The Economic Dilemma of Turkish Foreign Policy
Turkish foreign policy is premised on several drivers: domestic political considerations, the nationalist governing coalition’s needs and aspirations, the weight of the Kurdish question, economic constraints, and the geopolitical balancing act between Russia and the West and regional realignments. Each factor impacts the formulation of Turkish foreign policy to varying degrees. Within the context of the current coronavirus pandemic, Turkey’s economic imperatives have become more urgent and pressing and Turkish foreign policy will reflect this going forward. Coronavirus hit Turkey at a particularly vulnerable moment for its economy. Moreover, this pandemic also put a spotlight on the on the structural economic issues facing the country, to which Ankara has not allocated sufficient attention in recent years. To be more precise, on almost all counts, the Turkish economy is intricately intertwined with and heavily dependent on the West. Yet, in recent years, the motto of Turkish foreign policy has been the search for strategic autonomy, which effectively means reducing Turkey’s dependency on the West. Therefore, the coronavirus has brought to daylight the inconsistencies between the structure of Turkey’s economy and Ankara’s declared foreign policy/strategic aspirations. To be sure, Turkey’s economic downturn is unlikely to alter Ankara’s geopolitical aspirations. Ankara will continue with its hard-power based and proactive foreign policies in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean. The main goals of Turkey’s Syria policy are likely to remain intact. Domestically, Turkey’s political polarisation is unlikely to abate, nor does the ultra-nationalist narrative and politics of the governing coalition. Yet, the question remains: what should be the main tenants of foreign policy for saving the Turkish economy?
Since the beginning of the 2000s, Turkey experienced nearly a decade of considerable economic growth. This economic growth underpinned Ankara’s assertive posture on regional issues. Beefed up by a burgeoning economy, Ankara became increasingly self-confident in its relations with its interlocutors. Starting in 2013, however, the country began to enter a cycle of successive political crises which gave birth to a political landscape completely different from the one which characterized the previous decade. Power in Turkey has become increasingly personalised. This trend was later legalised and institutionalised in the form of changing Turkey’s political system from a parliamentary system to a super-executive presidency. At the international level, Turkish foreign policy has been increasingly encumbered by the ever complex and growing numbers of interlocking regional crises, particularly in Syria. In the same vein, as Turkey’s relations with the West have quickly deteriorated, Turkey’s ties to Russia have dramatically improved starting from the second half of 2016. In fact, Turkey effectively engaged in a geopolitical balancing act between Russia and the West. Ankara's purchase of the Russian S-400 missile represented the climax of the honeymoon in Turkish - Russian relations and the low point in Turkish-Western ties.