should look: free elections, a sound banking system, a reforming and strengthening judicial system and continued aspirations for fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Furthermore, Turkey does not come with the same political baggage as its western counterparts. It carries an air of legitimacy and respect within the region because of cultural, historic and religious similarities, allowing Turkey to have strong partnerships with both the US and Europe and its Middle Eastern neighbors. Yet what remains to be seen is if Turkish foreign policy will take a principled and moralized direction akin to the US circa 1918.
Currently, Turkey's so-called "no-problems" approach with its neighbors has negated its reach and reflects a passive, outdated foreign policy. It was particularly difficult for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to publicly deal with the problems of Syria and Libya. Inertia and inaction does not reflect smart policy. Strong Turkish opposition in Libya in regards to both sanctions and NATO intervention exposed Turkey's lack of leadership and ability to stand for regional progress. With the demise of Gaddafi's 42-year rule, history and the incoming Libyan government will remember Turkey as an unwilling partner.
What is particularly troubling is Turkey's hesitation to produce sanctions against Syria. Action would have a real impact averting the deaths of countless civilians. It is only recently that Turkey has seemed to understand the gravity of the situation and has upped political pressure against Damascus.
As the US initiates significant defense cuts in the post-Iraq/Afghanistan era and follows a model of "limited intervention," it will be up to other partners to take on a larger role in security and regional stability. The question is: will they rise to the challenge? The short term intervention in Libya proved successful and could be a road map for future US foreign policy. It is in Turkey's interest to promote democratic values and stability within the Middle East and to call out injustice quickly and effectively. Long-term stability provided by democratic partners will foster economic cooperation and a regional revival.
Turkish leadership needs to be present and at the forefront. Moral courage is a true test of Turkey's regional influence.
Marc Zedler is currently attending the Hertie School of Governance Master's Program of Public Policy. He is also a graduate of Touro College Berlin, where he completed a degree in International Business.