The Possibilities and Limits of Turkey's Soft Power in the Middle East

By Altunisik, Meliha Benli | Insight Turkey, April 2008 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Possibilities and Limits of Turkey's Soft Power in the Middle East


Altunisik, Meliha Benli, Insight Turkey


ABSTRACT

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 more willing to project soft power as well as having increasing credibility in the region. Second, the article focuses on Turkey's use of soft power tools, especially its eagerness to play third party roles in the management and resolution of regional conflicts. Turkey's roles in the Israeli-Syrian, Israeli Palestinian and Lebanese conflicts are considered as an example. The article argues that Turkey's soft power has increased in these two aspects and yet it also elaborates on existing and possible constraints in this regard.

**********

In this article, Turkey's role as a wielder of soft power in the Middle East is analyzed through a consideration of two aspects. First, Turkey's relevance to the debate on political and economic reform in the Middle East is discussed. Second, Turkey's use of nonmilitary tools in its relations with the region, particularly its potential for playing a third-party role in the management and resolution of regional conflicts, are explored. The article will discuss these two aspects of Turkey's soft power by considering their possibilities and limitations

Turkey's Role in the Debate on Political and Economic Reform in the Middle East

In some ways, Turkey's relevance to the issue of modernization in the Middle East and the Islamic world is not entirely new. In the early years of its establishment, the so-called Turkish model was popular in the Middle East among some leaders and intellectuals. After all, unlike the other countries of the region, Turkey was born out of a determination not to accept the post-WW I settlement that was imposed on it by the winners of the war. Turkey's war of independence was closely monitored by nationalists in different parts of the Arab world, who were formulating their own plans for independence. Later, through the reforms that followed the war of independence, Turkey embarked on an extensive modernization path, more assertive than the one it had already initiated in the late 18th century. Turkey's fierce commitment to modernization became a source of inspiration particularly for Iran, Tunisia and Afghanistan.

Despite these countries' admiration for Turkey, which may be considered a soft power asset, the developments in the post-World War II period posed limitations for such a role. After the end of the Second World War, Turkey became a member of NATO, thus strongly anchoring itself to the Western Bloc during the Cold War. The Middle Eastern countries on the other hand did not officially become part of any bloc, although they individually developed close ties with one of the two superpowers. The rise of Arab nationalism led to the 'othering' of Turkey; (1) Arab nationalist discourse framed Turkey as a stooge of the West, and succeeded in building on the negative historical legacy of the Ottoman Empire that existed in some parts of the Arab world, particularly in the Mashreq region. (2) Turkey's recognition of Israel in 1949 created an additional rift. In sum, during the Cold War years the regional countries largely viewed Turkey in a negative light. For its part Turkey also distanced itself from the region for the most part and identified itself instead as part of the West. Thus, during most of the Cold War, Turkey had a limited influence in the Middle East. Turkish foreign and security elites defined the region as unstable and conflict-ridden, and thus tried not to 'get drawn in to the Middle East swamp.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Possibilities and Limits of Turkey's Soft Power in the Middle East
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?