These remarks were delivered at the First Annual Conference of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies.
Thank you Gonul, good morning. I am very happy to be here to speak at an Institute whose president and director of Turkish Studies are both women – so women rule the Middle East here, that’s a really good sign.
Let me just begin by outlining a few points about Turkish foreign policy, and I’ll touch upon a few points that Chairman Çelik referred to. One problem that we see in regards to the understanding of Turkish foreign policy these days is the distinction or tension between what I call “process analysis” versus “picture analysis.” Most of the time, what people do is to take a picture of an incident, of a moment, or of an event and to freeze that picture. Then, on the basis of that picture, they extrapolate something much larger which in our view does not really logically follow. Rather, what we want to do is to give you a “process analysis:” that is, to look at the series of events that have led up to, for example, the no vote at the UN security council, our engagement with Syria, or our very heavy involvement inside of Iraq and Lebanon. If you look at this whole process, the background, the larger picture – a completely different understanding emerges from there.
I will come back to this issue of whether Turkey is turning away from the West in its engagements in these areas in that context. As the previous speaker mentioned, Turkish foreign policy has been displaying a greater dynamism and has been the subject of various debates and discussions in the West, in Turkey, and in the Arab world. There are reasons for that, obviously. Turkey is now, for the first time, acting – with a psychology, with an understanding, with a confidence that reflects the realities of the post-Cold War era. There are still people and countries that live in the world of Cold War era dynamics and balances, but Turkey is now moving very fast into the 21st century.
Secondly, Turkey is diversifying its foreign policy. That is, Turkey is moving in multiple directions as dictated by its own geography and history. The title of this conference is the “The New Geopolitics and Turkey.” You have to add in to geopolitics, history. These two elements: where Turkey is, and what kind of historical background it comes from, determine Turkey’s self-perceptions, Turkey’s understandings of its place in the world, and of course in our part of the world. Now, during the Cold War it was very easy to have a unidirectional or a one-dimensional foreign policy, where you had to make choices between very clear categories – East and West, North and South, this and that. But now we live a world in which choices have become much more sophisticated and complicated. This is reflected, obviously, in other parts of the world, not only in Turkey. Now when Turkey engages in these different foreign policy areas, what we are doing is diversifying these potentials.
Third, Turkey is acting in its own national interests – our own economic interests, security interests, and regional interests. To give you one example – Turkey’s security concerns regarding the PKK have shaped its foreign policy vis-à-vis Syria, Iraq, Iran, and other countries in the world, and that has strengthened in many ways our partnership, for example, with the US and with Europe. That threat still remains there, and at least in the past it has forced Turkey to develop better relations. As a result of that understanding, Turkey has mended its relations with Syria, with Iran, and with Iraq, in a way that surprised many people over the last decade or so. Ten years ago we came to the brink of war with Syria, but now we have very different type of relationship with them. As Chairman Çelik mentioned, when we started this engagement policy with Syria, a lot of people in this town criticized Turkey for doing what it was doing at that time. But now, as it turns out, a lot of people appreciate that engagement. As a result of that, now the Obama Administrator has come to the point of appointing an ambassador to Syria. Now, has that been in the interest of all parties involved? In our view, yes. The same thing, we are hoping, will play out in the case of Iran, and I’ll come back to that in just a few moments.
Now, in carrying out this diverse, multidimensional, and extremely dynamic foreign policy, there are certain principles which we try to follow, and those principles are based on our long-term strategic partnership with our American and European friends. But they also reflect the realities of the region, of the world in which we live. The “Zero Problems with Neighbors” policy is a reflection of that, as it was formulated by our Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. In our view it is an application of the European “Good Neighborhood” policy in our own region. We don’t see any contradiction in terms of values. We try to apply the same principles.
I made this analogy before at another conference, when our American and European allies make similar attempts and try to improve relations with their own difficult actors, whether between the US and Russia, between the US and China, or Europe and other actors – this is hailed as a major contribution to world peace. To give you an example, when President Bush invited President – I think he was President at that time – Putin to his ranch in Texas for a couple of days, to talk about US-Russian relations, disarmament, the NPT, and etcetera, this was hailed as a major contribution to world peace. Many people said that this is a bold move, an important initiative, and so on. We did the same thing, we believed that this was a good move – to lower tensions between the US and Russia. But, when we tried to do the same thing with Russia, with Iran, with Syria, or with other countries in our part of the world, this is interpreted in a different way. We see it as an extension of that “Good Neighborhood” policy.
Four major principles guide our understanding of our region and of our foreign policy, and I’ll try to be brief about each, but each one is an important pillar of this foreign policy architecture that is emerging in Turkey.
The first pillar is security. We act in the security interests of our country, of our people, and also in the security interest of our region. This is because we believe that we cannot live in a secure environment in our region when the whole region is full of wars, civil war, tensions, fighting, sectarian/ethnic violence, invasion, occupation, and so on and so forth. Now, if you don’t live in a secure environment, you yourself cannot be secure. But there security does not simply mean state security – it also means human security. That is, securing the lives of human beings, and ensuring their well-being. That is a key element in regional stability.
But security by itself is not sufficient – it has to be complemented by another major principle, and that is freedom: that is, the ability of people to choose, to make their own choices for their way of life, for their civil rights, civil liberties, for their political rights, and respecting differences, and doing all this without getting into the business of nation-building or meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. Now we believe that striking a balance between security and freedom is critical for any country. After the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States, the balance between security and freedom in this country was tipped in favor of security to the detriment of many civil liberties. Now, in our part of the world, we have seen many examples of this.
In spite of the security challenges, Turkey has been trying to address, for example, the Kurdish issue through democratic initiatives, to strike a balance between security and freedom. We believe that ultimately we will reach that goal. But if security is sacrificed in the name of freedom, we end up in chaos. And if you sacrifice freedom in the name of security, then we end up in an authoritarian regime. Therefore we are trying hard to apply these principles not only in Turkey, but also in the region and in our engagement with other countries. This is why we consider the Palestinian issue or the Middle East Peace Process a key component of this foreign policy, because there the issue is the same: Israel’s security versus the Palestinian’s right to an independent state, the realization of Palestinian aspirations for freedom. We believe that one doesn’t have to come at the expense of the other. How are we going to strike a balance between the two, this is the key question there. How are we going to implement it while addressing Israel’s security concerns and also the security concerns of the Palestinians along with their aspirations for an independent state that will be viable and sustainable?
The third important principle is prosperity – generating and sharing prosperity. Turkey has been making strides, as you know, in recent years through its economic development. The Turkish GDP has gone through the roof. Turkey is now an almost $750 billion economy, the 17th or according to some new estimations the 16th largest economy in the world, and the 6th largest in Europe. Turkey has become a major economic power in its region. Now those economic interests are also important for our foreign policy because now Turkey is not only generating prosperity and wealth for its own citizens but is also projecting this into the region. In the last four years, I don’t have the exact numbers, but I think Turkey has increased its trade with its neighbors by around 30-35%. Now we believe that this is very much in line with this “Good Neighborhood” or the “Zero Problems with Neighbors” policy. You don’t have a single successful economic model for any country that does not have this kind of economic or trade relationship with its neighbors.
Look at Europe, look at the US, and other examples in Asia – we are not pursuing any new economic pacts or associations, but look at the examples of the European Union in Europe, NAFTA here in America, ASEAN in Southeast Asia – if you look at all these different forms of economic cooperation and partnership, they all reflect this underlying issue of having good relations with your neighbors and conducting trade with them. But, generating power, prosperity, and wealth in and of itself is not the goal – it has to be shared with others. It is an element of justice, it is an important way of ensuring legitimacy, but also sharing the wealth with your neighbors so that they benefit and then you benefit from that. To use a term which the German Philosopher Fred Dallmayr used to describe this relationship, we believe this is a process of “mutual empowerment.” That is, through this policy, Turkey empowers itself but also empowers others for a regional stability. And of course this economic development has to be sustainable, etcetera.
Just one more point on this issue of economic development and how economics plays an important role in Turkish foreign policy: businesspeople and the business community in Turkey have become one of the driving forces of the new Turkish foreign policy. Turkish foreign policy now has many new agents and actors. It is shaped by these new emerging groups of businessmen, educators, scholars, students, aid workers, humanitarian aid organizations, and so on and so forth. Turkey, for example, has become one of the most important donor countries in the last seven or eight years through our aid agency, distributing more than half a billion dollars per year in foreign aid to about 30 countries, from the Balkans to Central Asia to the Middle East, North Africa, and other places. So, Turkey is becoming a major donor country, and this is a role which reflects Turkey’s economic power.
Now, the fourth important principle is a term that requires subtle discussion, because it is a delicate concept. As soon as I utter it, all kinds of other things come up in people’s minds, but let me try: the fourth important question is identity. In addition to security, freedom, and prosperity, there is the question of identity – that is, people’s self-perception. Who are we? The big question of who we are and where we belong, what is our mission in our foreign policy, or if you want to put it as a more philosophical question, what is our mission in this life? But I should not go that deep in a foreign policy conference, that is my philosophy background speaking there. But that question of identity, that “who we are” remains an important question.
When I say this, I point to an important element in international relations in the 21st century. As we have seen, throughout the 20th century and the 21st century, the question of identity has remained a key component for all the nations around the world. Whether this is in the US before or after September 11th, the question of “who are we” has remained a very pertinent question. The question applies to many other nations – in China, in Russia, I mean, the biggest debate in Russia right now is not about nuclear energy, it isn’t about economic power, but rather it is about “who the Russians are,” or what kind of people they will be in the 21st century. In Europe, the debate about Europe, the European Union, is also a debate about European identity. Now the same principle applies to Turkey, as we have been asking this question ourselves as well. The way we answer this reflects the many subtleties of the Turkish experience.
Turkey is at once a country that belongs to the East and to the West. Of all the Muslim countries in the Middle East and Eastern countries, Turkey has the most extensive and longest relationship with the Western world, with Europe. As a result of that, Turkey is a negotiating country for full membership in the EU. This is not an empty ambition for Turkey, we believe that there are structural, historical reasons supporting Turkey’s goal to be a full member in the EU. We believe that those values that we share with Europe help us in the process. Unfortunately, so far, Europeans have been very confused about Turkey, as a reflection of their own problems within Europe concerning enlargement and about what the EU should be like or will be like in the 21st century.
The question of identity remains an important element in Turkish domestic politics, but also plays a role in foreign policy. There, when we engage with our Western friends but also with our Muslim friends, our Muslim neighbors, Western countries and Eastern countries alike, we do not feel that we live with an identity crisis. Turkey has moved beyond the thinking of oppositional identities. That is, we don’t think that our historically Turkish Muslim cultural identity is in any essentialist way contradictory to our attempts to embrace the values of democracy, human rights, rule of law, transparency – the values that have originated from the West but that have become universal values shared by all people. We don’t think that there is a contradiction there. We no longer think in terms of this oppositional identity, East vs. West. Therefore when people raise these criticisms against Turkey, that Turkey is “moving away from the West” by further engagement in the East, with Syria, with Iran, or even further, in Afghanistan and other places, we simply look at this discussion as something that really represents this kind of categorical thinking – the black and white thinking of the Cold War Era. I think that identities have become much more sophisticated in the 21st century.
One important element, and I’ll finish on this point, is that we still need to overcome the problem of Euro-centrism in world politics. That is, the idea of reading history from a Euro-centric point of view. The idea that the march of history somehow began in Europe and still continues in Europe with some little parentheses in between such as “the Islamic world,” or “China,” or “the Ottomans” – but that essentially the march of history is through Europe, emphasizing European culture, civilization, art, politics, media, and education – this needs to be overcome. I am not saying this merely as a rhetorical point. I say this in view of the fact that we live in the 21st century, a century in which participation, sharing, and transparency are the key defining elements of legitimacy for any power.
If you monopolize power and do not share it with others, you will have a very hard time legitimizing or having any kind of legitimacy or justification for that power. For that to happen, I personally believe that the question of Euro-centrism must be overcome in the widest sense of the word. This is because if you look at this current picture, there is very little place for the non-Western people of the world. Where are the Chinese in the textbooks of world civilization or world history, where are the Indians? Where are the South Africans, where are the Latin Americans? Now they are becoming the big players of the world, but we don’t recognize that yet, and some people still have difficulty reconciling with the fact that other nations of the world have equal rights and deserve equal respect from us. This is what we try to do in our foreign policy in our part of the world.
Now, let me just turn to another four important instruments that we use to implement our foreign policy, and I’ll end with the two issues that chairman Çelik mentioned. I hope that this background will help you understand the actions that we took and the policies that we are pursuing on these two issues.
Particularly in the Middle East, we follow four main principles or instruments to implement our policy goals, the objectives that I outlined here. The first is engaging all political actors in the region. Again, this is reflected with our engagement with Syria, with Hamas in Palestine, with Iran, with various groups inside Lebanon, with various groups inside Iraq, in Afghanistan, and other places. Of course, we do this to the extent of our ability. We never claim that we have the magic formula, that we are the supermen of the world and that we’ll solve all the problems – no. But we try to use our strategic powers, our strategic thinking to the furthest extent possible. Engaging all political actors, we believe, is in line with the general foreign policy perspective that President Obama has also outlined. That is, engagement, multilateralism, and diplomacy. We’ve started doing this even before these principles were “re-enacted” as the main guiding principles of American foreign policy.
Secondly, we respect the results of democratic elections. We don’t get into the issue of nation-building or meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. We try to create an environment or a context, whether political, economic, or social, in which these values of democracy, rule of law, transparency, and human rights will gain further significance and will become realities rather than just rhetoric. There are ways of doing this, but we have seen the approaches that have failed in the past, so we obviously have to try some new methods to make this happen.
The third important instrument that we use is to cooperate with regional and global actors. In all of the engagements that Chairman Çelik mentioned, and to which I added Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan, we work very closely with our regional and other allies: that is, with Europe and with the US. I’ll come back to this because this is important not only to serve as justification for our actions, but also to carry them out with efficiency. There seems to be a lot of confusion about how to implement this principle.
Finally our fourth instrument is to increase social and economic cooperation between the countries in the region, meaning to increase people-to-people communication and get them out of the sense of isolation that they’ve been locked into for so many years – I’m particularly speaking about the Middle East. We aim for increasing cultural economic cooperation and educational cooperation, so that there will be further interaction between the countries that will benefit us and will benefit them as well.
Now I know I am running out of time, because for each of these principles I can spend another half-hour, and I don’t want to keep you here for the rest of the day – but let me just relate these to the two issues, the two recent issues that have been our agenda for the last two, three weeks.
First, the Iran vote – the Iran no vote, which seems to have created such disappointment and displeasure – these are the words that we have been hearing since we came to Washington, and I use them deliberately here. We’ve been engaged with the Iran file for almost two years now, actively – of course we’ve been following this very closely for a number of years, but our active direct involvement has been taking place for almost two years now – and throughout that process we have been in close consultation with our American and European friends and of course with the Iranians at those times when communications simply broke down between the two sides. What we did with the Tehran Declaration of May 17th, was, we believe, in perfect agreement with the discussions which we have had with our European and American colleagues. That is, the three conditions that have been met in the Tehran Declaration of May 17th were put together through those consultations.
The three conditions were: first, to get 1200 kilograms of low-enriched Uranium out of Iran. Second, to conduct this exchange in another country, outside of Iran. And third, that the exchange will be in one installment, not in pieces. Those three conditions are met in the Tehran Declaration, and they are the most important confidence building measure so far. For the last six or seven years, with all due respect to our European and American friends, they have not been able to convince the Iran to come up with even a position paper on the nuclear issue, not to mention getting them to sign a document. For the first time, we have, with the Brazilians, been able to get them to sign a document, to commit themselves to something that is concrete and that is still on the table. The reason why, first of all, I have to emphasize the significance of this – we put a lot of time, energy, and our own credibility on the line for this, and we believe that we achieved something which, in our understanding, was very much what our European and American friends wanted out of these negotiations.
Now, after the Tehran declaration, only a few hours after the Tehran agreement – it was dismissed. And now you can understand the frustration that this has created for us. That is, after working so hard to get this agreement, it was dismissed within hours. It is alright, you know, we won’t pay much attention to that – we’ll keep working on this issue. But even after that, we were told that we should continue diplomatic engagement with Iran. That’s alright, we understand that – our negotiations should continue, maybe there should be dual track talks – we will work on it. And we continued to.
On June 9th, in the UN vote, the reason that Turkey voted no was for two reasons: the first was to avoid contradicting ourselves – we have already achieved something that was concrete, workable, and still on the table. In order not to contradict ourselves, we had to vote no. But more importantly, in order to keep the Iranians at the negotiating table, we voted no. Now, put yourselves in our position. We are still told after all this, by our American and European friends, to talk to the Iranians, to keep talking to the Iranians. If we voted yes on the sanctions and broke all trust between Turkey and Iran, and then tried to talk to them again … it would not be successful.
So, we acted in good faith, in thinking that in fact this is within the larger framework of the nuclear issue that we’ve been discussing with our friends. Still after this we are encouraged to pursue negotiations and we are happy for that – not that it makes a point of criticism – we are encouraged to continue to talk to the Iranians, and we’ve been trying very hard to keep the Iranians at the negotiating table and to keep their commitment to the Tehran Declaration. To their credit, so far they have said nothing to the contrary.
But of course it takes a lot of time, and a lot of credibility, to do that. If you look at this larger picture, what I call the process analysis, rather than picture analysis or moment analysis, I think it is clear that this reflects our foreign policy goals and also the principle points of agreement between us and our American allies. Therefore, to extrapolate from this something much larger, thinking that Turkey voted “for Iran, against us” reminds me of something that we all want to forget – that is the “us versus them” kind of language, which I hope doesn’t come back. We are trying to engage all these different actors, and difficult actors in the region, to create regional peace and stability.
Regarding the flotilla incident, and I’ll end with this because Gonul’s instructions were that I take two questions. Regarding the flotilla incident: Chairman Çelik already outlined our position there, but I think it is extremely important for us to understand the degree to which this raid and the killing of nine Turkish citizens has created a trauma, a deep wound in Turkish society, and this is not well-appreciated in some parts of the world, perhaps. This is one of the most tragic events in our recent history, when we lost nine people in international waters, killed from a close distance – just to give you one example, a nineteen-year-old US Citizen of Turkish descent, a high school senior, Furkan Dogan, had four bullets in his head and one in his chest. The ballistics report concluded that in fact he was killed from a distance of one meter – this is not an act of self-defense. This needs to be understood very carefully and clearly, and that’s why we insist on an international commission to investigate what happened on that flotilla in the early hours of May 31st. We have no problem being transparent about the events that led up to the flotilla itself sailing, we will fully commit to the international investigation team, as to the permissions, the people on board, etc. – all these things – but a one-sided commission will not suffice, it will not have any credibility with us, and we hope that our Israeli friends understand this and respond in a way that will pave the way to a restoration of Turkish-Israeli relations.
If we had any kind of anti-Israeli sentiment on our side, we wouldn’t have done many of the things that we have done over the last five or six years – it was Syrian-Israeli talks I referred to, but aside from that, those who know the details know that there were many other things happening – we wouldn’t have done any of those.
Unfortunately this flotilla incident comes to us almost like a déjà vu. That is, we saw the same thing in the Gaza war, with Prime Minister Olmert leaving Ankara and ordering the attack on Gaza only four days after he sat with the Prime Minister in Ankara, spending six hours in the Prime Minister’s house trying to iron out the final details of the talks and of the agreement. And now this thing, after we have spoken to Israeli authorities over and over again and were assured that in fact they will not use excessive violence, that they have means of towing such ships and that they know how to deal with situations like this, we end up with the situation like the one that happened – it is almost a déjà vu, but we are looking forward to the future, and hopefully there will be some common sense coming from the Israeli side to repair this relationship.
In conclusion, let me thank you again for listening, and thank the Middle East Institute and especially Gonul Tol for giving me the chance to speak here. We agreed we will take two questions, and then we will have a break.
Q & A Session:
Is it Turkey’s position that the flotilla should have been allowed to approach the beach unimpeded?
The Turkish government was not involved officially or unofficially with this flotilla. We did not support them in any official way – of course there are many people on that ship, from 32 different countries, it was a coalition of international aid workers and peace activists. When they requested permission from the Turkish authorities they were thoroughly searched – their identities as well as what was on that ship. 10,000 tons of aid was searched through, and according to our records they found nothing illegal, nothing irregular, no weapons, nothing.
Please answer my question sir – is it Turkey’s position that the flotilla should have allowed?
It was not in our capacity to decide on that – it is a civilian initiative. The government just had to act within the confines of the law, and the law does not give us the right to prevent a ship like that from sailing. We just simply don’t have that authority.
I asked you if the flotilla should have been allowed…
It’s a hypothetical question – I’m giving you the official answer. It’s a hypothetical question in that you’re asking if the government supported the sending of the flotilla…and I’m telling you we were not involved in that, it is a different question.
There have been some recent rumors that the Prime Minister of Turkey has invited Hassan Nasrallah to Ankara for a meeting – can you comment on that, and what that would mean in terms of Turkish foreign policy? In terms of negotiating with all actors?
That is a piece of news that is not confirmed by us, I don’t know where…that was in the Turkish media also, I don’t know where they got that from, but that’s not on our agenda, that’s not a confirmed report. We don’t have such an invitation. But in terms of engaging all the different actors, especially given the fragile nature of the current government in Lebanon, I think you will appreciate that kind of an engagement, even though, as I said, we are not involved at this particular point with that group. But it is extremely important – in fact one of the things people forget, at the UN vote, Lebanon voted abstention, and there is a reason for that.
About this Transcript:
Assertions and opinions in this Transcript are solely those of the above-mentioned author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.
Dr. İbrahim Kalın is Chief Advisor to the Turkish Prime Minister.