The Davutoglu Era in Turkish Foreign Policy

By Aras, Bulent | Insight Turkey, July 2009 | Go to article overview

The Davutoglu Era in Turkish Foreign Policy


Aras, Bulent, Insight Turkey


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed Ahmet Davutoglu as Turkey's new foreign minister on May 1, 2009. Davutoglu has been a close associate of Erdogan, and his chief advisor on foreign policy since 2003. Davutoglu is known as the intellectual architect of the Justice and Development Party's (AKP, Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi) foreign policy and has been influential in a number of major foreign policy developments. There is a consensus that it was Davutoglu who changed the rhetoric and practice of Turkish foreign policy, bringing to it a dynamic and multidimensional orientation. He set the vision and the style of the new foreign policy line and provided a framework for pursuing it. At first, Davutoglu's new vision and style were subject to much discussion; many wondered at first whether it would be suitable for Turkish foreign policy. After seven years, the discussion has mainly shifted to whether his policy would be sustainable without the AKP and himself in the advisor's chair.

Davutoglu's vision has proven successful on the ground and, although his approach continues to raise some criticism, his policy line has gained legitimacy in the suspicious eyes of critics in Turkey and abroad. Davutoglu's influence is mainly due to the former Foreign Minister and current President Abdullah Gul's and Prime Minister Erdogan's willingness to appropriate his vision in the implementation of foreign policy. He is well regarded in countries neighboring Turkey and with major players in the international system, as witnessed by French President Sarkozy's requesting that Turkey lend a hand to French diplomacy during the Gazan crisis. Davutoglu's appointment as foreign minister will have implications beyond Turkey, both in the neighboring regions and among the international organizations in which Turkey takes active part. The major media outlets in the US, Europe and the Middle East extensively covered his appointment, and it is likely that the media will be closely interested in Davutoglu's actions as foreign minister in the future.

Davutoglu's Vision in Foreign Policy

Davutoglu's foreign policy vision has Turkey's domestic transformation in the background, specifically the consolidation of political and economic stability in the country. Turkey's domestic reforms and growing economic power have enabled the country to emerge as a peace-promoter in neighboring regions. Prior to Davutoglu's rise to prominence, security in Turkey had been treated, to a considerable extent, as an internal problem. Foreign policies were seen as extensions of domestic considerations, and this attitude was traditionally accompanied by a visible tendency to externalize domestic problems and to search for foreign enemies as the root causes of security problems. In some cases there may indeed have been external causes for the problems, but political elites tended to exaggerate and manipulate perceived external threats to preserve their hold on power. Davutoglu developed his foreign policy on the basis of a novel geographic imagination which put an end to what he calls the 'alienation' of Turkey's neighboring countries. One essential component of Davutoglu's vision is to make negative images and prejudices, particularly those pertaining to the Middle East, a matter of the past. This shift has enabled Turkey to completely emancipate foreign policy from the chains of the domestic considerations. (1)

Davutoglu's vision paved the way for the emergence of a new imagining of foreign policy, one that places different assumptions about countries in the region in the minds of policymakers. The crux of the question lies within the aforementioned transformation that reshaped foreign policy choices. In this sense, Davutoglu's re-defining of Turkey's role in both neighboring regions and international politics changed the concept of 'strategic depth' and expanded the cognitive map in policymaker's minds beyond the borders of Turkey. The territorial limits to Turkish involvement in neighboring countries have disappeared in this new mindset. …

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