Davutoglu Promoting “Strategic Depth” in Turkish Foreign Policy

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 89

New Foreign Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu (L)

On May 2 Professor Ahmet Davutoglu (50) was appointed as Turkey’s Foreign Minister, replacing Ali Babacan (42). Davutoglu had been the "behind the scenes" figure instrumental in devising what is termed as the pro-active and multi faceted foreign policy of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which came to power in November 2002. He has now come to the forefront of Turkish politics.

A veteran Turkish diplomat described him as having the capability to fill old wine in new bottles. This description of Davutoglu stemmed from the diplomat’s conviction that there is little new in Turkish foreign policy, it is merely being repackaged. Ankara, in his view, has been unable to match the "pro-active" foreign policy with practical achievements. This was due to Turkey being a quasi-state -not functioning like a state- as long as real democracy does not fully function within all the institutions in the country (Turkish diplomat in an interview with Jamestown).

Davutoglu is noted for his 2001 book, "Stratejik Derinlik" (Strategic Depth) in which he asserted that Turkey has become a key country, emerging from its position of serving as a forward base for NATO during the Cold War. By using its geopolitical and geostrategic position, Turkey can become a regional as well as a global actor. As part of this vision, the government has pursued a policy of ending its long-term hositilites with its neighbours, mainly in the Middle East, which the Ottoman Turks had once ruled.

Davutoglu was the architect of dialogue with all the political actors in the Middle East, including the most controversial ones, such as Hamas leader Khaled al-Mashal. He was instrumental in Turkey’s mediation between Syria and Israel, and he devised the strategy of opening dialogue with all groups within Iraq, including the Kurds with whom Ankara had troubled ties. This increased engagement of Turkey in the Middle East’s politics and conflicts, labelled "Neo Ottomanism" has however, raised concerns over whether Ankara has been distancing itself from NATO and its ultimate goal of becoming a European Union (EU) member.

Davutoglu has denied the policy of Neo Ottomanism on various occasions, while most recently reaffirming his adhrence to Turkey’s Euro-Atlantic integration, during a ceremony marking his appointment held on May 4. Turkish foreign policy has changed, he said on May 4, away from crisis-oriented to being based instead on "vision," allowing Turkish policy-makers to identify potential crises before they errupt and devise appropriate policies to tackle them (Today’s Zaman, May 4).

Accordingly, he said Turkey now has a stronger foreign policy vision toward the Middle East, the Balkans and the South Caucasus region, adding: "It has to take on the role of an order-instituting country in all these regions. …Turkey is no longer a country which only reacts to crises, but notices the crises before their emergence and intervenes effectively, and gives shape to the order of its surrounding regions." It is clear that such an active foreign policy pursued with the inspiration and contribution of Davutoglu, has increased Turkey’s visibility, suggested retired ambassador and Taraf columnist Temel Iskit (Taraf, May 5).

However, Iskit questioned the success of this new foreign policy: "It is hard to say that this visibility has increased Turkey’s effectiveness. For example, Turkey could not reap any harvest from its role as a facilitator in the Middle East. The Palestinian issue remains in stalemate, and Turkey was not given any credit for the Israeli-Hamas ceasefire" (Taraf, May 5).

Indeed, many analysts agree that difficult tasks are awaiting Davutoglu both inside and outside Turkey. Internally, the government has frequently fallen victim to efforts by the Turkish opposition, as well as non elected bureaucrats, to insert populism into foreign policy matters. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been falling into the trap of either nationalists or Islam sensitive groups influencing foreign policy issues.

For example, a senior Turkish diplomat explained in an interview with Jamestown, Erdogan has bowed to the pressure from Azerbaijan, supported by Turkish nationalists, thus complicating a fresh start with Armenia. Efforts to control the damage done by other politicians will keep Davutoglu occupied, he added.

Meanwhile, Iskit warned against forgetting the importance of the effect of Turkey’s politically powerful armed forces, which restricts not only the government’s room for maneuver, but also Davutoglu on foreign policy issues (Taraf, May 5).