Turkish presidency a battle between Kantians and Hobbesians
On May 14, GMF hosted Kemal Kirisci, Jean Monnet Professor at Turkey's Bogazici University, for a discussion entitled Turkish Foreign Policy, "Without," a New President. Kirisci argued that the fundamental dichotomy in Turkish foreign policy is between Hobbesian (nationalist) and Kantian (internationalist) philosophies.
Today's Hobbesians, generally supportive of secularist, nationalist parties at home, exhibit a deep skepticism of Western intentions towards Turkey, combined with thinly veiled admiration for the aggressive regional strategies of figures like Putin and Ahmedinejad. They tend to see the world in zero-sum terms, encouraging a narrow definition of what constitutes Turkey's national interest. In turn, Hobbesians are more supportive of the use of force in places like Northern Iraq, and put very little emphasis on international trade and economics as part of the foreign policy calculus. President Sezer, at least in the latter part of his term, has been a proponent of this ideology, moving away from his earlier support of EU accession reforms, instituting what Kirisci calls an, "informal boycott," of the United States, and supporting military intervention against PKK militants in northern Iraq.
Kantians, who make up the majority of the AK party foreign policy elite, believe in engagement with the West, emphasize trade as a central element of foreign policy, and approach regional engagement on the basis of cultural ties and trade relations more than geo-strategic affairs. Kirisci noted that Turkey is partners not only with Iran and Russia, but also with Israel. He stressed that regardless of who assumes the presidency over the summer, it is likely that this person will continue what has been a decades-long trajectory towards the Kantian model. He added that a, "Kantian America," as well as discretion on the part of anti-accession European politicians like Sarkozy, could go a long way in speeding up the move to a more Western-friendly Turkish foreign policy.
GMF transatlantic fellow Ian Lesser added that Turkey is not the only country to experience this sort of rift in foreign policy thinking and expressed that similar debates are echoed in Europe and the United States. He expanded on Kirisci's call for a, "Kantian America," explaining that our tendency to think of Turkey in strategic terms, as opposed to the valued trading partner that it has become, has played into the narrative presented by Turkish Hobessians.