Part I: Turkey in the Middle East: The Tacit Revisionist
In the previous article, it was argued that Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East “is obviously, yet tacitly, revisionist.” Specifically, examples such as the Syrian civil war were employed to highlight Turkey’s revisionist goals (i.e. regime change) and its efforts to rely on great powers (U.S. and NATO) in order to achieve them without getting too much involved.
Another region where one could observe a revisionist Turkish foreign policy behavior is the Eastern Mediterranean. There, Turkey is part of long-standing disputes which concern issues such as the delimitation of maritime borders, air-control spaces, and Muslim or Turkish minorities in Greece and Cyprus. More recently, Turkey has also had problems with Israel and Egypt.
Given that geopolitical revisionism is defined as a state’s efforts to alter the geopolitical status quo for its own benefit, one could see that Turkish foreign policy behavior is not only revisionist towards the Middle East but also towards the broader Eastern Mediterranean. This kind of behavior is displayed in both the cases of Cyprus and Israel – to only look at two. Whilst the revisionist strategies observed in Turkey’s Syria policy were regime change and bandwagoning-for-profit, two different strategies can be seen in the cases of Israel and Cyprus (i.e. coercive diplomacy and subversion).
In terms of Cyprus, Turkey’s approach is revisionist but not as tacit as in other cases. It is a well-known fact that Turkey occupies the northern part of Cyprus since 1974. The causes and the legitimacy of Turkey’s invasion may or may not be up for debate – although a number of United Nations Security Council resolutions clearly condemn it. Yet, the illegitimacy of the continuing Turkish military occupation and indirect political control of northern Cyprus is in direct violation of International Law and part of an expansionist policy.
Beyond this decades-old problem, the policy of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey prolongs the problem by maintaining a revisionist approach; or, better put, by sustaining and deepening the 1974 changed status quo. A case in point is the NAVTEX order that Turkey gave out in late October, 2014, in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for seismic search for natural resources. To conduct the explorations Turkey sent the “Barbaros” vessel as well as accompanying warships. This also constitutes a violation of International Law and of Cyprus’s sovereign rights over its delimited EEZ. Turkey denies to comply with international community calls to stop any illegal activity.
Turkish violations came in the aftermath of Republic of Cyprus (RoC) efforts to explore for and exploit its natural resources. On the one hand, Turkey’s movements are aimed at disrupting Cypriot energy-related operations; on the other, to coerce the RoC to put natural resources on the negotiating table for the resolution of the Cyprus Problem with the precondition that energy profits and resources should be distributed evenly between the Greek-Cypriots and the Turkish-Cypriot minority – Turkey would thus be indirectly benefited after a potential settlement. Ankara made similar efforts in September, 2011, when it threatened both Cyprus and Israel with naval military action. It wanted Cyprus to cease any energy explorations and reacted to the results of the UN Palmer report about the 2010 “Mavi Marmara” incident that brought about radical deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations.
In both the cases of Cyprus and Israel, at least one revisionist strategy is evident: coercive diplomacy (this strategy can also be seen in the case of Syria). It is clear that Turkey employs the threat of use of force, and specifically naval power, to the end of bringing about a geopolitical order favorable for itself. Given that it is the only state that not only doesn’t recognize the RoC and its lawful undertakings but also tries to prevent or reverse them, it’s not difficult to comprehend the revisionist aims behind Ankara’s actions.
When it comes to Israel, the matter is more complicated as Turkey’s approach adopts a combination of coercive diplomacy and some sort of regional subversion. It does so for four main reasons: a) it tries to strengthen its position among Arab states and Iran by turning against Israel and becoming an avid supporter of the Palestinians (and Muslims); b) it tries to keep the Israeli power in check as the regional geopolitical rival that it is and one that, among other things, often flirts with Turkey’s existential threat – the Kurds; c) it tries to appeal to the domestic public opinion which is largely anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli, for electoral purposes; and d) because of anti-Semitic attitudes and political Islamic ideological features at the AKP elite level.
Cyprus and Israel are only two examples of Turkey’s broader regional policy. Other examples can be found in the case of Egypt, where Turkey harshly opposed the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, and its condemnation of Libyan government’s decision to bomb Tripoli’s airport which is seized by militant Islamists. Both cases demonstrate interference in the other states’ domestic affairs and, at least in the case of Egypt, pressure toward a different status quo. Therefore, as the previous article concluded, it becomes increasingly evident that Turkish foreign policy behavior serves a revisionist vision for the region and beyond, especially after the break-out of the “Arab Spring” and the gradual over-concentration of powers to the AKP and president Erdoğan himself.
This tendency should not be taken lightly from regional and international actors. Turkey is a powerful country that has taken a dangerous turn. Instead of compromising with Turkey’s crisis-prone policies and dangerous flirt with actors such as Hamas and the “Islamic State,” its Western partners should do their best within the framework of diplomacy and the confines of International Law to keep it in check and help it get on a track that would contribute to the peace and stability of the broader region.
The article first appeared on TheGWPost and Athens Views (19/12/2014).