Atatürk’s Foreign Policy Strategy and EU

Prof. Atilla SANDIKLI
21 April 2008
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EU Commission President Jose-Manuel Barroso visited Turkey in 10 April 2008 and made a speech in Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA). In his speech he mentioned Atatürk’s strategy and Turkey’s geopolitical importance. I would like to share with you the results of the reviews taken place in my book called “Atatürk’s Foreign Policy Strategy and EU” which is one of  the most prominent studies in the fields mentioned.



The world has experienced a rapid transformation beginning at the end of the 20th century and still going on. During this period the Cold War ended and the phenomenon of globalization has profoundly affected people, societies, companies, states and international relations. The new world order began to be implemented in accordance with the transforming power balances.

Today the success of countries is mostly designated in terms of their adaptation to these changing dynamics and how they can use these dynamics to realize/fulfill their national goals. Countries successful in developing rapidly, benefit from the world’s affluence and wealth at highest level whereas the ones failing are getting marginalized and are smashed under the heavy and complicated problems. Therefore, in today’s changing dynamic conditions, it is very important to state the correct goals of foreign policy and to determine the principles to be followed for a successful foreign policy. In such a research to be made on the subject of the goals and principles of Turkish foreign policy, it is clear that the main source on which the Turkish Nation will agree and trust is Turkish Foreign Policy of Atatürk’ s Period. In this frame, we need to search the answers of these questions; “What are the goals and principles of Turkish Foreign Policy implemented in Atatürk’s period? Can these goals and principles be also implemented today?”

Moreover it will be useful to search scientific basis of the comments on behalf of Kemalism and discussions in public opinion about EU having an important place in Turkish foreign policy. In the extent of that, it is necessary to examine those questions in compatible with the system approach and find the answers: What are the global dynamics affecting every fields of life profoundly and directing the transformation? How does the transformation affect the international strategies and structures of states? What conclusions do we get when the integration movement in Europe is examined? What are the alternative expansions of Turkish foreign policy? Which ones of these alternative expansions stated are more acceptable in the light of goals and principles of Turkish foreign policy in Atatürk’ s Period? What conclusions come into existence when the period of accession to the EU is evaluated in terms of the goals and principles of Turkish foreign policy in Atatürk’ s period? Which foreign policy should be followed by Turkey about the relations with EU in the coming period?

To lighten this problematic subject, the most convenient science is history. Because history analyses events in the past and learns lessons from these events to lighten the future. The important lesson makes the practices of “today” and “tomorrow” ready. Analyzing “yesterday” actually means to analyze “today and tomorrow”. Therefore reform movements and westernization in the Ottoman Empire which are the basis of Turkic Revolution and Turkish foreign policy in Atatürk’ s period would rather be examined and in this way the goals and principles should be determined to evaluate the today and lighten the future.

The goal of Atatürk’s foreign policy strategy is to promote the independent Turkic Republic based on national sovereignty and Turkish Nation to the position of which it is worth in the modern world and to provide peace, trust and wealth.

Foreign policy principles are also ;

- Rationalism

Wisdom, Logic and Science


Strategy and Planning

- Realism

- Equality

- Flexibility

- International Collaboration

Dialog and Negotiations

Multi Dimension and Balance

Stand on its own feet , Enter into an alliance in case of necessity

Abstain from extreme amity and antagonism

- A Proactive Foreign Policy

- Peace at home and peace in the country

- Respect for the international law

Respect for the independence of states

Care for problems of aggrieved nations

Right Balance and Balance of Power

- Consistency and Reliability

Are Atatürk’s foreign policy applications still valid? Can they meet today’s requirements? Are these goals and principles hard and fast rules? The main source of the answers to these problems are Atatürk’s goals and principles. Because the leader who first brought the systematic approaches to the foreign policy applications was Atatürk. In all of the foreign policy applications, he evaluated domestic and foreign political medium and implemented the applications to adapt to the changing conditions and principles determined. This point takes place in the principle of flexibility in accordance with his revolutionist character and his personality of being open minded on the transformation and improvement. Consequently Atatürk’s understanding of foreign policy consists of the flexible and dynamic principles that adapt rapidly to the changing conditions and today’s necessities.

In our globalizing world, it is determined that the classical foreign policy strategies are getting insufficient and the states whose national power components such as human power, geographical, economical, military, political and psycho-social power are high began to get more share of the world’s wealth and affluence. For this reason, it is also determined that the states which have similar features have tended to the structure which we call as the union of sovereign states in accordance with the strategy of constituting a union among themselves. When EU’s pioneering such a progress was examined at all points, it has been seen that similar features are the following;

- Cultural Values

Historical Affinity

Language similarity

Similarity of Religion and Belief

Common moral values

- Political Values

Democratic values

Superiority of Law

Separation of Powers

- Economical values

Free market economy

Macro-economy balances

Socio-economic conditions

- Geographical Closeness

When looking at the system, of which inputs of globalization, new world order, constituting union and union of sovereign states remain in possession, under the light of Turkish foreign policy goals and principles by focusing on the circle of Turkey, it can be said that Turkey has three basic foreign policy expansions. These expansions are; the expansion of EU, the expansion of Turkic Republics and the expansion of Islamic countries. Of course geopolitical position of Turkey also presents Turkey different possibilities of foreign policy expansions. However the expansions such as Africa, Far East and Latin America can be accepted as the expansions having secondary priority to compare with the three former expansions mentioned above.

The goal of Turkish foreign policy during Atatürk’s period was a goal that provides full independence obtaining power from the national sovereignty, raise the Turkish Nation into a point it deserves in the modern world and also causes to increase the affluence, security and wealth of the nation. This goal is rationalist and realistic. It is flexible to make international collaboration within the frame of equality. Moreover it is a coherent and trustworthy goal that enables to produce proactive politics, contributes the peace at home and in the world to be established and is also respectful to the law. Today the most acceptable foreign policy expansion which enables Turkey to reach this goal is the EU process.

Some segments in Turkey feel uncomfortable because in this process Turkey will hand over some powers concerning national sovereignty to EU institutions. All of the states which are the members of EU have handed over some of their powers to EU institutions. There is a transfer of power but this power takes place in the machinery of decision-making. It can not be said that the states have the power of an absolute and unlimited sovereignty owing to the features of being the state having the contemporary law in globalizing world and international treaties. The sovereignty of the states to improve their relations with the world and to become a party to the international agreements should be limited in accordance with the articles of treaty. This is a natural presumption of the principle of the sovereignty of law. In Turkish foreign policy of Atatürk’s period, the goal of national sovereignty involves not to isolate from the world but to integrate the international system in accordance with the principle of equality and to internationalize. Therefore EU process is not contradicted with the goal of national sovereignty. On the contrary, democracy in Turkey within the context of EU process will provide great contributions to fulfill the national sovereignty goal by becoming contemporary with its all institutions and systems

There are three stages in Turkey-EU relations. In the period before the date of negotiation primary subject of argument was whether the basic member criteria were implemented or not. During the negotiation period compliance with legal regulations and auditing are brought in the foreground. With full membership a new era will start where Turkey’s both active and passive with respect to sovereignty relationship, so auditing and participation balance is eventually established. There is an interesting dilemma related to these three stages. Since Turkey’s expected to be audited in terms of Copenhagen Criteria until the determination of negotiation date and compliance with the legal regulations, therefore auditing will be performed in the negotiation process, Turkey has the feeling that its field of independence is restricted and feels anxious. The discussions in today’s agenda generally reflect this anxiety. Europeans already have concerns about sovereignty relationship which will be required in the third stage. Full membership of Turkey will result in shocking of many sovereignty paradigms within EU structure. In dynamically shaped Europe, Turkey having one fourth of total population and being one of the three most populated countries, will have increasing ability and power for transformation of European dynamics. Although Turkey accepts certain limitations on national sovereignty and transfer of power, its sovereignty field and influence will increase drastically. Europeans are concerned about that.

EU’s development is the most complicated process which goes beyond economical union through integration attempts. European countries have passed from 1920’s authoritarian and autarchic state model to the state model constructed on pluralist and participatory democracy, individual rights and freedoms, market economy, free foreign trade basis. EU process makes great contributions on spreading of freedom and democracy by improving political cooperation in the frame of common values and interests; increasing of stability and security by executing joint works on wealth, environment, disarmament and terrorism; increasing of states’ wealth by providing economical integration and accelerating economical reform processes. For these reasons, Europe has obtained a peaceful, secure and wealthy environment for a long time not ever seen in its history.

These values composing EU also compose the basis of understanding of the modern society. Turkey, a part of Europe for ages, being able to participate in today’s most comprehensive and advanced economical and political union means that Turkey achieves to realize a significant stage on the way to modernization initiated by Atatürk. This overlaps with the goal of Turkish foreign policy in Atatürk’s period. EU membership has a vision beyond recovering our financial policy, finding solutions to the problems caused by the structural disorder of the economy and trying to control the risks. With its population over 70 million, its thousands of young people joining to the army of unemployed everyday and ideals to take its place among the developed countries, Turkey needs to catch a growing line which is fast, steady and sustainable. This new vision presents us the transformation to be implemented bravely. When Turkey provides its own people the basic human rights and freedoms, improves its political culture and strengthens its economy at the level of developed countries in EU process, it will naturally become closer to the goal foreseen by Atatürk and take its deserved place in modern world and increase the public peace, security and wealth.

That Turkey’s taking place in EU is top priority does not mean the rejection of benefit from the expansions of Turkic Republics and Islamic countries. In accordance with proactive and multi dimensional foreign policy principles in Atatürk’s period, the political, economical, cultural and military relations with Turkic Republics and Islamic countries should be developed and a suitable platform is to be prepared to apply the strategy of constituting of union in the mid and long run. Thanks to asymmetrical effects, the efforts for improvement of the relations with Turkic Republics and Islamic countries will provide an extra power to Turkey in EU process. Turkey should use this power originated in its historical background, effectively and improve the feature of being model for these two expansions. We must not forget that the real consequences of these attempts will be obtained in the process of Turkey’s rising above contemporary civilizations.

Some of the problems faced in Turkey-EU relations originated from procedure applied for the process. Turkey’s not fulfilling the required reforms completely on time causes the exertion of pressure. Atatürk prevented the development of these pressures by his revolutionist character and proactive and quick actions. Turkey’s failure to make the necessary anticipation in the light of realist and rationalist evaluations in EU process and its failure to develop scientific strategies and plans prevented proactive foreign policy applications. This caused to lose the initiative in the foreign politics and Turkey’s opponents gained power. EU decision making mechanism are sensitive to attempts by Turkey’s opponent states. Therefore upon these states’ attempts Aegean, Cyprus, so-called genocide and problems in the southeastern region are brought to Turkey as obstacles contrary to the principle of equality. Turkey’s rapid implementation of Copenhagen and Maastricht criteria requirements will minimize the negative effects of these attempts.

Some other difficulties encountered in EU process originate from the differences in the conditions required for Constitution of Union Strategy. The differences existing in cultural, political and economical values make the rapid development of relations difficult. In this context, EU states experienced more difficulties than Turkey. Cultural differences especially religion and belief differences prevent the relations to run its normal course. From this point of view, Europe adapted the secular understanding against the sects of Christianity but lacked the tolerance for different religions and cultures. It is stated by the experts that there is ongoing evolution of tolerance for different religions and cultures in Europe and Turkey’s joining EU will contribute this improvement. At this stage Turkey is required to stress consistency and reliability in the foreign policy principles and mutual dialog.

Owing to the constitutional and legal changes in recent years and the newly passing laws, Turkey is about to catch EU level in political values. However adoption of these and full implementation require time. On the other side in case of Turkey joining EU the political power it will have on EU organs concern Europe. In case of joining, Turkey will be one of the biggest political powers of the union. Therefore Turkey must be dedicated follower of the principle of “peace at home peace in the world” and the principle of consistency and reliability.

Differences in economical values are the most important factors shaping the Turkey-EU relations. Turkey has an open-door economical policy with active market economy. However Turkey’s socio-economical data as well as political-economical date differ from EU average values. When Turkey is compared with EU states, Turkey has the second highest population. However it has the lowest gross national product (GNP). This situation could cause worker flow and migration to EU countries. Therefore migration possibility is one of the most important issues having negative effect on Turkey-EU relations. Moreover Turkey has the worst data in literacy rate, internet usage rate, and number of female deputies in the parliament. Differences in cultural, political and economical conditions, each of which could be very important problems, make the situation worse when accumulated. As we consider the strong dependence of foreign policy on state’s domestic organization and power, it is very important for Turkey to acquire internal political, economical and social stability and develop rapidly.

EU is in expansion process both in size and in depth. Lately 12 new states became members of EU. EU has difficulty in accepting these countries. Additionally, EU prepared a draft constitution for in-depth expansion and faced problems in approval of this constitution. In this case EU’s priority is not membership of a country as big as Turkey but adoption of the new member states and solving the constitutional problem. This priority has a negative effect on Turkey-EU relations. For this reason some politicians of EU states make negative statements about Turkey’s membership. Recently in spite of the negative events with EU, Turkey has to consider the work to be conducted in negotiation period as an attempt in accordance with Atatürk’s principles of modernization, and increasing public peace, security and wealth and should fulfill even one-sided. Because similar negative events have also occurred in the past, yet in time the conjecture turned into positive. In this period by avoiding reactionary decisions and making the necessary preparations in accordance with rational and proactive foreign policy principles, that time would not be wasted. When the relations change to positive, the negotiation topics would be fulfilled rapidly.

The most significant issue to affect the EU-Turkey relations will be Greece’s and the South Cyprus Rum Government’s shaping the studies of EU organs against Turkey. They will make attempts to impose especially the issues of Aegean and Cyprus are perceived as the problems in EU-Turkey relations. Turkey should produce the foreign policy strategies in accordance with the principles of realism, rationalism and equality and also paying attention the principle of flexibility. Because of such a foreign policy strategy, Turkey should divide the process into phases and make progress in the relations without breaking off the relations and by gaining time to step not turning back.

In order to prevent the attempts by Greece, South Cyprus Rum Government and the lobbies against Turkey in EU organs, the Turkish government and the opposition party should act together and pay attention to the mutual dialog and direct communication which are from the foreign policy principles and explain the facts to the prominent groups and persons in EU organs. Taking into consideration that Turkey’s membership will be put to public voting by certain EU member states, lobby activities for the EU states’ public opinions should be performed and a positive public opinion on Turkey must be created. In this contexts, leading persons of every division of Turkish society (businessmen, worker and employee foundations and representatives of non-governmental organizations) should visit their colleagues in European states and explain the facts and Turkey’s views, and they should aim to develop a modern Turkey image in these states’ public opinions. For this reason Turks having the ability of representation and located in Europe, should be organized and perform lobby activities in favor of Turkey.

For political elites as well as the public opinion of EU states, profits of Turkey’s geo-political power as a member of EU should be described. It should be stressed that with the joining of Turkey, EU would take a significant step on the way to becoming a super-power, have more part in shaping the new world order of the globalizing world’s competition environment, and therefore it should contribute to the sustainability of Europe’s security, affluence and wealth.

In EU process Turkey recently experienced a rapid political, economical and socio-cultural transformation. This transformation has disturbed some segments of the society. Also foreign and domestic negative propaganda about EU, increased the anxiety in Turkish public. For this reason an EU enlightenment strategy for Turkish public should be prepared and necessary plans of this strategy should be implemented. Wins of Turkey and Turkish nations by EU membership should be explained to Turkish public in detail.

As a conclusion, in the light of Atatürk’s period Turkish foreign policy goals and principles, considering today’s foreign policy environment as well as Turkey’s national power, history and cultural paradigm, geopolitical location, common ground for application of constitution of union strategy, international conjecture and time, it can be seen that EU expansion has top priority among Turkey’s foreign policy goals. EU process is an important tool to realize Atatürk’s period Turkish foreign policy goals. However it is not true to say this is the only option for Turkey. Because such an idea may cause Turkey to compromise more than necessary in EU process. Therefore Turkey should also consider different foreign politics expansions other than EU. These expansions will provide an extra power to Turkey in EU membership process and contribute to the coherent improvement of the relations based on principle of equality. Furthermore Turkey will have developed measures for the case of not becoming a EU member and minimize the effects of a negative result.

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