Turkey wants to join the rising powers in re-organizing the international system.
By Fadime Gozde Colak
In the past ten years Turkish officials have adopted a rhetoric that calls for an equal and just world order. In the recent meeting of Istanbul World Forum (IWF), Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that; “Nobody can claim that the U.N. Security Council is built upon a fair structure. We have left the world to the mercy of five permanent members – whatever they say happens. The U.N. has to be reformed in line with justice.” However, that discourse had already been adopted by the other rising powers. The main question here is why Turkey decided to endorse such kind of rhetoric only very recently. India, Brazil and Indonesia raised their voices on the objections to the existing world order long before Turkey did.
Turkey, since the very early days of the Cold War, had a pro-Western position. After the induction to NATO, Turkey officially became a part of the Western Bloc. Therefore, it was nearly impossible for Turkey to question or criticize the existing structure of international system. Turkey’s self-perception as a Western actor had prevented decision-makers from dealing with the non-Western world. There are turning points in Turkey’s foreign policy and 1960s were the first of them. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Johnson Letter urged Turkey to diversify its perception of world politics from a Western-oriented perspective to a more multi-dimensional one. Enhancing relations with the Soviets Union was thought of as an alternative to the West; however the invasion of Czechoslovakia evoked the fear of Soviets again. The escalating crises of the Cyprus Question during the 1970s is the second point in which Turkey looked for the support of the non-Western world. Further, Turkey’s attitude on the Israel-Palestinian situation irritated the Arab World and led to the isolation of Turkey when it was seeking new allies. During the 1970s the concept of third-world-ism was among the alternatives, however, due to the established identity at domestic politics and Cold War structures, Turkey could not diversify its foreign policy understanding and therefore could not criticize the unjust order explicitly.
The 1980s were the third turning point in Turkey’s foreign policy. As a result of neo-liberalization, Turkey became interested in the rest of the world more than before. Trade relations were established and cooperation was achieved in various fields. However all those associations were maintained in a Western-oriented structure. An example is Turkey’s support to the US during the first Iraq War. The other turning point is the end of Cold War, which created new ares to realize an organic policy understanding, such as in Central Asia and the Balkans. However, due to domestic reasons, Turkey was not capable enough to accomplish its promises, and in the end, it could not carry the burden of those new-born states either economically or politically.
Until the 2000s, neither the international environment nor Turkey’s domestic policies permitted the pursuit of a different kind of foreign policy. Thus, it was impossible for Turkey to criticize the unjust order of the Security Council during those years. The transformation of Turkey’s foreign policy understanding is quite radical at that point, because Turkey changed its course from being a pro-Western country that was indifferent to the injustice of the world order to a passionate critic of the international system. The re-evaluation took place at all levels of foreign policy making and it became synonymous with the rhetoric of justice; even the AKP bears Justice and Development with its name. Since the bid for the temporary membership to the Security Council in 2009-2010, Turkey enhanced its relations with the non-Western world. However, Turkey did not take a critical tone during its campaign, instead highlighting the contributions of UN to the world peace in addition to Turkey’s efforts.
The implications of that new-found position are visible when Turkey asks for justice for Somalia, Burma or Syria. Criticizing the UN because of the Syrian Question is the most recent attempt to criticize the world order in that manner. While blaming the UN for the entire predicament in the region, Turkey uses the rhetoric of justice. The UN is accused of being late to respond to the massacres and the deteriorating situation in Syria. Turkey argues that because of the unjust structure of UN, a very vital decision cannot be taken at the Security Council, and leaving the destiny of the whole world to five permanent and ten temporary members’ mercy is full of injustice. Although Turkey has some very valid criticisms of the patterns of decision-making at the Security Council, the common observers must find themselves asking “why now?”
It’s prudent to point out that the Syrian case has become more and more fragile for Turkey. That issue shows that Turkey cannot carry the burden of the conflict anymore and indeed seeks to share it with international community. Turkey has been thrown into this crisis with Syria and needs the support of the UN, yet the UN does not share in the enthusiasm to provide support to Turkey. Because of the dithering of the UN on Syria, Turkey has conceptualized its discourse and argued that the culture, history and religion of Turkey intrinsically have the patterns and features of justice and order; and with that ground Turkey is justified to influence conflict resolution in Syria.
Rising powers compete with each other and also with the existing powers for more influence in the global arena. In this struggle the main creed evoked is the concept of justice in the international arena. Turkey is using the same discourse as the other rising powers, yet with the conflict in Syria and the upcoming G-20 presidency this discourse is increasingly under heavier scrutiny.
Fadime Gözde Çolak is a research assistant at Ankara University focusing on Turkish involvement in Africa. She has been featured in several Turkish journals and holds a Masters in International Relations from Ankara University.
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