Turkey’s Erdogan puts leading foreign policy theorist into the driver’s seat

Thursday, 7. May 2009     0 comment(s)
Igor Torbakov
Senior Researcher

As any long-time Turkey watcher will tell you, Turkey is never boring. Here’s the most recent confirmation of this thesis for you. Just get this. It is a beautiful Friday afternoon on May 1, when all Turkish bureaucracy along with all the other rich and powerful are leaving dusty Ankara for their weekend hideouts by the sea. It was precisely this serene moment that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had chosen to unveil a major reshuffle of his Cabinet.

Eight ministers were sacked while nine new people were brought in with another seven assigned to different positions. Only several ministers retained their posts.

Most analysts agree that Erdogan’s move was prompted by the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) poor showing in the recent local elections and the rising concerns about the government’s performance during the current global economic downturn.

Obviously, Erdogan and the AKP top leadership are keen to send a signal to both the local population and the outside world that AKP is aware of the challenges and ready to meet them. To address the concerns about the government’s handling of the crisis, Erdogan moved Ali Babacan from the foreign ministry to the ministry of economics, the position Mr. Babacan held in 2002-2007 and, by all accounts, had done an excellent job. Moreover, by turning Babacan into a true “economy czar” (he will be overseeing all economic and financial institutions including state banks), Erdogan appears to have demonstrated the government’s resolve to drastically improve the management of Turkish economy which has been badly battered by the economic slump.

But tasking Babacan with economic matters left the position of Turkey’s top diplomat vacant. To fill it, Erdogan made arguably the most eye-catching May 1 appointment: he named Professor Ahmet Davutoglu, his foreign policy advisor, the new Turkish Foreign Minister.

Davutoglu’s appointment brought into a public position the influential player who in fact had long been acting as a kind of “shadow minister,” designing (and at times even executing) Turkish foreign policy from behind the scenes. (Still, Davutoglu is not an elected MP and therefore not directly answerable to the Grand National Assembly.) “However, Mr. Davutoglu has been driving Turkish foreign policy from the back seat for several years,” one commentary noted, “so it is only right that he is made accountable by being given the keys to the car.”

Davutoglu’s impact on Turkish foreign policy is often compared with that of Henry Kissinger on U.S. policies in the 1970s. A leading foreign policy theorist, Davutoglu has advanced the concept of the “strategic depth” that dramatically broadened both the focus and ambitions of Turkish foreign policy. The main thrust of Davutoglu’s concept is that Turkey’s strategic, cultural and economic space goes beyond its political boundaries.

During a handover ceremony at the ministry Davutoglu wasted no time to assert his strategic vision. Turkey, he said, is going to pursue the forward-looking and robust policies in its strategic neighborhood – the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans. “It has to take on the role of an order-instituting country in all these regions,” Davutoglu stated firmly.

Remarkably, the new Foreign Minister also invoked the idea of Turkey’s historic responsibility vis-à-vis the countries and the peoples that used to be incorporated into the Ottoman realm. “Beyond representing the 70 million people of Turkey,” Davutoglu said, “we have a historic debt to those lands where there are Turks or which were related to our land in the past. We have to repay this debt in the best way.”

With Davutoglu in the driver’s seat at the foreign ministry, Ankara is likely to continue pursuing pro-active policies in its volatile neighborhood.

To learn more about Turkey’s quest for an enhanced regional role, please see FIIA’s new Briefing Paper “Looking for a New Strategic Identity: Is Turkey Emerging as an Independent Regional Power?”


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