Turkish Foreign Policy in 2009: A Year of Pro-Activity

Article excerpt

Since the early 2000s Turkish foreign policy has been experiencing a fundamental transformation. Turkey's regional and global position, its relations with the countries in surrounding regions, and its longlasting disputes with its neighbors have been reshaped through the adoption of the "zero-problem-with-neighbors" policy. Turkey's zero-problem-with-neighbors policy is aimed at maximizing cooperation with its neighbors while minimizing problems in its surrounding regions. Turkey achieved remarkable progress in pursuing this policy during 2009. In line with this policy, Turkey has taken a pro-active stance and followed a multi-dimensional foreign policy approach to establish itself first, as a conciliatory partner for peace with its neighbors, and second, as an agent of mediation between its clashing neighboring countries.

Turkey's busy diplomatic traffic during 2009 alone is an excellent indication of the pro-active and multi-dimensional character of Turkey's new foreign policy. The number of countries that Turkish officials visited in 2009 gives a good idea of Turkey's intensive diplomatic activity. In 2009, Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited twenty-nine countries, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's state visits totaled twenty-three. Ali Babacan, who served as Turkey's Foreign Minister during the first half of 2009, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was appointed to the post on May 1st, 2009, paid ninety-three official visits in one year. (1) The regional distribution of these trips also provides clues on the major areas of interest and concerns that preoccupied Turkish foreign policy makers last year. Out of these ninety-three visits by the Foreign Minister, forty-seven were to Europe, fifteen to Asia, twenty-three to the Middle East, and nine to the United States.

One should note that Turkey borders regions where interstate and intrastate conflicts are prevalent. The immediate neighboring regions, the Caucasus, the Balkans, the Middle East, and also Afghanistan, are some of the major conflict zones in the world. Faced with such unstable and fragile regions, Turkey's goal is to create a peaceful, stable and secure regional neighborhood. In order to accomplish this goal, Turkey has formulated a multi-dimensional foreign policy vision and is taking a pro-active role in conflict resolution in the region. Turkey's non-permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council has also presented Turkey with the opportunity to continue to play a facilitating role in regional issues and work on the dialogue between civilizations and cultures under the framework of the United Nations.

Domestic Developments, Public Opinion and Turkish Foreign Policy

Domestic factors provided one of the major sources of motivation for Turkey's foreign policy initiatives and actions in 2009. The Turkish public has become increasingly more cognizant of and more reactive towards foreign policy issues. The mass demonstrations and rallies that were organized across the country in protest of the Israeli attack on Gaza and the spectacular welcome-home ceremony that the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan received after he walked off the stage after an angry exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres during a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland were two significant examples of the Turkish public's increasing interest and influence on Turkey's foreign policy. One could argue that demonstrations and rallies of this kind, together with other manifestations of public opinion, have been instrumental in influencing Turkish foreign policy makers. For instance, strong public opinion against the Israeli attack on Gaza played a role in shaping Turkey's Israel policy in 2009, transforming the Arab-Israeli conflict into one of the top issues in Turkey's foreign policy agenda.

For Turkey, 2009 started with peace efforts in the Middle East, aimed at ensuring a ceasefire in Gaza, and continued as a year of tension between Turkey and Israel, mainly due to the ongoing siege of Gaza and the Palestinian civilian casualties during the Gaza attack. …