Reinvention of Turkish Foreign Policy in Latin America: The Cuba Case

By Akilli, Erman; Donelli, Federico | Insight Turkey, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Reinvention of Turkish Foreign Policy in Latin America: The Cuba Case


Akilli, Erman, Donelli, Federico, Insight Turkey


Introduction

On 11 February 2015, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a visit to Cuba as part of a three-leg Latin American tour. This was the second visit of a high-level Turkish delegation to Latin American countries, the first being in 1995. Erdogan's trip drew the attention of international media and scholars to the special features of Turkey's relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Turkey's political, economic and cultural influence in regional and global affairs has been gradually increasing in the last few years, following a multi-directional or multi-regional vocation. In the last decade, Turkey's growing relevance in different regions has gone beyond that of a trade partner. Under the AK Party, Turkey has launched a so called paradigm shift in its foreign policy, which former Prime Minister and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Prof. Ahmet Davutoglu (1) underlines as a 'Multi-Dimensional Foreign Policy Approach.' Following Davutoglu's guidelines, Turkey has formed new routes in international policy and enhanced those new routes with humanitarian and development aid, making use of both the cultural element and the religious dimension. As part of this larger initiative, policies aimed at strengthening Turkey's strategic ties were directed toward Latin America and the Caribbean region, including Cuba. Thanks to this new approach and to Turkey's economic growth, Ankara is now acknowledged as a development partner that provides humanitarian aid and developmental assistance, mainly through the gradual involvement of the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA). In light of these trends, Turkey's soft power in the region is growing.

Drawing on the conceptualization of soft power given by Joseph Nye Jr., this article studies two linked elements of Turkish soft power: agents and behavior. Turkey's soft power has gained importance, thanks to the gradual involvement of new state and non-state actors (agents) along with the adoption of novel frameworks, such as cultural diplomacy, public diplomacy and humanitarian diplomacy (behavior). The current research has the purpose of analyzing Turkey's approach toward Latin America and the Caribbean region through the prism of soft power theory, and through a specific case study, i.e. Turkey-Cuba relations. The working assumption is that Turkey has been able to increase its presence and influence in the region, thanks to a particular soft power-oriented approach known as multi-dimensional policy, which reflects both new behavior and new agents. An analysis of Turkey-Cuba relations will not only help improve the literature about Turkey's foreign policy on a subject which has not yet been adequately examined, but will also underline features and peculiarities of Turkey's soft power, such as the emerging "Mosque Diplomacy." (2)

Theoretical and Conceptual Background of Soft Power

Power is one of the most central and yet problematic concepts in political science and international relations (IR), where it has a variety of forms and features. In the most general sense, power may refer to any kind of influence exercised by objects, individuals, or groups upon each other. (3) One of the most influential definitions of power remains that of Max Weber, who defines power as the "probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests." (4) In other words, power is a 'zero-sum' game: either you win or you lose. According to the literature, the best way to materialize national interests is to use military and economic power elements with a view to forcing other actors to undertake a cost-benefit calculation. In summary, most actors pursue a 'carrot and stick' policy in their foreign policies. (5) However, in a post-modernist and globalized society, 'soft' power, which is based on a 'value-based' notion of power, becomes increasingly important relative to 'hard' power, which is dependent upon military and economic resources. …

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