The Davutoğlu Doctrine and Turkish Foreign Policy

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loannis N. Grigoriadis, Bilkent University
ELIAMEP Working Paper No 8 April 2010

Summary
Turkish foreign policy under the AKP administration has been associated with the name of Ahmet Davutoğlu. Davutoğlu was the chief foreign policy advisor of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before he was appointed foreign minister in 2009. As an academic, he has outlined his foreign policy doctrine in several writings, most important of which is his book “Strategic Depth.” This study explores Davutoğlu’s strategic vision, the extent to which this informs Turkish foreign policy, as well as its contradictions.
It is virtually impossible to discuss Turkish foreign policy since 2002 without a
reference to Ahmet Davutoğlu. Davutoğlu was one of the few academics who joined the
ranks of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi-AKP). Born in the
conservative, central Anatolian city of Konya, he came
from rather humble backgrounds to an academic career
in the field of international relations before moving to
politics, first as the chief foreign policy advisor to Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and later as foreign
minister. Having developed his strategic vision about
Turkey in his academic capacity, Davutoğlu belongs to
the very privileged group of academics who were given
the opportunity to put their theory into practice. While
his doctrine is often dubbed as “neo-Ottomanism,” the
use of this term is rather misleading. Ottomanism was a
nineteenth-century liberal political movement aiming to
the formation of a civic Ottoman national identity
overarching ethnic, linguistic and religious identities. The term was briefly reinstated as
“neo-Ottomanism” to characterize the foreign policy overtures of Turgut Özal in the late
1980s. While these involved increased interest in the Middle East, they share little of the
conceptual content of Davutoğlu’s vision. This study aims to outline Davutoğlu’s foreign
policy doctrine, evaluate its relevance to current Turkish foreign policy-making, as well as
its limitations.

The “Strategic Depth” Doctrine

 

While Davutoğlu’s early publications were based on rather outdated geopolitical models, his
vision underwent significant modifications from the late 1990s to the 2000s, something not
atypical for the majority of the AKP political leadership. Although geopolitics still comprises
a key framework of Davutoğlu’s strategic thinking, it
is supplemented by liberal elements, such as soft
power, conflict resolution and promotion of “winwin”
solutions. In his book “Strategic Depth,”
published in 2001, Davutoğlu elaborates on his
strategic vision about Turkey. He argues that Turkey
possesses “strategic depth” due to its history and
geographic position and lists Turkey among a small
group of countries which he calls “central powers”.
Turkey should not be content with a regional role in
the Balkans or the Middle East, because it is not a regional but a central power. Hence, it
should aspire to play a leading role in several regions, which could award it global strategic
significance.

In Davutoğlu’s view, Turkey is a Middle Eastern, Balkan, Caucasian, Central Asian,
Caspian, Mediterranean, Gulf and Black Sea country, can simultaneously exercise influence
in all these regions and thus claim a global strategic role. In view of these, he rejects the
perception of Turkey as a bridge between Islam and the West, as this would relegate
Turkey to an instrument for the promotion of the strategic interests of other countries.

Instead of letting other countries use Turkey to promote their regional and global strategic
role, Turkey should develop a proactive policy commensurate to its historic and geographic
depth, which is amplified by its Ottoman legacy. To achieve that aim, Turkey should
capitalise on its soft power potential. This is based on its historic and cultural links with all
the regions which it belongs to, as well as its democratic institutions and thriving market
economy. Turkey needs to put aside the militaristic image which its strong military and
history of military tutelage over society and politics has bequeathed. Instead, it should
promote conflict resolution, regional economic cooperation which would obviate the need
for regional intervention of great powers. In Davutoğlu’s own words:

Turkey enjoys multiple regional identities and thus has the capability as well
as the responsibility to follow an integrated and multidimensional foreign
policy. The unique combination of our history and geography brings with it a
sense of responsibility. To contribute actively towards conflict resolution and
international peace and security in all these areas is a call of duty arising from
the depths of a multidimensional history for Turkey.


Moving from Theory to Practice

 

Given that Davutoğlu, as chief foreign policy advisor to the prime minister and foreign
minister, has been an extremely influential actor throughout the AKP administration, it
makes sense to investigate to what extent his strategic doctrine has informed Turkish
foreign policy-making. The impact of Davutoğlu’s doctrine is evident in several of the
initiatives which the AKP government took in the field of domestic and foreign policy.
Turkey’s new Middle Eastern policy is a clear example of this. Significant improvement has
been noted regarding bilateral relations with Syria, Iraq and Armenia, while little change
has been observed regarding Greece and Cyprus.

Turkey’s Emerging Global Interests
Turkey’s growing interest in hitherto neglected parts of the globe is another feature of the
implementation of Davutoğlu’s doctrine. Sub-saharan Africa and Latin America attracted
unprecedented attention by Turkish diplomatic authorities. A series of Turkey-Africa
summits were organised in Turkey with the participation of numerous African leaders. In a
speech Davutoğlu delivered in December 2009, he stated that seven new embassies were
opened in 2009, while twenty-six would open in 2010 most of which in sub-Saharan Africa
and Latin America.

A Critique

 

The implementation of Davutoğlu’s foreign policy doctrine has contributed to a
transformation of Turkish foreign policy and the rising importance of Turkey’s diplomatic
role, especially in the Middle East. Yet it suffers from contradictions which might
undermine its successful implementation. Davutoğlu’s strategic vision faces a tough test in
the case of Iran. In accordance to this vision, Turkey has refused to side with Western
pressure aiming to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment programme and has followed an
independent policy aiming to put Turkey in the centre of a compromise solution. Prime
Minister Erdoğan also called for nuclear disarmament in the Middle East, implying that it
would be unfair to demand from Iran to freeze its nuclear programme, while Israel has
faced no criticism for its violation of nuclear proliferation treaties and development of
nuclear weapons. By trusting the good intentions of Iran’s leadership, Turkey is taking a big
risk. If Iran defies previous statements and does develop nuclear weapons, Turkey could be
one of the biggest losers in terms of regional security and might be embroiled into a
nuclear arms race with other Middle Eastern states.

Moreover, there is a serious contradiction
in relegating Turkey’s EU membership ambition to
simply one of Turkish strategic priorities. According
to Davutoğlu’s view, Turkey’s EU membership is
desirable, but it is not considered Turkey’s unique
strategic orientation. On the contrary, it is put into
context with Turkey’s multiple strategic
alternatives. Yet what this position misses is the
importance of Turkey’s reform process and EU membership for the management and
resolution of its own domestic conflicts. Davutoğlu has highlighted the resolution of the
Kurdish question and the Islamist-secularist confrontation as the most important conditions
for the implementation of Turkey’s strategic ambitions. Turkey’s EU membership process
has been the single most important trigger of the democratisation reform which reshaped
Turkey between 1999 and 2004. The continuation of this process which slowed down from
2005 onwards is still to a large extent linked to EU-Turkey accession negotiations. To the
extent that Turkey’s EU accession process is crucial for the resolution of Turkey’s two
lagging domestic conflicts, its strategic relationship with the European Union is of much
higher significance than any other alternative. As the difficulties in the implementation of
the Kurdish opening as well as the absence of a major overhaul of state-religion relations in
Turkey manifest, the resolution of these
disputes will be extremely difficult without
pressure emanating from Turkey’s EU accession
process. Hence Turkey’s EU membership
becomes indispensable for the realisation of
Turkey’s strategic potential. Turkey’s advanced
regional ambitions do not necessarily pose an
obstacle to Turkey’s European integration. One
could even argue that a regionally stronger
Turkey can be considered a more appealing
candidate for EU membership and a more valuable EU member state. The clarification of
this point would also help soothe European concerns that Davutoğlu’s doctrine is really
about shifting Turkey’s strategic priorities from Europe to the Middle East.

Conclusions – Policy Recommendations

 

Turkish foreign policy needs to give a new impetus to Turkey’s EU accession,
which has abated since 2005. This can help resolve Turkey’s crucial domestic conflicts,
namely the Kurdish question and the confrontation between Islamists and secularists. As
the European Union is uniquely poised to facilitate this process, Turkey’s EU membership
becomes crucial and cannot be treated as only one of Turkey’s strategic options.

European authorities should make it clear that Turkish aspirations to a leading
regional and a global strategic role are not incompatible with EU membership under the
condition that Turkey fully complies with the membership criteria. In fact, a Turkey which
enjoys an upgraded strategic position and cordial relations with its Middle Eastern
neighbours will be a more appealing EU member state and an asset in European strategic
planning.

For full-text of the paper; click here
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