Turkey's Northern Iraq Policy: Competing Perspectives

By Oguzlu, Tarik | Insight Turkey, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Turkey's Northern Iraq Policy: Competing Perspectives


Oguzlu, Tarik, Insight Turkey


This article argues that Turkey's approach towards the Kurds of northern Iraq provides analysts with an opportunity to demonstrate that the traditional frontiers between foreign and domestic policy realms have gradually become blurred. Indeed, such a trend is not unique to Turkey, as the acceleration of the globalization process since the end of the Cold War era has exposed many countries across the globe to the challenge of keeping a distance between domestic and foreign policies.

Similar trends have also been observed in the EU's enlargement process, and in the West's attitudes toward Japan and Russia after the Cold War era. For example, some researches have examined the main rationale behind the EU's enlargement decisions and have concluded that there is a mutually constitutive relationship between the widening and deepening processes. (1) Depending on their visions of the EU's future identity, different actors offered competing explanations as to how fast, through which criteria, and by including which countries the EU should enlarge. Other researchers remark upon a close relationship between the reconstruction of Japan's national identity as a responsible member of the Western international community and the depiction of Russia as the main threat to Japan's national security interests in the post-Cold War era. (2)

Theoretically speaking, all foreign policy discourses are value-laden in the sense that proponents of alternative foreign policy discourses prioritize different national identity conceptualizations at home. The way in which the international environment is contextualized and relations with third parties are defined is very much interrelated with configurations of national role models. In this regard, the contemporary debate within the discipline of International Relations between structural realism and social constructivism helps elucidate the kind of relationship that may be formed between foreign policy and the construction of national identity. While mainstream structural realist accounts prioritize the distribution of material power capabilities and geographical location (read systemic variables) in accounting for particular foreign policy choices, social constructivists hold that ideational variables (read identity, culture, norms, values) should certainly be incorporated into foreign policy analysis; material factors, they argue, do not make sense on their own unless purposeful agents attribute values to them. (3)

The mutually constitutive relationship between foreign policy and identity construction becomes more observable if particular foreign policy issues directly impinge on national security feelings at home. Stated somewhat differently, there is a hierarchy among foreign policy issues in terms of the degree of impact they stand to have on the construction of national identity. Moreover, when a foreign policy issue is depicted as a security issue through discursive practices, the conventional approach holds that traditional security actors/elites (TSE) become dominant in shaping policy choices. In this sense, as the degree of securitization, viz. conceiving of otherwise political issues as security issues deepens, the possibility of having a political discussion on appropriate security strategies decreases, for 'security- speaking' requires military expertise. In such cases the involvement of non-military actors in decision-making process becomes limited; military strategies are prioritized over non-military strategies and security is achieved through the elimination of threats. (4)

Turkey, however, provides analysts with a paradoxical situation. In the last two decades, different domestic actors have tried to make their ideational/political positions known publicly by participating in security discussions. The assumption was that when different societal groups participate in security discussions, people would tend to give an ear to alternative views, for everybody has an interest in how security is defined and achieved (5) Presumably, if one particular actor, military or non-military, succeeded in convincing others of the legitimacy of his/her particular security/foreign policy understanding, this would grant that actor the ability to impose a particular identity conceptualization on the society.

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