Thursday, March 31, 2011

Eastern Dreams

Joshua Walker has a good piece up on the Huffington Post site that looks at the roots and trajectory of Turkey's current foreign policy and the role of historical memory in shaping that policy. From his piece:
Presenting Turkey as a "soft power"in the Middle East was made possible by Turkey's broader democratization since the end of the Cold War and in particular since September 11, 2001. There seems to be a relationship between greater democratization and Eastern oriented foreign policy initiatives throughout Turkish political history. The three longest serving prime ministers (Adnan Menderes, Türgüt Özal, and Recep Erdoğan) have all implemented at least one Eastern oriented initiative (Baghdad Pact 1955, Central Asian Initiative 1991, and "Strategic Depth" 2004) along with their domestic democratization efforts. These same prime ministers commanded the largest percentage of the parliament and were among the most responsive to public opinion, which led often to tenuous relationships with Turkey's traditional purveyors of foreign policy, the military. There is something electorally attractive about Eastern initiatives even if they are less institutional or formalized in the same way than Western initiatives have tended to be (NATO 1952, EC Application 1987, and EU candidate status 2004). Within the democratizing Turkey of the last decade civilian leaders cannot as easily ignore public opinion on critical foreign policy questions in the same way as military leaders who previously dominated Turkish foreign policy decision-making.

The role of history and imperial memories has further facilitated the transformation in Turkey's outlook on the Middle East. Turkey's "rediscovery" of the Middle East has been greatly initiated by the AKP's historical memory and ideas about Turkey's "rightful" place as the heir to the Ottoman Empire both in and outside the region. The rise of the AKP has subsequently meant a de-emphasis of the "othering" and "Islamic threat" in Turkey's view of the region. Closer Middle Eastern relations are not seen as being dichotomous or detrimental to Turkey's western orientation, at home or abroad, as they had been seen under military rule in the 1980s. Hence, a more "Islam-friendly" approach that focuses on economic opportunities and shared heritage has come to permeate Turkey's policy towards the region.
The full article can be found here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Libyan Rift

I have a briefing up on the World Politics Review website that looks further at the difficulties Turkey has faced in formulating its Libya policy, how that has affected relations with some of its allies and what lessons that might provide in other cases of regional instability. From the briefing:
Ankara has backed off from its initial opposition to NATO being involved in the Libya crisis and is now even expressing its willingness to take a leading role in the military operation there. But Turkey's initial position and its hard bargaining within NATO before finally agreeing to let the alliance take over military operations in Libya could reinforce a gathering impression that Ankara is acting as a spoiler and outlier within the organization. That impression first surfaced following Turkey's initial opposition to the appointment of Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO's new secretary-general in 2009, and it was further established by the tough conditions Ankara initially set for joining the alliance's missile defense program. If not addressed, it could risk hardening into a dangerous split between Turkey and NATO.

Meanwhile, relations between Turkey and France, which were already strained before the Libyan crisis because of differences over Ankara's European Union membership bid, appear to be heading towards an even rougher patch. Turkey was noticeably among the countries not invited to the Paris meeting that led to the start of military action against Libya, with French officials suggesting that Ankara's stated opposition to an intervention there disqualified it from attending. Turkish leaders, in response, have obliquely accused Paris of being motivated by oil concerns and seem to have made a priority of reducing the French leadership role in the Libyan operation.

The fact that an ambitious middle power like France spearheaded the action in Libya highlights the ways in which the crisis represents a missed opportunity for Turkey to have assumed the kind of regional leadership role it aspires to play. While Erdogan, Davutoglu and other Turkish leaders have long talked about their desire to create a proactive Middle East foreign policy that respects regional sensitivities, Ankara's undefined and overly accommodating approach to the Libyan crisis, at least in the early stages, left the door open for other actors to step in and assert their vision for how the problem should be resolved.

Turkey, though, could look at Libya as a dress rehearsal. With unrest continuing in Yemen and especially in neighboring Syria -- two countries where Ankara has recently been investing heavily in both political and economic terms -- Turkey is likely to be faced with some of the same, if not more-complicated, policy problems it faced in Libya. How Ankara chooses to confront those challenges could very well be an indicator of the lessons it has drawn from the Libyan crisis.
You can find the full piece here, and a look at Turkey's Libya policy by the Economist's Amberin Zaman here.

For Ankara, of course, the biggest worry right now is probably what's taking place in next-door Syria. Writing in Today's Zaman, Omer Taspinar suggests that events there could provide another test for Turkey and its efforts to become a regional leaders. From his piece:
Ankara has had a love affair with Damascus under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government over the last eight years. The Syrian-Turkish bilateral relationship is a remarkable story of a journey from enmity to best friendship. This puts a lot responsibility and pressure on Turkey’s shoulders. The events in Syria will provide a crucial litmus test for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in terms of testing his commitment to democratization in the region.

Turkey is uniquely placed to apply some friendly advice and pressure on Syria for constitutional reforms. Over the weekend Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu delivered a lecture in which he emphasized the importance of striking the right balance in the Middle East between freedom and democracy. Damascus may be in no mood to listen, but this is the right time for Turkey to use its leverage with Syria to send a clear message that change is unavoidable. Syria’s balance between freedom and security will need to change with rapid political, social and economic reforms. The Assad regime needs to act now.
More here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Banned in Turkey - Again!

[UPDATE -- Despite reports that the ban on access to Blogger has been lifted, the block appears to still be in effect (as of March 31, 2011).]

[UPDATE II -- According to this article in Milliyet, the block is still on because the court order to restore service refers to something called "Blogsport," not "Blogspot." Sad, but true.]

This blog, along with every other one hosted on Google's Blogger service, is currently not accessible in Turkey by court order. As was the case the previous time this happened, it appears that some blogs on Blogger are showing clips of Turkish football/soccer matches that cable provider Digiturk has exclusive rights to, prompting the provider to ask the court to take Blogger down. Turkey's problematic (to put it mildly) internet laws allow for sites to be taken down wholesale, rather than simply blocking access to the offending pages. This was the case with YouTube, which was banned in Turkey for years because Google refused to remove a few videos that mocked Ataturk.

Take a look at this previous post for more information about Turkey's misguided internet laws, which not only allow the courts but also a government agency to block access to sites. Meanwhile, Today's Zaman's Andrew Finkel takes a look at the Blogger ban and the wider issue of freedom of expression in Turkey in a column that leaves not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Turkish officials have indicated that new internet-related legislation which should avoid bans like this is coming down the pike, but there is some concern among activists that it could in fact make things worse. According to Yaman Akdeniz, a professor of law at Istanbul's Bilgi University and one of the leading Turkish authorities on internet issues, the new legislation will create four types of centrally-administered filtered profiles that every Turkish internet subscriber will have to sign up for (the default one being a "standard" profile which will also be filtered, although it's not yet clear what will be filtered out). "What they are building is NOT a child protection mechanism but Turkey's Internet Censorship Infrastructure. You can quote me on that," Akdeniz, who has taken a look at the proposed legislation, wrote me in a recent email.

For now, if were in Turkey and tried to find this blog (and are too honest to use proxies), this is what you would reach:

Bu siteye erişim mahkeme kararıyla engellenmiştir.

(Translation: "This site has been disabled by court order.")

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Libyan Roulette

I have a piece up on the Eurasianet website looking at the dilemma Turkey is facing in formulating its approach to the crisis in Libya, which has found Ankara, as one analyst put it, “torn between a kind of idealistic narrative of Turkish foreign policy and a more mercantilist realpolitik

From the piece:
Only a few weeks ago, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was in the vanguard of those calling for political change in Egypt. These days, Erdogan’s government in Ankara is taking a very different approach toward the uprising in Libya.

Turkey is opposing the imposition of sanctions against the regime of strongman Muammar Qaddafi, as well as resisting any NATO-led military intervention in the country. Erdogan also pointedly refused suggestions that he return a “human rights” prize awarded to him in 2009 in Tripoli by a Qaddafi family foundation.

While Erdogan’s position on the Egyptian crisis helped raise Turkey’s profile in the Middle East, experts say Ankara’s stance on Libya – a large part of it dictated by concerns over the fate of large-scale Turkish investments in the North African country – could prove problematic, possibly diminishing some of the country’s newfound regional prestige.

“The ongoing Libyan crisis, with no end in sight, has created a problem for the Turkish government,” says Bulent Aliriza, head of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The contradiction here is that instead of being able to repeat what he said during the Egyptian crisis, Prime Minister Erdogan has clearly taken into account ... commercial interests which require maintaining ties with the embattled [Libyan] regime. That undercuts the role of Turkey as a potential model for countries in the Middle East.”

Ankara’s Libya policy, particularly its opposition to any sort of NATO-led intervention there, could also undermine some of the recent gains Turkey has made in repairing its ties with the United States, says Omer Taspinar, a Turkey expert at Washington’s Brookings Institution.

“I think it’s costing in terms of [U.S. President Barack] Obama’s patience and it’s costing in terms of relations with the Pentagon, which has been a strong supporter of Turkey. It’s being seen as a serious mistake by Turkey,” he said.
Turkey’s economic interests in Libya are extensive, particularly in the construction sector, where the country has secured some $15.5 billion in tenders over the last five years, representing 15 percent of its global contracting business. Trade between the two countries has also been growing steadily, increasing by 60 percent over the last two years.

When Turkey was forced to evacuate the estimated 25,000 of its citizens working in Libya in a massive rescue operation, Foreign Trade Minister Zafer Caglayan assured journalists, as one newspaper put it, “that Turkish contractors have no intention of pulling out from Libya but have simply paused operations for security reasons.”

“We have a huge stake, a lot of interest in that country. The situation for us is different than other countries, so we have to be very careful,” Selim Yenel, a deputy undersecretary at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a recent briefing in Washington. “When Qaddafi is killing his own people, you have to be careful about your own citizens. Nobody knows what is going to happen there, so we have to be more cautious.”
The full piece can be found here. Joshua Walker and Nader Habibi offer another critical look at Turkey's stance on Libya here.