Turkey and the Middle East: The Case for a Responsible Foreign Policy

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Great powers and rising regional powers are assumed to pursue responsible foreign policies as their penchant for leadership and preeminence require them to put order, stability and cooperation in their regions and across the globe at the center of their external engagements. Such powers are the most suitable ones to provide public goods, such as security, stability and a particular environment conducive for economic development. Great powers and rising regional powers cannot turn a blind eye to the developments abroad for the simple reason that the continuation of their internal stability and economic development at home as well as their efforts to secure legitimacy in the eyes of others require them to get actively involved in their near abroad. They are the ones to which others would turn in case there emerges regional turmoil and festering chaos. Their material power capabilities and the ideational commitment to leadership roles put them well ahead of others in regional hierarchies.


That said, it would make great sense to watch Turkish rulers increase their efforts to help find out solutions to the existing security problems in the Middle East. Turkey’s internal stability and ongoing economic development put a great burden on the shoulders of Turkish decision makers to work more vigilantly and laboriously to help put out the ongoing fires in their neighborhood to the south. This point has in fact been well captured by the ruling Justice and Development Party government since the time they first came to power in late 2002. The frequently mentioned ‘zero problems with neighbors policy’ and the idea of Turkey acting as a ‘central country’ attest to the internalization of the responsible foreign policy actor identity by Turkish decision makers.


It was not only the realpolitik requirements that appear to have pushed Turkish rulers to embrace a liberal-integrationist foreign policy mentality in the Middle East. Turkish rulers also believed that Turkey’s decades-long modernization process in line with liberal, democratic and secular values give Turkey a ‘responsibility’ to help bring into existence a particular environment in their region where rulers take their legitimacy from the consent of their people and representative secular democracy co-exists with free-market oriented economies and traditional Islamic values. Stated somewhat differently, the ideational-normative component of Turkey’s Middle Eastern policies in the pre-Arab Spring era reflected the western-European dimension of Turkey’s modernization process and was in line with Turkey’s efforts to help midwife a European/Kantian security environment in a typically non-European/Hobbesian Middle East.


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