Whirling Dervish

July 31, 2010 at 7:18 pm (tWP - M. Silva & I. David) (, , , , , , , , , )

In the past 14th of July Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was present at a conference in Lisbon’s Orient Museum.

In his presentation Mr. Davutoğlu put forth his view for the Turkish Republic’s foreign policy. For the authors of this blog, his perspective did not do much to stave off the spectre of universalism.

Some of his first remarks gave us hope: he spoke of ‘historical depth’ and how old nations perceive the world differently than new ones. He spoke also of the need to reach a balance between security and freedom which is nothing but sensible. Turkey has much to gain from such a view since Mr. Davutoğlu’s historicist parameters would allow Ankara to subtly establish a sphere of influence around it. A balance between security and freedom seems to be another way of phrasing a tolerance for the Middle East’s absence of a very liberal tradition – and thus a way for Turkey to be able to engage with this region.

This ‘soft power’ approach would permit Turkey to pursue a more independent policy and ultimately to give it a platform for potential major power status.

But his next remarks diverted somewhat from this generally wise approach. Mr. Davutoğlu went on to point out the plight of the Bosniaks as example of Turkey’s ‘historical responsibility’ and inalienable obligation to become involved in conflicts occurring far from its borders. Turkey Ahmet Davutoğlu said, was inherently involved in the Balkan wars or the Karabakh conflict due to its links to the Bosniak, Armenian and Azerbaijani peoples. In an era of globalisation, interdependence and interconnectivity mean that Turkey cannot insulate itself from conflicts – he ‘neglected’ to mention “in Turkey’s sphere of influence” but we’ll make up for that – and the flight of these peoples to Turkey during and after the crisis serves only to prove that point.

In a more post-modern tone, the Turkish MFA declared that it is to be Turkey’s duty to diffuse crisis before they occur and to pursue whenever possible a ‘zero problem neighbourhood’. This statement presents several grave misconceptions: Mr. Davutoğlu – if speaking earnestly – seems to dismiss the concept of contiguous friction and how it recurrently defines the path of states. Strictly historically speaking at least, Persia Russia or Egypt have made for difficult bedfellows. He is also apparently oblivious to the consequences of an involvement of all states in the various conflicts which entertain the planet, should they perceive stake-holding as having as citizens major migrant communities. This is a quite cosmopolitan world afterall… Just as it was not mentioned that interdependence, even if honestly abided by, would always favour the state controlling the biggest market, which for that same reason is unlikely to keep an adjacent orbit together for long.

The authors of this blog next inquired Minister Davutoğlu where the line between interdependence and interference in the internal affairs of states should be drawn. This was perhaps the most disappointing part of the event for while complementing the pertinence of the question, Mr. Davutoğlu’s reply address defaulted on a direct answer. Ever the diplomat he did address our examples of China and Israel to complement China and chastise Israel; the former for keeping the dialogue open, the latter for doing the opposite. We will not of course refer to an obvious Cypriot parallel but it suffices to point out that it is difficult to imagine how Israel could have been more deferential to Turkey in the weeks following the ‘”freedom” flotilla’ incident and that Israeli intransigence in regards to Ankara is most unlikely given the circumstances. The one conclusion to be had is that all those who do not accommodate Turkey’s version of soft power will probably find interdependence increasingly difficult and find themselves ever more ostracised.

Israel however should be viewed as an asset by Ankara. Not just for its balancing of potential rivals like Egypt and Syria but also for its cultural unwillingness to compete with Turkey for a Byzantine sphere of influence. The optimist estimate might be that Turkey may be preparing itself to use Israel as China does the DPRK: as a convenient troublemaker under leash.

On a wider view, no statesmen outside Moscow or Tehran will mind Ankara’s new ‘near abroad’ policy so long as it remains secular. If Turkey’s regional appeal loses its temporal flavour though, Mr. Davutoğlu should bear in mind how little appetite the world powers have for a post-modern universalist caliphate.

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