New Essay; Decoding Turkish Foreign Policy Hyperactivity

The Washington Quarterly- October 2010, Volume 33, Number 4
Ziya Meral & Jonathan Paris

Ever since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) initially assumed power in 2002, soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks, international media has devoted more attention to developments in Turkey. For domestic observers, the conservative Muslim AKP’s emergence and subsequent landslide victory in 2007 evoked fears about eroding secularism in the country. For foreign observers, as the threat of militant Islamism became the lens through which to view events in the Muslim world, the AKP’s electoral victories stoked worries about theWest ‘‘losing’’ Turkey. Although the AKP’s record-breaking eight years in office have cooled much of the hysteria about Turkey’s domestic orientation, recent Turkish foreign policy activity has unleashed a brand new wave of handwringing about Ankara.

Much of the commentary on the country, however, is littered with a lack of understanding of Turkey’s domestic context or of the surrounding environment from Ankara’s perspective. Many pundits ask the wrong questions, which lead to the wrong conclusions. The main question is not whether Turkey is giving up ties with the United States and the EU in exchange for closer ties with questionable countries, like Iran and Syria, and non-state actors in the Islamic world. Instead, for a variety of historical and contemporary geopolitical reasons, Turkey has pursued a more proactive engagement policy since the early 2000s in both regional and global affairs, seeking greater influence in the Middle East and consequently gaining a respected place at the high table of leading countries in the world. The key question is: has this fresh Turkish zeal led Ankara to miscalculate its influence, punch above its weight, and risk greater losses to Turkey’s potential stabilizing role and its interests?

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