On October 17, Turkey was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2009-2010, securing 151 votes in the first round of voting. Turkey finished comfortably ahead of its two rivals: Austria, which took the second seat allocated to countries from the Western Europe with 132 votes; and Iceland with 87 votes. It was the first time since 1961 that Turkey had been elected to the Security Council.
The result was greeted with predictable euphoria in Turkey. “The 47 year-old dream becomes a reality”, trumpeted the normally restrained liberal daily Radikal (Radikal, October 18). President Abdullah Gul described the vote as: “A significant success which should be a source of joy for every citizen. The support given to Turkey is a reflection of the feelings of love and friendship that are felt for our nation and the trust the international community has in our state.” (Yeni Safak, Zaman, Hurriyet, October 18). For Ambassador Baki Ilkin, Turkey’s Permanent Representative to the UN, the emotion was all too much. When interviewed by Turkish television, he broke down in tears of joy (NTV, CNNTurk, October 17).
The vote in New York capped a remarkable five years, stretching to July 21, 2003, when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) allocated a budget for $50 million to support its bid for a seat on the Security Council. Turkey started its campaign in earnest in June 2004 when it vigorously lobbied its fellow Muslim members of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) for support at a summit meeting in Istanbul; a plea which was repeated at each of subsequent biannual meetings of the foreign ministers of OIC members.
The campaign intensified in January 2008, when the AKP hosted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on a three day official visit, literally rolling out the red carpet for someone who was regarded as a pariah by the rest of the international community (see EDM, January 22). In February 2008, the streets of Ankara were festooned with the yellow, red and green of the Senegalese flag for an official visit of the country’s president; triggering a major security alarm as the Turkish police initially attempted to pull down the unfamiliar flags on the grounds that they were same colors as the banner of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) (Milliyet, Radikal, February 19). In March 2008, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan attempted to atone for any embarrassment and ingratiate himself with his hosts by donning Senegalese national costume during a visit to Dakar (Milliyet, Hurriyet, March 13). In April 2008, Turkish journalists were sent scrambling for their atlases as the AKP hosted the heads of state of a string of tiny Pacific islands to Turkey and government officials lauded their hitherto unknown bilateral ties (see EDM, April 17).
In August 2008, the AKP rolled out the red carpet for al-Bashir again; even if this time Sudan was just one of 50 African states invited to Istanbul for the first ever Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit, at which Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan pledged that Turkey would open embassies in 15 new African countries (Radikal, Hurriyet, August 19). In his address to the summit, Babacan called on the participants to support Turkey’s bid for membership of the Security Council, promising that, if elected, Turkey “will be the voice of Africa” (Radikal, August 20); apparently unaware of the fact that African countries are already guaranteed at least two seats of their own on the Security Council. In a subsequent interview with Turkish television, a beaming Babacan predicted: “We are guaranteed the votes of at least 90 percent of the African states.” (NTV, CNNTurk, August 19)
Speaking after the October 17 vote in New York, Professor Ahmet Davutoglu, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s leading foreign policy advisor, proudly described the successful outcome as “neither chance, nor bribery.” (Radikal, October 19).
However, in his speech to Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit, Erdogan promised a massive increase in Turkish aid to Africa (Radikal, Hurriyet, August 19). While Turkish officials admit that $20 million of Turkey’s $50 million budget has gone on paying off the debts of smaller nations to the UN.
On October 17, Erdogan announced that the seat on the Security Council “provides an opportunity for us to play a more active, more effective global role.” (Milliyet, Hurriyet, Zaman, October 18).
But there is little doubt that Turkey’s main motivation in seeking a seat on the Security Council was simply national pride. Despite its often aggressive — even bellicose — nationalistic rhetoric, Turkey remains intensively sensitive to what it believes others think of it. Particularly under the AKP, the search for international prestige has become one of the main determinants of foreign policy; sometimes overriding more tangible political and economic benefits. There are undoubtedly occasions when the AKP’s attempts to boost its international standing have potential beneficial results — such as its attempts to demonstrate its credentials as a regional power by facilitating negotiations between Syria and Israel. But there have also been numerous occasions when it has backfired.
In addition to the AKP’s decision to afford al-Bashir with the trappings of international respectability twice in 2008, Davutoglu invited Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to Ankara in February 2006 in the apparent hope of winning international acclaim by persuading him to adopt a more conciliatory policy towards Israel. In the event, Meshaal merely took the opportunity to repeat Hamas’s previous position; while Davutoglu’s decision to invite the leader of what is regarded by most of the international community as a terrorist organization undermined Ankara’s calls for the international isolation of the PKK.
More recently, in August 2008, the AKP invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Turkey in the hope of demonstrating its unique influence by persuading Tehran to heed Western concerns about its nuclear program; only for Ahmadinejad to repeat Iran’s previous position and bask in the unequivocal proof that his country was not as internationally isolated as Washington in particular would have liked.
In the wake of the vote in New York, Babacan told reporters that Turkey would be able to use its seat on the Security Council to facilitate dialogue between Tehran and the West (NTV, CNNTurk, October 18). However, the problem for Turkey is that power brings responsibility. From 2009 onwards, Turkey will find it much more difficult to present itself as all things to all countries; and if, for example, the US tables a motion to apply sanctions against Iran at the Security Council, not antagonizing anybody will not be one of Turkey’s options.