Who is behind Erdoğan? Eurasianism and Turkish National Security

When the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, some soldiers in the Turkish military thought Ankara no longer needed NATO and the West. With its political values, NATO was increasingly perceived by these soldiers as a hindrance. Controversial subjects such as Ankara’s human rights record and the condition of Kurds in Turkey that were overlooked during the Cold War due to the immense importance of Turkey in Cold War geopolitics started to dominate Turkish-Western relations, particularly in the context of Turkey’s aspirations as a potential EU candidate.

By Mehmet Efe Çaman

There were a considerable number of people in both the military and the bureaucracy that considered institutionalized multilateral relations with the West (particularly with NATO, the EU, the US and Germany) as a security threat to the territorial integrity of the Turkish state. In particular the Kurdish insurrection during the 1980s, the emergence of the outlawed Kurdistan’s Workers’ Party (PKK) and the EU demand for democratic minority rights for Kurds in Turkey contributed to this negative perception of some factions in the Turkish state bureaucracy.

During the Cold War Turkish foreign policy behavior was based on the concept of political realism in which the military played the key role. Turkey was not powerful enough to protect itself against its “giant neighbor to the north,” as many Turkish policymakers had described the Soviet Union, and it had to integrate with NATO to safeguard its independence and statehood. Only through the NATO umbrella was Turkey successfully able to keep the Soviets away.

After the end of the Cold War, however, everything changed. There was no longer any Soviet threat, and the post-Soviet geography, particularly the Caucasus and Central Asia, was full of new opportunities for Ankara. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in particular opened up a new world with common cultural, linguistic and religious roots with Turkey. These nations had considerable fossil energy resources, which Turkey did not have, and a large market.

Also, the Balkans were viewed by Turkish political elites as former Ottoman territories and, accordingly, a natural zone of influence. Turks soon realized that getting rid of the West and increasing Turkish power on a global scale was an enjoyable and euphoria-generating discourse; however, it had no basis in reality. Turkey needed cooperation with other powers to counterbalance the West in order to gradually become independent from it.

A military memorandum of February 28, 1997 that removed the coalition government of the Islamist Necmettin Erbakan from power was primarily seen as a domestic “course correction” and a “secular-pro-Western” military intervention, but in reality, it was not. Yes, it was carried out by secular military officers, but they were not pro-Western regarding Turkey’s foreign policy orientation. They disagreed with the Copenhagen criteria of the EU (democracy standards for EU candidates) because they believed the EU was undermining the Turkish unitary nation-state by trying to strengthen Kurdish separatism.

For example, the commanding officer of the Turkish War Academy, one of the highly influential posts in the country’s strategic position, clearly stated that joining the EU would destabilize Turkey. After the 1997 memorandum, the left-nationalist wing of the “social-democratic” Republican People’s Party (CHP) became stronger and increasingly opposed democratization reforms in Turkey, calling them concessions. Ironically, the pro-European and pro-Western dynamics were derived from the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP),which claimed to be the democratic center of the Turkish political spectrum.

From the 1997 memorandum to 2005, the Turkish state – first and foremost the military and civilian bureaucracy – increasingly agreed with the EU orientation and the democratizing reform process of the AKP government. Also, a great majority of Turkey’s citizens, especially Kurds, liberals, democrats, other minorities, Gülenists and other Islamic/Islamist groups, supported Turkey’s EU strategy as they believed it would eventually lead to EU membership.

The zero-sum game mentality in Turkish foreign policy was replaced with a new regional policy of “zero problems” that emphasized cooperation with neighboring countries and other regional states. Turkey became a key actor in the European Neighborhood Policy. Turkish democracy improved, and the economy boomed through incredible amounts of foreign investment. A domestic and foreign policy de-securitization process occurred in which the role of the military in Turkish decision-making diminished.

This process of “normalization” opened up the doors of EU accession. Moreover, military factions and their civilian accomplices in the bureaucracy lost a considerable amount of their influence. Some of the military cliques that perpetrated illegal activities such as outlining “war-game scenarios” that could potentially lead to a military coup were brought to justice and sent to prison.

This de-securitization brought transparency and accountability in domestic politics. It increased basic freedoms and per capita GDP. It restored Turkey’s relations with Greece and enabled constructive negotiations to reunify Cyprus – a country that had been divided between Greeks and Turks since 1974. This started a constructive normalization process with Armenia, which has a long border with Turkey that has been closed since 1991 due to the Armenia-Azerbaijan dispute. Turkey increased its bilateral trade relations with almost all regional countries, including Syria, Iraq, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine.

There were three major interconnected game changers of this positive outlook: a large-scale corruption scandal in 2013, the release and reactivation of all jailed Eurasianist deep-state military personnel and an attempted military coup in 2016. READ THE REST OF THE ARTCLE HERE