By Tugba Soysal Ozoner
The recent developments the world has been witnessing leave no room for doubt that Turkey is an exceptional and indispensable player on the regional and global stage. Turkey, with its vital geopolitical position, cultural and historical wealth, economic potential, secular democracy and political influence and efficiency, is among a few countries that can play such a critical role. In this global arena, one of the most important keys to Turkey’s success has been the country’s new foreign policy and public diplomacy strategies.
In 2002, when the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) first came to power, Turkey began to reevaluate all of these geopolitical, political and economic assets and dynamics through the adoption of a proactive, multifaceted, multidimensional, pragmatic, prudent and humanitarian foreign policy which aims to facilitate the creation of a development environment based on peace, prosperity, political stability and cooperation.
Turkey’s “zero problems” foreign policy stretching from the Balkans to the Middle East and the Caucasus, has expanded and strengthened Turkey’s cultural, economic and commercial ties with its neighbors. The country has lifted visa requirements with 61 countries including Syria, Iran, Kosovo, Morocco, Libya, Jordan, Tunisia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Bosnia Herzegovina and many others. High Level Strategic Cooperation Council meetings held between Turkey and its neighbors have enabled and improved cooperation in many areas, from economy and energy to education and security. Turkey’s intense diplomatic efforts and mediation initiatives for Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia, Iraqi political groups, Israel and Palestine, Israel and Syria, Iranian nuclear file, Lebanese political groups, Georgia, Afghanistan and Pakistan have contributed to peace and stability in the region as well in the world. Unlike many other world leaders, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has had the courage to voice that which the world knows but ignores - Israel’s injustice against Palestine. PM Erdogan also was the first leader from outside Africa in nearly two decades to visit famine and drought-stricken Somalia, attracting world attention to that nation’s desperate plight.
Some analysts have misread all these efforts and claimed that there has been a “shift” in Turkish foreign policy focus from the West to the East. This perception fails to stand up to closer scrutiny. Turkey, as a country that belongs to two continents, Europe and Asia, geographically, politically, and socially - cannot turn its face towards a continent it is already incorporated into. The most successful secular democracy in the Islamic world, Turkey has attached great importance to relations with its fellow nations in Europe. Being a member of the UN, European Council, NATO, OECD and OSCE, ties between Turkey and the EU started with the Ankara Agreement signed on April 12, 1963 and entered into force on December 1, 1964. Turkey expresses its strong will and commitment to become a full member in the Union, despite France and Germany’s proposals for Turkey to settle for a special status.
EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bagis reiterated this desire in his latest article published in the Guardian saying, “The EU should stop blocking Turkey’s accession. Together we can create a more open, tolerant and prosperous Europe.” Visiting Turkey recently, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said, “It is up to Turkey to decide what is best for itself, but the EU with Turkey on board would be a stronger, more effective and dynamic global player.” Supporting Turkey’s accession to the EU, Gunter Verheugen, former vice-president of the European Commission stated, “Turkey has become stronger with multidimensional cultural reforms. Turkey’s way to the EU is a story of success and the role Turkey will play in the EU is exceptionally vital.” While on course to EU membership, what is fundamental for Turkey now is not to wait at the door of the EU but to achieve EU standards in every field.
The second point on which the perception shift fails is when we analyze Prime Minister Erdogan’s trips abroad, since 2003, he has paid 105 visits to 13 countries in Europe, while he paid 52 visits to 14 countries in the Middle East. Also it should be noted that the dynamics of the Middle East have been changing faster than anyone had expected. The world has been witnessing a democratization process that began in Tunisia, opening the way for Arab Spring. Tunisian leader Rashid al-Gannushi whose party won the elections held last weekend, suggested in an interview that Turkey could be a role model for the country, being very close to what Tunisia aspires to become, a nation that merges Islam with modernity. Located in such a dynamic region, Turkey cannot be a bystander apathetic in its foreign policy. Turkey wants to play a role towards peace, stability, justice and prosperity for all. Turkish foreign policy aims at having complementary relations with its neighbors and other countries, not a competitive stance.
As a result of booming relations with its neighbors and other countries, the lifting of visa requirements, the easing of trade and investment restrictions have made a great contribution to tourism. In 2010, 28.6 million international tourists arrived in Turkey. The first seven months of this year saw an increase of 10.64 % compared to the same term last year, with the arrival of 17.6 million tourists. In recent years, the number of tourists coming from Arab countries has also increased dramatically. Tourism is not the only success story for the 17th largest economy of the world. Turkey’s latest growth figures make it the fastest growing economy in Europe, and second in the world behind China.
Turkey with its significant cultural heritage is also building bridges between cultures. Turkish cultural products, especially television series, are being enjoyed all over the world. These popular programs are one of the reasons for the country’s rising profile in the Arab world.
The multidimensional foreign policy, a strong economy, and secular democracy all of which make Turkey an indispensable soft power for the peace and stability in the region. Turkey is developing regionally and globally and will continue to act in accordance with the values that have contributed to its uniqueness and success.