In recent years the goal of Turkish foreign policy has been to achieve short-term results with coercive measures. Rather than engaging in diplomacy, Turkey has relied on hard power and military interventions to resolve issues in its immediate surroundings such as Syria, Libya, the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. While Turkey might seem to achieve short-term results, the long-term consequences of this parochial approach to foreign policy will likely have damaging results on Turkey’s relations with other nations. The accompanying article from al-Monitor, a news site with analysts from the Middle East, examines the reasons why Turkish foreign policy has become more aggressive and militarized in recent years.
The article states that the institutional capacity of Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has been significantly damaged due to polarization and inconsistent policies. The article continues on to say “Ankara has come to pursue dreams of “spoiling games” by others rather than [pursuing] a foreign policy based on its economic and military capacity.” It further notes that the lack of “a realistic, rational and strategic framework” has resulted in Turkey being isolated in the international arena, which leads to “revisionist military activism.” However, the author notes the role of the military in managing Turkey’s foreign policy goals used to be very limited.
As the article notes, external threat perceptions and domestic dynamics played a significant role in Turkey’s embrace of hard power in its foreign policy. Externally, Turkey’s “threat perceptions have shifted east and south, owing to growing security risks in the Eastern Mediterranean, Iraq, North Africa and Syria, and to strategic competition with Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other regional powers.” Furthermore, Turkish officials still point to the lack of support from its Western allies when it perceived threats on its southern borders due to the Syrian crisis. Turkish officials also continue to maintain that their Western allies failed to show solidarity with Turkey over the 2016 failed coup attempt.
The article states that four domestic factors led to the militarization of Turkish foreign policy. First, cross-border operations generally help the Turkish president “enjoy strong popular support” and consolidate power domestically. Second, Turkish armed forces favor military deployment abroad as it benefits them financially and “provides valuable experience in joint force operations.” The third factor is Turkey’s “role in harmonizing ties between the military and civilian leadership, who agree on the need to enhance Turkey’s military capabilities and defense industry.” The success of the Turkish defense industry and the need to find international markets is the final domestic factor that plays a significant role in the militarization of Turkey’s foreign policy.
Turkey’s embrace of muscular [foreign policy] is rooted in profound transformations in its external environment and domestic dynamics.
Source: “Turkey’s foreign policy becoming alarmingly militarized,” Al-Monitor, 22 September 2020. https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/09/turkey-libya-syria-six-problems-aggressive-foreign-policy.html
…almost everyone in Ankara feels entitled to speak on foreign policy matters… foreign policy in Ankara today is a realm of inconsistency and confusion.
A grave repercussion of Erdogan’s foreign policy posture, which has come to mirror his short-tempered and polarizing style in domestic politics, is the erosion of institutional decision-making and execution on foreign policy matters. The Foreign Ministry’s institutional capacity has been seriously damaged and overly politicized, including through nepotistic appointments and promotions.
Since 2018, the gap between Ankara’s dreams or desires and the reality on the ground or the realpolitik has widened as well. Ankara has come to pursue dreams of “spoiling games” by others rather than a foreign policy based on its economic and military capacity… Because of its failure to develop a realistic, rational and strategic framework, Turkey has grown increasingly isolated, trying to compensate for its risky loneliness with revisionist military activism.
Until the 2010s, Ankara used only limited military force to manage a complex, multi-threat environment. Its main priority was the four decade domestic conflict with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Diplomacy and deterrence were used to freeze rivalry in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Cyprus conflict. This began to change in the summer of 2018 when Erdogan assumed sweeping powers under a new executive presidency system.
Turkey’s embrace of muscular methods is rooted in profound transformations in its external environment and domestic dynamics.
Externally, Ankara’s threat perceptions have shifted east and south, owing to growing security risks in the Eastern Mediterranean, Iraq, North Africa and Syria, and to strategic competition with Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other regional powers.
Ankara was particularly unnerved by NATO’s passivity on its southern flank during the Syria crisis, which contributed to a security vacuum there. In relying on the People’s Protection Units — the PKK’s Syrian franchise — to counter the Islamic State, Western powers ignored or dismissed Turkey’s well-known concerns. Also, there is a pervasive and enduring sense among the Turkish ruling elite that the Western security block failed to adequately support Ankara during and after the coup attempt of July 2016.
A number of domestic factors have also driven the militarization of foreign policy. First, foreign policy has become a crucial plank of Ankara’s political agenda since the executive presidency system took effect. Military actions abroad enjoy strong popular support and help sustain Erdogan’s popularity. In particular, his embrace of a more nationalist discourse at home has helped consolidate his de facto coalition with the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party.
Second, military deployment abroad is popular with the armed forces themselves. It boosts morale and motivation through extra pay and promotion opportunities and provides valuable experience in joint force operations.
A third domestic driver of Turkey’s more militaristic approach is its role in harmonizing ties between the military and civilian leadership, who agree on the need to enhance Turkey’s military capabilities and defense industry. The military is more concerned with the technical dimensions of this consensus as part of a transformation and restructuring process called Vision 2033. Politicians, meanwhile, are keen to use this new capacity and energy in domestic and foreign policy. They also hope that keeping the army busy abroad will make civilian control of the military easier as the generals focus on external rather than domestic affairs. Finally, the boom in the Turkish defense industry allows Ankara to pursue a more independent strategy and display its defense systems for the purpose of international marketing.