Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Turkey's Potential as a Soft Power: A Call for Conceptual Clarity

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Turkey's Potential as a Soft Power: A Call for Conceptual Clarity

Article excerpt


Soft power is based on attraction and the ability to persuade others to further one's goals. The key sources of soft power are said to derive from one's culture, democratic political system, and fair-minded foreign policy. Yet it is often left unsaid that soft power is a Weberian archetype. All the three of the above sources are ideal types; they may not necessarily exist in complete forms, because one's culture, political system and foreign policy are all subject to flaws, weaknesses and gaps. In order for Turkey to project its soft power in turbulent neighborhoods like the Middle East and Central Asia, and indeed as a matter of strategic policy in general, it is vital to have a strong conceptual clarity first. Only then can soft power be applied by going beyond attraction and persuasion purely. Home grown reforms that are strong, ethical, and sustainable, for example, can be sources of appeal and attraction to the Middle East and Central Asia too, given that both regions long to see good governance and exemplary leadership.


"At the most general level, power is the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes one wants. There are several ways to affect the behavior of others.

You can coerce them with threats. You can induce them with payments. Or you can attract or co-opt them." (1)

Joseph Nye

The discourse of soft power marks the importance of persuasion and attraction in modern, indeed, even postmodern international relations, in which Turkey plays a key part by virtue of its newly conceived role as a "central country." But, just as hard power will encounter what Clausewitz referred to as 'friction' in any theater of operation, soft power cannot be expected to have it easy either once it is applied. Invariably fear, physical hardship and lack of clear information, stand in its way. No one should assume, for example, that soft power is a cost-free and convenient option that can be applied to others as if they were a tabularasa. (2) With this understood, the effectiveness of Turkey's soft power hinges, first and foremost, on a strong Turkish understanding of the regional characteristics of its theater of operation. Be it the Middle East or Central Asia, a proper assessment of each region's dynamics of power, historical forces, and identity issues are necessary before Turkey ventures into them. Such foreknowledge is akin to a form of strategic aptitude which can be gained through longitudinal or one-off studies.

More importantly, Turkey's ability to exert soft power in the Middle East and Central Asia also hinges on undertaking the necessary reforms at home to make Turkey's development attractive and persuasive to others. In the case of Turkey, in spite of its status as a 'civilizational connector,' its soft power influence in the Middle East, at least in the interim, revolves on the success of its reforms, and also the resources Ankara is willing to expend to get its hands 'dirtied' in the region. Without such an overarching attitude, the attraction and persuasion necessary for soft power to be effective will not be operational beyond the superficial feel-good factor of having lent one's weight to a good cause. More specifically, unless others know that Ankara is serious about wading into the problems of the Middle East and Central Asia, no one will take Turkey's leadership role in those regions seriously. Therefore, a neat balance of strategic aptitude and attitude is vital to emitting the message that Turkey, under Prime Minister Erdogan, is back, and that Ankara takes both regional neighborhoods seriously. (3)

Power is invariably an issue of exerting one's will over a subject either in a single interaction, or a repeated exchange. Although neither force nor coercion can be used if power is to remain soft, the ethical dilemmas are not completely resolved in the decision to exchange soft power for hard. After all, soft power in its ultimate objective is about 'winning the hearts and minds,' a point we will return to below. …

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