Military operations in Syria and Iraq, the sending of troops and weapons to Libya, and recently also the arming of Azerbaijan in the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. In recent years, Turkey has harnessed Western allies over and over again. Turkey interferes too much in conflicts outside its own national borders, consider EU Member States and NATO allies.
The President of the European Council again threatened economic sanctions against Turkey on Friday. “The EU must ask itself whether it should not act more firmly against Turkey, which does not show any improvement. The game of cat and mouse must stop,” said EU President Charles Michel.
Turkey itself calls it assertive and necessary, but Western allies use the words aggressively and provocatively to denote the current Turkish foreign policy. One thing is certain: Turkey has become alienated from its Western allies in recent years.
Tensions are not gone
With escalations in the eastern Mediterranean, rising high last summer, tensions were getting closer to home. Greece, supported by the EU, stood face to face with Turkey in a conflict over maritime borders and claims for oil and gas. The conflict was lurked, but the tensions are not gone.
But what is behind Turkeys renewed militant foreign policy?
“ Turkey has become a lot more confident and militarily stronger,” says political analyst Asli Aydintasbas. Todays Turkey sees itself as a world solo power. “China and Russia rise, the Western world order is no longer dominant. I think Turkey sees an opportunity to become one of the great players of the 21st century.”
“ It is also a personal goal of President Erdogan, to see Turkey rise as a major player,” says Aydintasbas. “Theres definitely a little bit of overconfidence in it.”
The changing foreign policy is a consequence of growing nationalism within the government, says Aydintasbas. “Heads of government communicate a message to the people that Turkey is a lone wolf, that it is surrounded by enemies and that it is destined to be a great world power. In that message there is some neo-Ottomanism, there is some Islamism in it, but the main line is Turkish nationalism.”
According to her, it also has to do with a lack of countergas from the mighty America. “Donald Trump was only engaged in his personal phone diplomacy with Erdogan. Over the past four years under Trump, Turkey has been able to walk away from the West.”
According to Muhittin Ataman of the pro-government think tank SETA, there is nothing wrong with Turkeys attitude. “Ancient Turkey was docile. The new Turkey is much stronger and proactive. It strives for its own interests, and acts as needed as in Syria and Iraq.”
The failed coup détat of 2016 was, according to Ataman, an important tipping point. “None of the NATO countries accepted the role of spiritual Fethullah Gülen in the coup attempt. Turkey was disowned by its allies. This is how it is felt by the majority of the Turks.”
Signing investment in defence industry
Turkey has the second largest army in NATO, after the US. And the country has invested heavily in its own defence industry. Highlight is the production of armed drones, by the company of Erdogans son-in-law. Turkey has grown into one of the largest drone makers in the world in a few years. The killer drones are deployed in Libya, Syria and Iraq. And Turkey sold them to Azerbaijan, where they were decisive in the war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“ All this has led Turkey to become a global power, a game changer,” says Ataman. He believes that the West should not interfere with Turkish foreign policy and calls the reactions anti-Turkish sentiments. “France interferes with Mali and many other countries in North Africa. They call that “foreign adventures “? No. But when it comes to Turkey, they have different standards.”
More enemies than friends
Anyway, Turkey is currently making more enemies than friends. The question is how long that can be sustain. Joe Biden will soon be in the White House, European economic sanctions are lurking, and a serious financial crisis is raging through Turkey.
President Erdogan surprised friend and enemy at a party meeting at the end of November when he said that Turkeys future lies in Europe, “and nowhere else”. Aydintasbas thinks Erdogan is looking at how his constituents react to a possible return to the West. “He loses voters because of the economic crisis. But also because there is a new generation in Turkey, a generation that wants to be part of the world.”