Turkey in the Transatlantic Trends
The Transatlantic Trends 2009 survey points to some risks regarding Turkish diplomacy for the near future. These risks emanate from the discrepancy between Turkish foreign policy and Turkish public opinion. With the recent developments in its foreign policy, Turkey sees itself as an independent regional soft power that has good relations with all of her neighbors, but also gives priority to transatlantic ties. Membership to NATO, model partnership with the United States, and aspirations of EU membership are important elements of Turkish Foreign Policy. On the other hand, the Transatlantic Trends Survey 2009 findings reveal that domestic public opinion may cause serious problems for Turkish foreign policy in the future. There is a view that says public opinion is not really relevant in foreign policy. Others argue that with the development of participatory democracy, public opinion has become an important factor in diplomacy.
In an article in International Organization, Robert Putnam describes a two-level approach to diplomacy in which central-decision makers are striving to reconcile domestic and international imperatives simultaneously(1). The Transatlantic Trends 2009 findings demonstrate that Turkish decision makers may have a hard time reconciling domestic and international priorities in the near future unless they take the responsibility to better inform the public on some important issues today. Turkish Unilateralism? A plurality of Turkish respondents (43 %) believes that on international matters "Turkey should act alone". 22 % of the respondents believe that Turkey should act with the EU while only 4 % believe Turkey should act with the US. Turkey, as a member of NATO, a strategic partner of the United States, and an accession country to the EU naturally acts together with its allies on most issues. However, in the future, Turkish decision makers may find themselves in situations where domestic pressure forces unilateral action leading to dire consequences for Turkey. Shrugging Shoulders to NATO Although NATO is an important element of Turkish foreign policy, only 35 % of the Turkish respondents believe that NATO is still essential. This is an 18 percentage points decrease from 2004 when 53 % of Turkish respondents believed that NATO was essential. The indifference may partly be explained by the decreasing threat perception in Turkey after the Cold War.
The fact that NATO does not play a direct role in Turkey's fight against terrorism may also have played a role. Although NATO wasn't involved with the war in Iraq, the man on the street who disapproves this war does not distinguish between the US and NATO. Whatever the results of this decreasing support to NATO, the consequences may not be very good for Turkey. NATO is not only the most important dimension of Turkish national security, but also the most important Euro-Atlantic platform where Turkey has a voice. Taking part in all NATO led operations has been a consistent policy of Turkey. However the decreasing support toward NATO in Turkey can make it more difficult for Turkish decision makers to act when NATO asks for self-sacrifice from the allies for the collective interests of the Alliance. The Iran Enigma 29 % of Turkish respondents as opposed to 5 % of EU and US respondents believe that "Iran's acquiring Nuclear weapons" may be accepted. On Iran, the difference between the EU and US respondents is on the means rather than the end. A plurality of European respondents (48 %) believe that diplomatic pressure toward Iran should be increased while a plurality of American respondents believe that military option should be on the table. Apparently, the Turkish public is unaware of why a nuclear Iran is not acceptable for Turkey. If Iran made the bomb, Turkey would be neither a regional power nor really independent. Turkey may have to make tough policy decisions concerning Iran. It may have to vote on increased sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council. Turkish decision makers may find themselves in a difficult situation to reconcile "national interest" and foreign policy priorities with domestic public opinion.
Conclusion One could argue that Turkey's national interests are so important that decision makers will move on when they think they have to, regardless of the public opinion. Recent history proves this is not always the case. During 2003, before the War in Iraq, Turkish policy makers and the Turkish government thought that it was in Turkey's national interest to assist the United States. That's why, after a long and difficult negotiation process two "MoU"s were signed with the United States. However, among other factors, a strong public opinion prevented the Parliament from ratifying the agreement. This is how the March 1 accident took place. There are many lessons to be learned from this accident. One of these lessons is that public opinion on international relations is not a joke. Turkey may have to make tough policy choices in the near future. The Transatlantic Trends 2009 Survey findings reveal that responsible leadership to better inform and educate Turkish public on some foreign policy issues is needed in Turkey.
1 Robert D. Putnam, Diplomacy and Domestic Politics : the logic of two-level games, International Organisation 42, 3, pp. 428-457, Summer 1988
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