Westphalia: Turkey and Turkish Foreign Policy Essay

Submitted By alecwhite89
Words: 2826
Pages: 12

Turkey’s Foreign Policy Shift: Identity Politics or Political Realism?
Alec White

Sitting between Europe, the Caucasus, and the Middle East, Turkey is located in one of the most geopolitically complex places in the world. Turkey is also one of the most politically complex nations in the world, as a secular government in a heavily Islamic society. Historically, Turkey has been a friend to the West, as a member of NATO, the EEC and the EU customs union, in a neighborhood notoriously unfriendly to its Western partners. However, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which came to power in 2001, have recently started to turn the tides in Turkey’s usually mild and Western-leaning foreign policy. Mustafa Kemal founded the Turkish nation on the principle of a strict secular government with a neutral foreign policy; some fear that this is now in jeopardy, believing that the AKP has adopted a new, Islamisized and aggressive foreign policy in recent years. They argue that AKP has an ideologically driven agenda that threatens to sever ties with the West. According to principles of political realism, these claims are unprecedented. But evidence behind their claims is compelling. This paper will explore Turkish foreign policy under the AKP and decide whether its foreign agenda is ideologically driven or motivated by principles of political realism. Realpolitik or political realism is often viewed as a fundamental tenant of the study of international relations. For Hans J. Morgenthau, political realism applied to the world of international relations “is the concept of interest defined to be understood in terms of power”. He states, “it [political realism] sets politics as an autonomous sphere of action and understanding apart form other spheres, such as […] ethics, aesthetics, or religion.” Nations make decisions not based on the their cultural, religious, moral identity, but according to self-interest vis-à-vis their power. For Robert Gilpin, international relations are defined by “the pursuit of wealth and power.” Political realists believe that international politics is an objective category where statesmen make foreign policy decisions based on power—not personal, ideological motives. Standing opposite to political realism is the concept of identity politics. Identity politics, put simply, is the “tendency for people of a particular religion, race, or social background, to form exclusive political alliances” rather than principled, non-ideological politics—political realism (New Oxford American English Dictionary). The term identity politics first appeared in 1979 and became widely used in the mid 1990s (Berstein 42). In general, commentators on cultural or identity politics saw identity politics begin to manifest itself in the latter part of the twentieth century through social reform movements such as civil rights and feminism (Bernstein 49). Today many argue that the politics of identity dominate the political landscape (Understand Postmodernism 226). The phenomenon of identity politics translates to the international level as well. Samuel Huntington in his seminal book Clash of the Civilizations wrote,

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions of human kind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. (“Clash of the civilizations?” 22)

Huntington believes that the in our post-Cold War world, “alignments defined by ideology and superpower relations are giving way to alignments defined by culture and civilization” (Clash of the Civilizations 127). He sites the eastern Soviet bloc’s and communist Yugoslavia’s collapse into sectarian conflict to support this claim, as intense rivalries