Turkish foreign policy: any need to be anti-Western?

Ambassador (Ret.), Global Relations Forum President

Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu (L) met EU foreign policy chief Borrell on March 22 in Brussels. Anti-Western sentiments don’t help Turkey but the West is also responsible for this. (Photo: Twitter/Çavuşoğlu)

The long-awaited meeting finally took place. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken got together on March 24, in Brussels, the premises of the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting. This meeting constitutes the first high-level face-to-face contact between Turkey and the new US administration. Although all details are not clear yet, the S-400 defense system bought from Russia and the decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention has come to the fore. The issue of when President Joe Biden will call President Tayyip Erdoğan may also have been discussed. Right after the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting, the EU Council will be held on 25-26 March. Relations with Turkey are expected to be taken up at the Council meeting. Whenever the subject is Turkey, relations with her neighbors can be significant.

Greece and Cyprus issues

Although it might be seldom, the bureaucracy updates itself from time to time depending on changing situations. Ministries are merged or their names change.
As a matter of fact, the names of the departments in the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs have changed over time according to international developments. Some departments have been merged or removed. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of Yugoslavia, new sections had to be created in the Foreign Ministry.
However, if there is one place that does not change at all, it is the Cyprus – Greece department. Whether it’s relations with the West in general, the European Union, or the United States in particular, it has been these two that tried Turkey the most.

EU: Cyprus first, then human rights

Turkey – EU relations were usurped, first by Greece in 1981, then in 2004 with the Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus joining the EU. This is also evident in the report prepared by Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy last week. As the report summarizes the relations with Turkey, problems in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean are prioritized while the decline in fundamental rights in Turkey comes as an afterthought.
Cooperation in the field of migration, updating the Customs Union, high-level dialogues, participation in Union programs, and assistance to meet the criteria for visa exemption are mentioned within the scope of what should be done to improve relations. Of course, these are incumbent on Turkey “behaving” in the Eastern Mediterranean. However, “should Turkey not move constructively forward” this would “bear economic and political consequences” including in the tourism area.

The anti-Western sentiments

Turkey’s relations with the EU have been rarely smooth and generally tense. It was pretty negative until a few weeks ago. Thanks to some mutually moderating steps, a quieter period has begun.
Nevertheless, the anti-Western sentiments have increased recently in Turkey. The US and many European countries are at the top of the polls as foes. However, the interesting contradiction is when asked where one would like to go and live abroad, it’s mostly the same these countries that are ranked first.
On the other hand, Turkey has forgotten or was made to forget that she is part of the West. The EU also has played an important role in this. Our relations with the EU, which spans more than sixty years, can be summed up as a series of disappointments.

Deception and delusion

Turkey wanted to be a part of the West, pressed for it, sacrificed so much but in the end, was pushed aside and finally distanced from the EU. The main reason is that the party that changed was Turkey.
For centuries, the attitude of European countries, which saw the Ottomans as an enemy, threat, danger, or at least as a rival, altered according to circumstances. European countries did not hesitate to form alliances with the Ottomans due to the rivalry amongst them. However, the Ottomans were always kept apart.
Turkey was the one that changed with the modernization/westernization movements initiated by Atatürk after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Benefitting from the need for Turkey during the Cold War she became members of major Western organizations such as NATO, the Council of Europe, and the OECD amongst others, and had the feeling of being part of the West.

And the Cold War

It was realized shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union that this was a deception. There was also a delusion here from the Turkish viewpoint, or an error arising from the need to believe in this. Every effort of getting closer to the West was delayed or prevented for one reason or another. Old reflexes which were frozen during the Cold War thawed and the attitude towards Turkey was based entirely on the interests of Western countries. As the former communist countries were joining the EU, Turkey, to put it nicely was kept in the hallway. The phrase “transactional” relationship, which is in fashion these days, was never far below the surface.
Becoming a member of NATO in 1952, Turkey entered the Western security establishment. The importance of this is not well understood these days, but threats still exist.

Neither animosity nor adoration

Animosity or hate towards the West, as well as Western adoration, exist at the same time in Turkey. This is not new. However, it is unnecessary. These attitudes distract us from the essentials. The aim for Turkey should be to reach high standards in every field within the framework of fundamental rights and the rule of law. Also, to stand on its own feet while ensuring this and to have good relations with everyone as much as possible in the international arena.
This can be done without being part of or under the guidance of any system. The conditions for this are to turn to self-confident politics, without looking for external enemies and self-criticism when necessary.

Wait until the Cyprus talks?

Turning to the upcoming EU Council, the recommendations in Borrell’s report does not mention relaunching accession talks with Turkey, echoing the Conclusions of the last two Summits. The main issue is whether the interests of the EU overlap with those of some members.
Sanctions against Turkey should not be expected at the Summit to be held in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. Most likely the recommendations of the Borrell report will be welcomed, while Turkey’s recent “detente” will be closely monitored and a call will be made that these policies continue and be developed. The EU will also highlight that otherwise they will be “forced” to announce economic sanctions. On the other hand, they will most likely avoid statements that might disrupt the Cyprus talks that will start under the auspices of the United Nations in Geneva on 27 April.

If there is will…

To summarize, the EU prefers to maintain relations with Turkey within the framework of benign interest. As the EU deals with the pandemic crisis no other policy should be expected at the moment.
This situation could be seen to be in Turkey’s interest. However, in the long run, there is a need for a relationship that is steady, sustainable, honest, and without trouble. For this, both sides must deal with all the issues seriously. If there is a will, a way will be found.

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