Turkey and the Arab Spring: Implications for Turkish Foreign Policy from a Transatlantic Perspective
The Arab Spring reveals a number of contradictions and constraints as well as opportunities for Turkish foreign policy, all of which are of key relevance both to Turkey and to its transatlantic partners. The inconsistencies in and weaknesses of Turkish foreign policy, particularly when mapped against the stances of the European Union (EU) and the United States, may be viewed as by-products of a more proactive Turkish role in its southern neighborhood. The Arab Spring has revealed the inherent tension between the normative and realpolitik dimensions of Turkish foreign policy. The Arab Spring has also revealed that Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” has rested largely on improved ties with specific leaders. Finally, the Arab Spring has revealed that Turkey’s activism in the Middle East, and in particular its prolific mediation activities, have been as much contextual as actor driven.
In the medium and long-term, a changing Middle East may present Turkey with important opportunities, to be seized alongside its transatlantic partners. Rather than a black-and-white model of a pro-Western Muslim secular democracy, Turkey may offer a number of different models and ideas to inspire change in its southern neighborhood. Some of these ideas may complement and enrich, others may contrast with, the Western concept of the Turkish model.
Different countries (and different actors within them) may find different aspects of Turkey of interest, as noted by Hassan Nafaa. In particular, Ömer Taşpınar reflects on how two seemingly contrasting aspects of the Turkish model might strike chords across democratizing or reforming countries in the southern Mediterranean: Turkish political Islam and the Turkish military. On one hand, southern Mediterranean countries may turn to the trajectory of Turkish political Islam and, specifically, the evolution of the Justice and Development Party. On the other hand, these countries may take an interest in the development of the Turkish military and civil-military relations in Turkey. Yet as pointed out by Barkey, Taşpınar, and Nafaa, Turkey inevitably has its peculiarities that defy any clear-cut emulation. Equally relevant, as Henri Barkey notes, rather than the Turkish model as such, what may be of interest is studying Turkey’s evolution, learning from its steps forward, and, perhaps, even more critically, from its mistakes.