In this new era of Turkish politics, unsurprisingly there will be significant continuities in many public policy realms. The new government formed under the leadership of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will continue most of the policies and projects that were started earlier. However, due to the changes in the system of government and with an elected, active and powerful president, there will be some new features in strategizing, decision-making and the implementation of policies. Especially after the general elections next year, there will be a significant degree of changes in the cadres in Ankara due to the three consecutive term limit for the members of Parliament of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
One of these public policy realms that will face some changes in the new era is Turkey’s foreign policy. Although the principles and major policy initiatives that were launched earlier will continue, the new era will bring some changes to the foreign policy decision-making and implementation. In fact, Turkey will continue its principled stand on Syria, its criticism of the elements of the established order such as the veto powers of the U.N. Security Council, and its increasing emphasis on previously neglected regions such as the African continent. But this time, the pro-activeness in two members of the executive branch in terms of foreign policy will create a new dynamism in foreign policy decision-making and implementation. The increasing number of foreign policy bureaucracy and a potential geographical division of labor may help the emergence of a better coverage for different regions and policy areas.
In this new era of Turkish foreign policy there will be several challenges that it will continue to encounter. First of these problems is the failed and semi-failed states to its south. The grey zones in Syria and Iraq have started to export insecurity and threats to the countries in the region as a whole. The situation in Syria is becoming more dire as the focus of the international public shifted from the real cause of the conflict, atrocities of the Assad regime, to its outcomes, such as the dangers posed by ISIS. As Western countries began to develop anti-terrorism strategies in their approach to the crisis in Syria, Turkey will continue to face the danger of a spillover of the conflict to its territories and the flow of an increasing number of Syrian refugees. Despite the recent airstrikes and operations against ISIS in Iraq, the militant organization is nowhere near its end and despite Nouri al-Maliki’s era being over in Iraq for now, it is not clear how influential the new government can be to stop the eruption of another civil war in Iraq. In both of these crises, failed states are causing the emergence of non-state actors like ISIS and the region as a whole is becoming a cradle, or safe haven, that produces different sorts of illegal and dangerous activities. These developments will create a new period that challenges the vision of an economically integrated, politically free and democratic and socially stable Middle East. In the case of the extension of these crises, Turkey may have to bear more of a burden and face new responsibilities.
Secondly, in this new era Turkish foreign policy may be challenged by two issues that were considered its traditional problems. First of these problems is the Cyprus dispute, the resolution of which has stalled after the rejection of the referendum on the Annan Plan by the Greek part of the island. After years of status quo the recent developments in the eastern Mediterranean may open a window of opportunity for the revival of this process. Secondly, the controversy and disputes over the events that took place in 1915 will probably continue to haunt the relations between Turkey and Armenia in 2015. The recent letter of condolences by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was a historic step toward the resolution of the problems with Armenia. However, the response of the Armenian government signaled its determination to reject any calls to resolve the problem. In both of these cases, regardless of the attitude of the two governments, Turkey needs to continue to act pro-actively to find a mutually acceptable solution to problems and communicate its intention to do so to the citizens of Armenia and Cyprus through well-designed public diplomacy.
This article was originally published in Daily Sabah on September 4, 2014.