Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 18:09 pm (KSA) 15:09 pm (GMT)

Is Turkey parting ways with Europe?

Şaban Çaliş

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's reaction to Israeli President Shimon Peres' remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos is one of the visible reflections of the foreign policy that Turkey has been pursuing with respect to the Gaza crisis. From this perspective, the prime minister's attitude in Davos is compatible with Turkey's official policies as well as its current discourse.

Of course, Peres is responsible for the tension at the meeting; he was pretty harsh in his remarks. At the beginning of the meeting, the prime minister tried to present the humane dimension of the problem by relying on a soft and constructive discourse; however, Peres, in response, relied on a fairly inappropriate rhetoric by which he tried to present all Palestinians as accomplices of Hamas' faults and to accuse the prime minister of not having enough information and knowledge about what was actually happening in the region. Such rhetoric was unacceptable to the prime minister.

Such discourse required a suitable response. Unlike those who criticized the prime minister, his timing, his choice of words, discourse, gestures and his decisions within this short period of time are actually part of an excellent diplomatic move and set of actions that could be taught as a case study. And I have nothing to say to those who describe diplomacy as the international relations version of old Byzantine tricks and games and as the best way of deception, lies and distortion; their understanding of diplomacy overlaps with Peres' discourse and attitude at Davos. They may view diplomacy as a tool of secret discussions and deliberations behind the stage. The literature they rely on and their realist points of view may tell this story. However, this approach has become illegitimate since the early 20th century; many criticisms have been leveled against this approach because of its moral flaws and scientific inadequacy.

In short, when we talk about diplomacy, properly defined as an art and method to implement foreign policy and conduct international relations, we actually talk about reciprocity, transparency, accuracy, sincerity, consistency and even accountability. From this perspective, we have to admit that the prime minister's attitude was consistent with recent Turkish foreign policy and basic rules and premises of diplomacy. Turkey's recent foreign policy can be summarized as eagerness to achieve peace and stability in the near abroad, to maintain regional stability and to enhance welfare and peace in the region. Turkey is trying to implement policies suggesting that its own peace and stability depend on regional stability. Turkey is eager to become a reliable country that generates security.

Turkey follows a policy of zero problems with its neighbors. It tries to implement a rhythmic and proactive -- but not aggressive -- diplomacy in its relations. It is aware that it has to be the subject rather than the object of the region and the problems. Turkey wants to maintain ties with the parties to the problems and serve as a mediator to resolve the problems via diplomatic means. In recent times, Turkey has shown its eagerness to make contributions to the resolution of regional problems and has taken active part in the recent developments and initiatives to address hot issues in areas of crisis. It has proved that it is able to play such roles by developing ties with Palestine, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Georgia and Armenia.

Turkey's initiatives and moves in addressing the recent problems were based on the premises of new diplomacy and candid templates built upon reciprocity, transparency and openness.

At this point, it should be recalled that Turkey's current goals and policies in its international relations and regional developments are misperceived and misunderstood by certain circles.

These misperceptions and misunderstandings may be classified into two major groups: First, they argue that Turkey's connection with the West has been seriously weakened. Second, it is assumed that Turkey is eager to become a regional actor. Starting with the second, I would like to emphasize that those who want to see Turkey as a regional power must be mistaken because they do not appreciate Turkey's potential. Of course, Turkey should be interested in regional affairs and developments, but this does not necessarily mean that Turkey does not have the potential to become a global power. The role Turkey would play as a global actor actually depends on its policies as a global player. This will become possible if Turkey enhances its relations with other global actors on multiple levels including trade and policy. In addition, it also has to rely on a foreign policy discourse that pays attention to global values and moral premises. A policy and diplomatic language sensitive to global problems and universal values and standards will facilitate Turkey's role as a global actor. Defending everyone's rights and freedoms and proving sincerity in such rhetoric will enhance Turkey's security and also contribute to its goals of becoming a global actor.

This will serve as an element that will enhance Turkey's relations with the US and the EU as well as other European and Western actors. Turkey's ties and relations with Israel, part of its Western orientation, should be viewed and discussed within this context. Turkey has been welcomed in the West at times when it was influential in the East, and it has become influential in the West as long as it has been welcomed in the West. The prime minister's attitude in Davos as well as Turkey's foreign policy vis-à-vis the recent Gaza crisis refers to Turkey's growing role in world politics. Above all, the prime minister's candid and open-hearted attitude and discourse will reinforce Turkey's image as a country that can be trusted by all parties. This is actually what is desired and expected from diplomacy. The harshest diplomatic moves are more humane than the softest wars. Surely the prime minister's attitude was against

Peres' speech and style. Therefore, it was aimed at the rulers of Israel. This attitude will push Israel to become more eager to achieve peace. But it will also send a message to Hamas calling for a more lenient approach vis-à-vis the problem; this shows that Turkey's policy and attitude will actually contribute to the achievement of a viable solution. Besides, the parties do not have any other option than Turkey for a lasting peace. Therefore, it will be fair to argue that the recent policy will enhance Turkey's ties with the US, the EU and the West. The prime minister's discourse and attitude will be welcomed by EU leaders as well as newly elected US President Barack Obama.

There is one last point that needs to be recalled: What the West wants to see in its partners is a strong state and government relying on a legitimate basis and having a high level of representation. This is what Turkey has been pursuing in its foreign policy in recent times.


* Published in Turkey's TODAY'S ZAMAN on Feb. 2.

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