Global Swing States and International Order: A Turkish View (On Turkey)
The political calculations of the ruling AK Party governments, particularly in civil-military relations, the geopolitical imaginations of the ruling elites, consecutive electoral victories of the ruling party, and the strong leadership of then Prime Minister Erdogan, have influenced how Turkey interprets the external developments taking place at regional and systemic levels.
Nevertheless, this is a hypothetical question and requires sophisticated speculation. A neo-classical realist would theoretically argue that the internal political calculations of the ruling AK Party, particularly as regards its legitimacy needs against diehard skeptics in the military and secular opposition, have led AK Party elites to interpret the constitutive norms of the US-led western international order order legitimate and pave the way for a pro-western Turkish foreign policy. This does not change that the way Turkish foreign policy unfolded during this era accorded well with the strategic interests of western powers, particularly in the Middle East.
Structural realism holds that as the international order shifts from unipolarity to multipolarity, the maneuvering capability of states, particularly middle and small powers, increases. Transition times offer countries more opportunities in their foreign policies. As the primacy of an existing global hegemon is disputed by rising potential hegemons globally, the maneuvering capability of regional powers like Turkey increases. The internal crises within the EU and the gradual rise of non-western powers, particularly China and Russia, seem to have contributed to the power vacuum at systemic and regional levels.
Turkey has certainly taken advantage of this in its foreign policy. Within this time period, and in the context of the continuous decline of western-world primacy in global politics, Turkey put more effort into forging cordial relations with rising non-western powers. Some caveats are in order though. First, this essay does not offer a detailed and comprehensive analysis of Turkish foreign policy as it has evolved since Rather, the goal is to offer a modest explanation of how changes in the structure of international order over the last sixteen years might be reflected in the evolution of Turkish foreign policy.
What follows is a short description of the changes occurring in the structure of the international system, in the context of material and normative dimensions. Whether the international order evinces the features of unipolarity, bipolarity, or multipolarity would be bound to have an impact on how states shape their foreign policy interests and behaviors. I will divide the time period under consideration into three; the first covers the years between and , the second between and , and the third covers the last three years. As the primacy of western actors in international politics has come under strong challenges from the growing power capabilities of non-western powers, most notably China, they have also contested the ideational and normative underpinnings of the US-led liberal international order.
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Not only did it gradually expand to include former communist countries in central and Eastern Europe, but also the immense material power capabilities of the United States allowed her to pursue primacist strategies all around the world. The security strategy concepts of Americans and European alike demonstrated the exuberance, optimism, and self-confidence in western capitals. Neither the national security strategies adopted by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations in the US, nor the first-ever security strategy document of the EU adopted in , mentioned great power competition and ideological polarization as potential threats to liberal international world order.
Not only has the feeling of optimism eroded, but also the specter of non-western powers challenging the primacy of western powers has begun to haunt many westerners. As the Russian resurgence and Chinese revival took root, the calls for accommodating rising non-western powers in the institutional structure of the liberal international order began to be heard more loudly.
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The revised security strategy of the European Union issued in the summer of the , and the first national security strategy of the Trump administration issued in December demonstrate that western powers feel threatened by the rise of non-western powers. Both documents suggest some ways to deal with the resurgence of concerns for traditional security, as well as the worldwide emergence of illiberal authoritarianism.
Since , there have been disputes all over the world over the values of multiculturalism, openness, tolerance, and universal human rights. The morality of universal cosmopolitanism has gradually given way to the morality of relative communitarianism as rising non-western powers, primarily China and Russia, have increasingly offered non-western conceptualizations of international political order.
The West was able to endure some economic losses relative to emerging powers, so long as it had self-confidence. The western powers have not been immune to such currents either. The last decade has witnessed the rise of populist and illiberal political movements in key western countries. The internal criticism of liberal democratic practices has severely affected the attractiveness of a liberal world order. Parallel to the shift in material power capabilities across the globe and the growing challenges posed to the normative foundation of the liberal international order, realpolitik foreign policy practices and pragmatic concerns in defining national interests have become more pronounced than moralpolitik practices and normative concerns.
During the last decade, long-term identity based alliance relationships have been replaced with short-term, pragmatic, and issue-oriented strategic partnerships. The practice of coalitions defining missions has gradually given way to the practice of missions defining coalitions. As opposed to Cold War bipolarity, and the unipolar order during the first two decades of the post-Cold War era, the practice of illiberal authoritarian states engaging in pragmatic outcome-oriented cooperation with liberal-minded states is now conceivable.
The interconnectedness between liberal western powers and illiberal authoritarian powers is much higher now than it was between western capitalist and eastern communist countries during the Cold war era. This suggests that we now live in a multiplex world order.
This world order leads states with various power capabilities to adopt multidimensional and multidirectional foreign policy strategies; aligning a particular group of countries against others in a long-term structural manner is no longer an option. This creates enough room for non-western rising powers to act more assertively and become more visible across the globe. During the first decade of the AK Party rule, Turkey adopted a pro-western, pro-European stance in its foreign policy, for strategic reasons, with more engagement in non-western environments, particularly the Middle East.
Not only was Turkey highly committed to joining the EU, but also it increasingly showed its desire to support the promotion of western values to non-western geographies. This adversarial outlook often leads to the logical conclusion that Turkey must go its own way—which, in turn, frees its political leaders from the pesky constraints of Western-defined liberal democracy.
The July 15 coup attempt effectively served these pre-existing efforts. The AKP constituency is split in its understanding of Turkishness—there is a small ethnic nationalist component; a large component whose nationalism is heavily influenced by religious conservatism; and an Islamic component, a significant part of which is described here as compassionate Islamists. There is deep resentment—particularly among nationalist Turks—of the large presence of Syrian refugees, especially in major urban areas.
Indeed, Syrian refugees are the only group with favorability ratings as low as those given to the United States by poll respondents.
These attitudes, however, are shared across the political spectrum and may not necessarily represent a coherent constituency; there are, of course, fascinating parallels here to the rise of right-wing populism in the United States and Europe. Turkish citizens of all political stripes are deeply hostile toward and angry with the United States and the West. Europe and Germany both poll very poorly, although many Turks also wish for their country to emulate Europe in many ways.
Russia, on the other hand, is growing in popularity but remains deeply unpopular. Overall, Turkish public opinion broadly favors a go-it-alone approach in foreign policy and sees few friends abroad. The polling data suggest that the AKP is not really an Islamist party, as it is frequently described.
A strong majority of AKP voters agree that Turkey should be a secular state with no official religion: 61 percent agree, while just 34 percent disagree. Overall, 77 percent of AKP voters agreed that Turkey spends too much money on refugees, and 47 percent strongly agreed.
Policy shifts such as the reduction of support for Sunni rebels in Syria, rapprochement with Israel, and public spats with religious charities such as İHH may have eroded support among this group. There seems to also be a generational gap among AKP supporters and, particularly, greater discontent among younger voters. Indeed, women AKP voters consistently held more stringent nationalist views across a range of questions in the poll.
This is not a new phenomenon, but respondents and participants overwhelmingly shared the premise that Turkey is surrounded by enemies and in constant danger from foreign and domestic threats. And, of course, the country has endured years of terrorist attacks, domestic insurgency, political chaos, and, most recently, a coup attempt. Across political parties, this nativist strain was intertwined with deep anger about the presence of Syrian refugees. This anger is linked to the economic anxiety described above, with much of the hostility toward Syrian immigrants—and other Arab immigrants as well as Afghans—focused on their presence in the cities, where they are perceived to be begging, undercutting wages, raising rents, and collecting state benefits such as healthcare.
Indeed, the polling showed that the poorest respondents were the most hostile toward refugees. In this vein, as reported anecdotally elsewhere, Kurdish attitudes toward the Syrians were among the harshest, perhaps reflecting competition for low-wage jobs often occupied by Kurds in many big cities and border areas. Previous polls have uncovered similar economic anxiety aimed at refugees, focusing on fears of unemployment, begging, lower wages, and taxes.
In the focus groups, the anti-Syrian sentiment was strongest among MHP voters and older AKP voters, but it was visible across the political spectrum and across all age brackets and education levels. Overall, just 15 percent of Turks had favorable views of Syrian refugees, while 79 percent had unfavorable views. Perhaps reflecting the compassionate Islamist strain outlined above, the AKP was the softest toward refugees overall—though still very negative—with 21 percent possessing favorable views and 72 percent possessing unfavorable views.
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Only 6 percent of both groups held favorable views toward Syrian refugees. The poll queried sentiment about refugees in two other ways as well. Overall, 49 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, and 45 percent disagreed with it. Again, the AKP was the most open to this idea, with the opposition parties more opposed to it. Across the board, older people and self-described Kemalists and secularists were more skeptical of the contributions of immigrants and refugees.
However, two complications should be considered when evaluating these data. Overall, 78 percent of people agreed with this idea, with just 17 percent disagreeing. While the AKP was again more open to spending on care for refugees—perhaps reflecting the compassionate Islamist segment of the party—a mere 22 percent opposed the idea that Turkey was spending too much on refugees. This widespread hostility to spending for refugees was particularly strong among older, more educated, and wealthier voters as well as among self-described Kemalists, secularists, and Alevis.
This particular hostility lines up with partisan leanings; those groups lean toward the opposition parties. But the hostility from the groups mentioned above might also be due to greater perceived cultural differences between those blocs and the new Syrian arrivals or, perhaps, due to the perception that the Syrians favor the AKP—regarded as a political opponent for these demographics. The rise of anti-Syrian sentiment puts the government in a very tough position.
These voters might be disappointed by moves to cut back on assistance to the Syrians. More fundamentally, the social ramifications of reducing assistance to the millions of Syrians residing in Turkey are potentially disastrous, including economic desperation and public health risks. This situation also presents a conundrum for European Union policymakers trying to address the refugee crisis and maintain Turkey as a relatively stable neighbor—the refugees desperately need assistance but such help can further deepen Turkish resentment of the new arrivals.
It should be noted that a significant minority of MHP voters also reject the notion of a modern-day attack on the secular republic. The use of the coup as a political rallying call is hardly surprising—it was a profound national crisis—but a large portion of the Turkish public appears to view the postcoup response through a partisan lens. Clearly, the response to this national crisis is a highly partisan topic. There is dissent among conservative Turks regarding the coup response, but it is largely based on the feeling that it has not gone far enough rather than concern about a purge run amok.
Indeed, nearly half of those who do not approve of the coup response overall said that the government has not done enough. When more thoroughly analyzed by party vote in the November 1, , general election, it emerges that many AKP voters and a majority of MHP voters feel the government has not gone far enough. Police: year-old man shot 3 people at retirement home. Hong Kong leader bans wearing masks at protests. Violent protests in Iraq lead to curfews.
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Losing control of it means losing funds and resources that subsidize pro-government media, businesses, contractors and the AKP apparatus at large. Rather than accept defeat, the AKP challenged the outcome of the race , claiming fraud. In a controversial ruling, the Turkish election board cancel ed the result and ordered a new vote, sparking outrage from the CHP, which described the move as "plain dictatorship. The rerun, which will be held Sunday, is a pivotal moment. But with the serious restrictions facing the opposition, including a ban on anti-government demonstrations in Istanbul, citizens have few remaining places to protest beyond the ballot box.
Those around her nodded.
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