Over the past decade, Turkish diplomacy has faced many complex foreign policy issues and problems. There are ongoing civil wars and tensions in Syria, Iraq and Libya, unresolved maritime issues in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean region, minor tensions with some Gulf countries and tensions in Ukraine -Russia or NATO-Russia in the Black Sea. All these issues have been the main priorities of Turkey’s foreign policy. There are also systemic challenges and tensions where Turkey should clearly take sides.
Turkey’s diplomatic relations with critical counterparts like the United States, Russia and the European Union have been problematic and unpredictable for nearly a decade. Turkey was on constant alert due to domestic terrorist threats and the unstable security environment in the surrounding regions. Existing security issues and diplomatic tensions with neighbors and critical counterparts have stiffened Turkey’s foreign policy stance and limited its constructive and proactive foreign policy initiatives.
The weather is changing, so are the tensions
During the first decade of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, Turkey’s constructive foreign policy outlook was overshadowed by the tensions mentioned. The year 2022 will be another turning point in the foreign policy of the AKP party where economic relations and constructive foreign policy initiatives will be given priority. The second decade of the party’s foreign policy is somewhat overwhelmed by regional unrest and hybrid security concerns.
Turkey has shown resilience in this era marked by instability and security shocks, but this era has left behind a costly legacy. The deterioration of relations with some old friends, disagreements with allies and the predominance of the security agenda were some of the costs of this time.
The risks and new opportunities offered in the uncertain environment of the post-COVID-19 international order have compelled Turkey, like many other international actors, to review its foreign policy strategy. Like existing terrorist threats and foreign policy crises, economic and social resilience is also high on Turkey’s national security agenda.
On alert to counter
Many of the existing issues remain unresolved and continue to pose significant national security challenges for Turkey. More importantly, these issues are blocking the promotion of diplomatic and economic partnerships with some critical counterparts in its neighborhood and beyond. This security-oriented and defensive agenda also prioritizes coercive tools and militaristic approaches in Turkey’s foreign policy. Turkish diplomats and military officials are constantly in crisis management mode, and diplomats and military officials have acted more reactively than proactively in this era of uncertainty.
In recent months, Turkey has prioritized normalizing diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Armenia. Turkish diplomats are also looking for new ways to settle issues with the United States through a new diplomatic mechanism. Diplomatic initiatives are in place to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel and Greece. These recent normalization efforts and proactive diplomatic initiatives will be Turkey’s top foreign policy agenda for 2022.
Turkey will be on alert for unexpected escalations in Syria, Libya, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but maintaining the constructive plan will be a priority in the months to come. It is very difficult for the AK Party administration to return to the foreign policy strategies of its first decade (2002-2013), mainly due to the accumulated unresolved security challenges. Security will continue to be a priority in the foreign policy of the AKP Party government, but a more constructive normalization agenda will be pursued unless there are unexpected systemic and regional challenges.