Turkey's New Multilateralism: A Positive Diplomacy for the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

More than any country in this century, Turkey has raised its profile as a regional and global political actor. It has achieved economic success and political stability under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and its charismatic prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This rise of Turkish multilateralism has been more recently challenged by the blocking of its effort to join the European Union and by the rising tensions experienced in its relations with neighboring Syria. Turkey remains a crucial actor with considerable regional and extraregional influence. KEYWORDS: Ahmet Davutoglu, multilateralism, Turkey, Arab Spring, European Union, NATO, Syria, Israel, Islam.

Introduction

In my introduction to the special issue of Global Governance on the multilateral diplomacy of emerging powers, I wrote: "Political and humanitarian crises like the Libyan revolt ... are reminders that ... powerful states remain the principal players in the drama of global existence." (1) Less than two years later, bleeding Syria reminds us yet again about the continuing capacity of state elites to decide whether a government can slaughter its population with impunity.

Syria, like Libya, also is instructive about an issue arguably obscured by my previous introduction: namely, the position of the United States in global governance. Of the four countries spotlighted in Volume 17--Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC)--only two, China and Russia, played any role in the Libyan affair. And that role was simply the negative one of not vetoing UN Security Council authorization of a humanitarian intervention. As revealed by the essays in Volume 17, none of the BRIC countries (in this respect. China above all) appears to visualize itself as a steward of collective interests. Each is self-absorbed and multilateral diplomacy is simply one instrument for advancing immediate national interests. So with Europe immobilized by its own centrifugal problems and the BRIC still unready to assume any substantial measure of responsibility for the defense of collective interests or for improving the architecture of global governance, the United States remains Madeleine Albright's indispensable nation however weakened by its prodigal dissipation of hard and soft power since the trauma of 11 September 2001.

Two years ago, Turkey's governing elite seemed unique among the leaders of emerging powers in possessing a long-term foreign policy vision that imaginatively integrated bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, a vision in which cooperation rather than competition with other states optimally served the national interest. Its cocky leaders seemed to visualize Turkey as the catalyst of benign order in a region notorious for its disorder. Richard Falk, an eminent scholar and eloquent champion over more than four decades of cosmopolitan values, has served as a consultant to Turkish officials. I can see no one better equipped to illuminate the vision that relaunched Turkish foreign policy when its present government first assumed office and to reflect on how successfully the Turkish government has responded to the tumultuous events of the past two years.

An Overview of Turkey's New Multilateralism

Until mid-2011 when the Syrian upheaval led Turkey to side ever more strongly with the antiregime rebels. Turkey had achieved unprecedented regional prestige as a result of its activist foreign policy, reinforced by impressive economic success combined with political stability at home. It is not an exaggeration to observe that, over the course of the past ten years, the rise of Turkey as a preeminent middle power is one of the most notable success stories in world diplomacy of recent years. (2) In line with this trajectory, Foreign Policy, in its 2011 annual poll on globally influential thinkers, found that Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along with his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, ranked sixteenth, ahead of any head of state outside the Western world. …