Türkiye's foreign policy; trends and triggers

Turkey's foreign policy, led by the Justice and Development Party, has always been affected by the country's domestic situation.
4 April 2023
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Mohammadmehdi Mazaheri

Turkey's foreign policy, led by the Justice and Development Party, has always been affected by the country's domestic situation. Of course, this pattern is not unique to Turkey and is referred to as a general rule in the science of foreign policy and international relations. However, Turkey's difference is that the authorities of this country do not shy away from 180-degree and sudden turns in foreign policy, and wherever their estimate is that reducing or increasing relations with a country will improve the domestic economic, political and social conditions for them and their people, they will not hesitate to implement it. A clear example of this is the improvement of relations with the Arab countries of the region, which Turkey had reduced its relations with for several reasons. In this regard, Ankara first began the process of normalizing relations with the UAE, which is known as the financer of the July 15 coup, and then hosted the Saudi crown prince, who was introduced as the instigator and commander of Khashoggi's murder.

By understanding such triggers, before analyzing Turkey's foreign policy trends, it is necessary to take a quick look at the internal political-economic conditions of this country. During the past year, Turkey has been struggling with many problems in the domestic arena; the inflation rate in this country has fluctuated between 65% and 85% according to official government statistics, and the value of the Turkish lira has experienced a record-breaking fall against major foreign currencies.

The terrorist attack in Taksim Square in Istanbul in October 2022, the inefficiency of the government in quickly organizing the disasters caused by the terrible earthquake in the south of this country and then the flooding in the earthquake-affected areas in recent days are all problems that are on the eve of the elections. May 2023, will affect the status of Erdogan's government.

As a result of such conditions, we are witnessing the movements of the Justice and Development Party under the leadership of Erdogan, to reduce the burden of domestic political-economic problems and to mobilize various political forces in Turkey in support of their government; the movements that started from active participation in the Qarabağ crisis and playing a serious role in the South Caucasus have also developed in other regions and countries.

In the past year, the war in Ukraine has been one of the most important arenas of Turkey's acting in the regional arena. With the start of the war, NATO member countries quickly took a stand against Putin and sanctioned this country; however, Turkey was the only NATO member country that took a neutral stance, though condemning the attack, and tried to play the role of mediator between Western countries and Russia and benefit from relations with both sides. The effects of this war on the energy crisis and food security gave Erdogan the opportunity to take full advantage of his country's prominent geostrategic position on the Black Sea and try to turn Turkey into an international gas export center and regional energy hub.

Turkey's geopolitical position, which is a kind of bridge between Asia, Europe and Africa, provides this country with the capacity to become the hub of the region. In this regard, by taking advantage of the sanction conditions and the lack of readiness of the Islamic Republic of Iran (which has a similar geopolitical position) to supply the energy needed by Europe, by emphasizing and taking advantage of its transit advantage, it tried not only to meet its domestic needs in the field of energy, but also to generate foreign exchange income and new contracts for its crisis-stricken economy. In this regard, attending the economic meeting of the G20 group in Indonesia (October 2022), whose members control about 85% of the world's economy, was one of the other serious moves of the Turkish government to strengthen its economic and transit interests in the regional and global arena.

Turkey's role in the grain corridor agreement with Ukraine and Russia under the supervision of the United Nations was one of the other areas in which this country tried to play the role of an active and positive actor to reduce the problems caused by the war in Ukraine and enter into a new game with Russia and achieve international credit while providing its own interests.

On another front, Turkish authorities are trying to strengthen relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and the Zionist regime in order to attract investors and become an omnipresent counterweight in the region. The promotion of Turkey's relations with the Zionist regime to the ambassadorial level in December 2022, the signing of a comprehensive economic partnership agreement between the UAE and Turkey with the aim of strengthening commercial and economic cooperation, and an agreement with Saudi Arabia to deposit 5 billion dollars of this country in the central bank of Turkey in recent weeks are all witnesses to this claim.

In relation to the Islamic Republic of Iran, despite the obvious differences in the security, economic and some regional issues, such as Turkey's support for groups opposed to Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the establishment of warm relations with the Zionist regime, Turkey's membership in NATO, the meaningful strengthening of Turkic-speaking countries, trying to set up a corridor between Nakhchivan and Azerbaijan and many other cases, this country has never allowed relations to completely cool down and degrade them to low levels, and through things like not recognizing American sanctions, helping to strengthen the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and continuing the commercial and economic relations between the two countries have been aimed at maintaining the appropriate relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Based on this, according to Erdogan's desire to win again in the elections of this country in April 1402, it seems that the trend of foreign policy developments and security approach of this country is towards creating a kind of balance and all-round balance and communication with aligned, rival, and non-aligned countries. In order to improve domestic conditions, gain regional and international credibility, and defeat competitors in the upcoming elections, Erdogan is trying to define the role of problem solver on all fronts for himself, and by attracting the cooperation of countries and influential players in the region, cover the domestic weakness. However, we have to wait and see to what extent such a game on the irregular chess board of the region with uneven actors with divergent interests can help to realize the country's goals and increase Erdogan's chances of winning the elections.

Mohammad Mehdi Mazaheri, university professor

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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