Turkish Syrian Policy after Arab Spring

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TurkishSyrian Policy after Arab Spring



TheTurkish foreign policy is criticized for pushing Turkey to move froman activist also referred to as a zero problem approach to a preciousloneliness approach. This research will find out the changes in theTurkish foreign policy after the Arab spring and the factors that ledto this change. These changes will be analyzed using theConstructivist theory as a framework for research. This research willfocus on how Ahmet Davutoğlu, who is the major player in the Turkishforeign policy, aligns with the constructivist approach and how hehas directed the foreign policy after the Arab spring. There is anewly constructed positioning and some elements, focused on ensuringa more pragmatist realist purpose in the region is realized.

Introductionand Historical Background on Turkish Foreign Policy

Turkeyhas recently faced some challenges in its effort to maintain closerelationships with its ally countries especially countries from theMiddle East and North Africa region. These challenges have arisendespite the fact that Turkey declared a bold policy of zero problemsopen publicly many years ago(Abramowitz,2000). These diplomatic conflicts arose after the Arab Springmovements, and many ambassadors were called back to Turkey. Thediplomatic conflicts further led to many bilateral cooperationagreements being canceled. Initially, Turkey had been greatlybenefiting from the cultural and religious proximity with many of thecountries within this region, and this had led to increased trade andinfluence. The geographical proximity to these regions is a challengesince Turkey is forced to deal with some unstable regionaldevelopments some of them being the civil war in Syria as well as theemergence of the violent ISIS terrorist group in the region.

Inthe period of early 1923 to 1991, Turkey was actively involved in theMiddle East politics and instead kept a low profile and neutralpolicies. Its leaders promoted a realistic, rational foreign policyand this denounced the pan-Islamism and pan-Turkism(Terzi,2010). Pan-Islamism is the unity of all Muslims whereas Pan-Turkismis the unity of all people of Turkic origin. The Turkish foreignpolicy had been determined by the cold war and its relationship withthe United States.

LiteratureReview on the Constructivist Theory

Therehave been major changes to the Turkish Foreign Policy, and variousresearchers have pointed out some of the causes that could lead tothese changes. Some of the causes of the change trends, great events,social and technological innovations among others. Change can be usedto mean a transformation or a replacement of what was there initially(Altunisik&amp Markaz al-Imārāt lil-Dirāsāt wa-al-Buḥūthal-Istirātījīyah, 2011). Foreign policy changes vary greatly,and the magnitude of the shifts could be major. The four maincategories of foreign policy changes are adjustment changes, programchanges, goal changes and international orientation changes.

Adjustmentchanges in the foreign policy were witnessed in Turkey’s engagementwith Northern Iraq and Syria. These engagements were in the early1990s, and they were mainly for security purposes(Beasley,2013). The leaders of Turkey at the time tried to develop economicrelations with the regions using this liberal approach. The programchanges in the foreign policy are represented by the involvement ofTurkey with Northern Iraq, Syria, and Iran and how these made theregion more comprehensive, multi-faceted and deeper. Program changesin the foreign policy motivated the use of diplomatic negotiationsinstead of military strategies while dealing with these countries.The program changes in the foreign policy further ensured that themajor focus was on soft power assets, engagement, economicinterdependence and promoting mediator roles.

Thegoal changes in the foreign policy change were because some of theleaders in the Middle East wanted Turkey to be the regional leader.Because of this, Iraq’s territorial integration continued to besupported, and competition with Iran over the regional influenceincreased(Canan,2009). The goal changes in the foreign policy led to a change in theset of strategies for Turkey with support on the resolution of thePalestinian issue. Turkey’s relationship with the Middle East inthe domestic politics led to its consolidate support from Anatolia.This consolidation emphasized the fact that the foreign policy changewas very important in domestic policies.

Theinternational orientation changes in the foreign policy are shownfrom the fact that Turkey implements more independent andEastern-looking policies. Some of the international orientationchanges that showed that Turkey was moving away from the traditionalwestern orientation to more international orientation are analyzedbelow. They include the improving relations between Turkey and Iran,which led to vetoing the sanctions on Iranian nuclear program(Davutoğlu&amp SAM (Center), 2012). The second international orientation isthe close energy relations that Turkey had with Russia and theordering of missiles from China. The other incident that proved thatTurkey was evolving from a traditional western orientation to aninternational and global orientation is the rapid deterioration ofIsraeli relations after the Gaza War.

Theshifts in the foreign policy in Turkey, which started with theTurkish governments, demonstrate that Turkey has a new position andidealism in the Middle East area. This change and details of it areclearly visible(Taspinar&amp Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2008). A neworientation that resulted from the changes in the foreign policy hasa deeper civilizational discourse, and it is very realist.

Theconstructivist theory is used to analyze the changes that have beenobserved in the Turkish foreign policy and the implications of thesechanges. This theory is used in the analysis of the changesespecially after the Arab spring. This theory is interpretive and isrelated to explaining and understanding of social realities(Dösemeci, 2013). The argument put across by this theory is thatthe perceptions of society socially construct reality, and societyprojects an understanding of certain realities from identities andthese results from appropriate behaviors. This theory furtherpresents the argument that societal structures are continuallyinfluencing each other in an inter-subjective manner.

Theconstructivists are usually interested in the key concepts of norms,rules, and identities. They also focus on how they affect theconceptions and interpretations of the world. The constructivistsnormally view international structure regarding a social structure,and ideational factors such as norms, rules, and law are embedded.The structure therefore influences the identities and interests ofthe agents(Eralp,Tünay, &amp Yeşilada, 1993). This theory sees the world as underconstruction with continuous interactions of agent-structure, whichleads to the reshaping of identities and interests. Theconstructivist theory constrains behaviors in individuals andconstitutes the identities of the actors involved in the society.

Theproponents of this theory also referred to as constructivists focuson the rules and identities and how these affect the interpretationsand conceptions, which the world holds. These individuals believethat the rules and norms are embedded and international structure isa form of social structure. The international structure is thereforea major influence to the norms, identities and interests of agents inthe society (Eralp, Tünay, &amp Yeşilada, 1993). Theconstructivists believe that the world is under construction, whichleads to continuous interactions with agent structures, and thisfinally leads to the shaping of different identities and interests.The constructivist theory constrains behaviors in individuals andconstitutes the identities of the actors involved in the society.

Theconstructivist theory focusses the relationships and interactions ofstates and thus is used in international relations and foreignpolicies. The social interactions and identities of different statesaim at giving insight on the international relations discipline ingeneral. This theory places is belief mainly on the identityprinciple and thus explains international behavior. The process ofsocialization of states helps to show and explain the complex andchanging identities of states.

Theproponents of this theory further focus on individual or groupactions and the way in which they relate with the system structure.It is important to analyze the personality of the individual decisionmakers as they construct foreign policy ideas. This analysis isnecessary since foreign policy is of great concern to states. Thekind of personality analysis performed on these individuals dependson the different views in the world. The realists for instance studyforeign policy at the Singers system level and thus their focus isthe state. In their study of personal traits, the realists focus moreon the national interests pertaining to the states they arerepresenting as opposed to their own personal beliefs (Eralp, Tünay,&amp Yeşilada, 1993).

Theliberals on the other hand focus on the interactions of the differentplayers in international organizations and their control ofinternational regimes. These players include individual persons,state cultures, and supranational institutions within a state. TheTurkish foreign policy is a leader driven policy and was formulatedby and individual known as Ahmet Davutoglu. This research paper willfocus on the ideas and norms presented by Ahmet Davutoglu on a moreindividual and personalized basis.

LiteratureReview on the Implications of the Theory

Theconstructivist theory mainly emphasizes identity, which is thedescription of a country’s national interests. Identity describeshow the national interests of a particular country shapeinternational behavior in general (Freedman &amp Baltimore HebrewUniversity, 2002). The changes that have been observed in Turkishforeign policy are based on the re-defining its identity acrossregional and global politics. The theory focusses on understandingthe identity constructed by Turkey and the main features of thisidentity.

Someproponents of the Constructivist theory believe that the emergence ofthe Ottoman-Turkish characters was due to the ideas of AhmetDavutoglu and this was referred to as the New-Ottoman. SomeConstructivists however focus on Islam as the predominant characterand they refer these approaches and ideas as Pan-Islamists (Göçek,2011). Turkey is believed to follow an Islamic-Sunni character andthis has resulted into formation of a pan-Islamist sect in theregion. In this research, we will analyze the relationship of thePan-Islamists and the New-Ottoman figures that existed.

AhmetDavutoglu’s ideas were referred to as New-Ottoman because of theoccurrence of foreign policy activism in the region as well as otherOttoman territories. However, some scholars point out thatconsidering New-Ottomanism as the main drive of Ahmet’s visionwould be very misleading (Göl, 2013). The reason for this is thatthe new-Ottoman idea was doomed for failure because it wasethnic-centric. The Pan-Islamists idea was a good antidote to thenew-Ottoman idea since its aim was unification of all the Islamicelements. The Pan-Islamists idea would address more people andespecially a country like Turkey would greatly benefit from the idea.The Pan-Islamists idea was more appealing to Turkey as compared tothe New-Ottomanism ideas.

Oneof the major elements that affected the economic considerations onTurkey is the Turkish foreign policy. Many scholars have attributedto this and they believe that the liberal economic motivations havebeen in existence since the 1990s. Five alternatives that existgreatly affect economic considerations in a state apart from thestate trading theory, which is more dominant. These alternativesserve as an explanation to the Turkish foreign policy transformation.The first alternative is Europeanization and this focusses on theimpact of the European Union in Turkey and especially with focus ondomestic politics and the Turkish foreign policy. Europeanization isa major transformative force due to the need to meet certain criteriaand gaining of membership for Turkey in the European Union.

Thesecond alternative is the impact of domestic political developmentssuch as the new elites and political agendas. The rise of the AKP topower is a major force in the reshaping of the Turkish foreign policyas it has affected greatly o domestic political developments. Thethird alternative is geopolitical factors and this result frominstitutional changes. The geopolitical factors shaped the Turkishforeign policy especially after the Cold war as they altered thebalance of power after this period (Grigoriadis, 2014). The fourthalternative is soft power and how some politicians or columnistswithin and outside Turkey use this. This alternative attributes thistransformation in the Turkish foreign policy to its evolving to asoft power (Ismael &amp Aydın, 2003). Constructivism is thus one ofthe international relations that have led to this transformation ofthe Turkish foreign policy.

Accordingto the constructivists, the reformulation of how the state of Turkeydefines its internal and external identity has led to the changeswitnessed in the Turkish foreign policy (Ismael &amp Aydın, 2003).Changes in the foreign policy culture and transformation in thedefinition and the way national security is perceived in Turkey havealso contributed greatly to the changes in the Turkish foreignpolicy. The superiority of the constructivist theory is mainly due toits presence strongly in the foreign policy arena (Ker-Lindsay,Faustmann, &amp Mullen, 2011). The theory however lost its relevancewith the fading of the influence of Europeanization. The fading ofthis influence was mainly due to the unresolved issues in existence.

Theconstructivist’s theory states that Turkey had no influence ongeopolitical factors since they were external factors but the realityis that the structure pushes for realist attention and has majoreffects (Keyman &amp Gumüsçu, 2014). This theory includes theperceptions of the domestic ruling elite, allows the construction ofnew identities, and interests (Keyman &amp Gumüsçu, 2014). Thetheory further explains external structures of geopolitics and theexisting relation with agent structure. Constructivism furtherincludes the idea of soft power and classifies this as the diffusionof the Turkish image and identity constructed in the region. Thedecision to liberalize the Turkish economy is attributed to the riseof the trading state and the existence of economic factors in theregion (Kubicek, 2012). Liberalization of the region led to growthand emergence of a new group of business people and ideas and refinedthe trade relations of Turkey with the global world.

TurkishForeign Policy after the Arab Spring

Theexistence of the Arab Spring presented many uncertainties and threatsfor Turley and the position it held within the region. After, theArab Spring, Turkey, was motivated to change its identity politics tomore realist and pragmatist relations (Martin &amp Keridis, 2004).Turkey did not support Russia or Iran’s perspective but it did notconfront these countries directly. Turkey’s position in Egypt wasagainst the new military coup government and this was due to theideologies presented by Ummah. The Ummah ideologies aimed at aligningousted Muslims with the identity of the country.

Turkeyavoided any confrontations with countries that were more powerfulpolitically over the issues in the Middle East all the whilemaintaining their oppositional standing with the ruling of thegovernments in Syria and Egypt. Most of the countries howeverrecognized the new government that existed in Egypt (Murinson &ampMerkaz Besa le-meḥḳarim asṭraṭegiyim, 2012). Turkey avoidedany extensive and heated debates with opposing countries due to itsforeign policy and they held their debates mainly with Iran and otherWest Arabic countries. The Turkish foreign policy motivated them tokeep their concerns low-key and especially because of the populationof Turkey and the Muslim minority in the region. When Russiasupported the Armenian claims for genocide, Turkey did not side withthem and they were disappointed with this reality.

Theforeign policy motivated the country of Turkey to have a more realistapproach. They held this approach while still following thePan-Islamist approach put forward by Ummah and this helped them togain economic benefits and support (Schick &amp Tonak, 2007). Turkeyhad previously held a power rhetoric approach, they had to changethis to a more pragmatist realist one, and thus they ensured thatthey maximized the bargaining capacity and the energy needs. Thus,they addressed their national interests within the region.


Manychanges were witnessed in the Turkish foreign policy after thecollapse of the USSR and end of World War 2. These changes includedglobalization, membership of the European Union, and economicliberalization. The Turkish foreign policy further witnessed the riseof the AKP as well as a rise in civil society and its role shapingthe activist policy in Turkey. The Ummah constructivist approach hasaffected greatly on the Turkish foreign policy and most especiallythe changes in the period before the Arab Spring.

Afterthe Arab spring, Turkey was focused on ensuring they prevented anynegative effects of this in their domestic affairs. They focused onre-evaluating their potential and developing more realistperspectives of the regional relations. Turkey focused on maximizingits national interests by measuring its powers and validity withinthe regional politics. The Turkish foreign policy led to theabandonment of the humanitarian, value-oriented approaches, andinstead insisted on harsh rhetoric.


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