Regional Energy Equations and Turkish Foreign Policy: The Middle East and the CIS

By Babali, Tuncay | Insight Turkey, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Regional Energy Equations and Turkish Foreign Policy: The Middle East and the CIS


Babali, Tuncay, Insight Turkey


Thanks to the recent gas crisis between Ukraine and Russia, a global ratio of tight supply and high demand, and the location of oil and gas markets in some of the most volatile regions of the world, the geopolitics of energy has made a spectacular return to the international political agenda. Both Europe and the key transit countries at the crossroads of Eurasia such as Ukraine and Turkey have learned the hard way the importance of more systematically incorporating energy security into foreign policy. For too long these two tracks have been separate, and the energy and foreign policy worlds have hardly spoken to each other. Now countries are increasingly committing themselves to pursuing energy security as part of their national security agenda. A broad assessment of the foreign policy dimensions of energy security is at the center of many nations' new foreign and security calculations. For many countries, energy security is already a top foreign policy priority. Turkey is one of them. The new Turkish foreign policy outlook envisages that the country can work for a world in which the interests of energy consumers and producers are increasingly aligned rather than apart. At the same time, based on the example of Russia, it is clear that energy initiatives can significantly advance a country's broader foreign policy agenda.

As energy geopolitics gains prominence, Turkey has been experiencing various energy and foreign policy challenges, such as the Russian- Georgian war of August 2008, problems encountered with Azerbaijan as a result of the initiation of rapprochement with Armenia, and Turkey's efforts to deepen energy cooperation with Iran amidst the Iranian nuclear standoff. To address these new challenges, Turkey has no choice but to adopt a new proactive energy diplomacy more in line with its own interests, rather than following strictly the requirements of its traditional alliances.

Turkey's Changing Foreign Policy Vision and Energy Connections

Turkey's new activism in the Middle East, the CIS and other regions is a fully rational and pragmatic attempt to seize the new opportunities presented by globalization and regional reordering. With the Europeans virtually absent from key geopolitical issues in the region and the new Obama Administration just starting to chart its new course of action in Iran, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan, Turkey is emerging as a self-confident and balancing actor trying to find solutions through mediation and facilitation in many foreign policy issues1 such as between IsraelSyria, Bosnia and Serbia, Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Iran and the P5+1.

The Turkish foreign policy elite sees engaging the immediate geopolitical neighborhood as complementary, rather than contradictory, to Turkey's more traditional Western strategic alignments. A case in point is Iran. Turkey believes that without a dialogue there will be no chance to convince Iran to cooperate with the international community, and especially with the P5+1, based on the international commitments asked by the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Four main principles (2) are driving Turkey's new foreign policy goals of security, stability and prosperity in the region through the establishment of sub-regional institutions and cooperation-integration schemes to mitigate political conflicts and differences. The characteristics that Turkey wants to see in the emerging regional and global orders are as follows:

1) Regional security and freedom for all, which requires a common understanding of what 'security' entails.

2) Inclusive, high level political dialogue and negotiation through newly established strategic council meetings of cabinet ministers, and joint cabinet meetings with neighboring countries like Syria, Iraq, Russia, Greece and possibly Azerbaijan in the future.

3) Economic interdependence is seen as the best way to sustain peace.

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