The Future of Turkey's Westernization: A Security Perspective

By Oguzlu, Tarik | Insight Turkey, July 2007 | Go to article overview

The Future of Turkey's Westernization: A Security Perspective


Oguzlu, Tarik, Insight Turkey


This article argues that Turkey's relations with the Western international community, namely the European Union and the United States, have been going through difficult times over the last couple of years mainly owing to the growing divergences between the security understandings of the parties concerned. Despite the fact that internal factors, such as the ongoing power struggle among domestic actors, have a good deal of explanatory power, the emerging security environment in Turkey's neighborhood, particularly in Iraq, and its impacts on Turkey's internal security have recently become more important in bringing into existence a skeptical Turkish attitude towards the West in general and the westernization process in particular. The changing Western security understanding in the post 9/11 era on the one hand and the growing Western demands that Turkey adopt this understanding should she aspire to become a legitimate part of the West on the other have growingly led the establishment elites in Turkey to challenge the legitimacy of the decades-long westernization/Europeanization process from a security perspective.

Introduction

This essay argues that Turkey's westernization process has recently come under serious challenge. Despite the fact that Turkey's accession talks with the EU officially started in October 2005, there is a serious possibility that Turkey's Europeanization process might be halted in the years to come. Similarly, even though the US-led war on global terror in the post 9/11 era initially helped to increase Turkey's value in Washington, Turkey's relations with the United States appear to have reached their nadir over the last four years.

Turkey's problematic relations with the West can possibly be best explained by internal factors, such as the ongoing debate among Turkish actors as to what extent Turkey's secularism and homogenous/unitary state identity would be compatible with the demands of EU membership. It is worthy of note in this regard that the establishment elites, mainly state bureaucrats in the military and the judiciary, have recently adopted a negative attitude towards the westernization/Europeanization process. This attitude shift is somewhat odd, for these people have long been the pioneers of Turkey's westernization. They have long thought that membership in the European Union would crown Turkey's modernization, cum westernization, a process that was mainly set into motion by the founders of the Turkish Republic in the early 1920s. However, recent years have increasingly witnessed to the fact that these circles have suddenly turned into die-hard Euro-skeptics and anti-Americans. Apparently, they share the view that the steps that Turkey needs to take to join the EU on the one hand, and to develop a more functional relationship with the United States on the other, might inadvertently erode the essence of Kemalist security understanding viz. secularism and homogenous nationalism. This has been so despite the fact that the EU-led reforms undertaken by the Justice and Development Party over the last few years have brought Turkey closer to the EU than ever. That such reforms have been steered by the JDP might constitute another reason why the establishment elites have grown skeptical about the westernization process.

Assuming that the JDP's approach towards the EU has been instrumental and political, rather than social and ideational, the establishment elites might have increasingly wondered whether Turkey's decades-long Westernization/Europeanization process would end in Turkey's further Islamization, rather than membership in the EU. The possibility that the EU-driven reforms would serve to erode the legitimacy of state bureaucracy vis-a-vis the civilians and civil society forces might provide yet another reason why the establishment elites have grown wary of the westernization process.

However significant such domestic debates may be, this essay argues that what has transpired in Turkey's vicinity in the post 9/11 era, and particularly in northern Iraq, can be of much greater help in understanding the current stalemate in Turkey's relations with the West. …

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