The title of my last Daily Sabah column from last year was: "Turkey in 2019: From an Emerging Economy to an Emerging Power." The article showed how, over the course of just one year, Turkey proved that its economy was robust enough to resist the sustained economic and political attacks inflicted upon it over the last several years and that its military is strong enough to influence global multilateral platforms and sit at the negotiation table as an equal partner with some of the most influential global powers, including the United States and Russia.
In other words; Turkey is a real regional power and a global actor – which requires the successful juggling of both hard and soft power. Turkey increased its capacity and autonomy remarkably over the course of 2019, a year that provided ample opportunities for Turkey to consolidate its position within today's relatively chaotic international system.
Thanks to its growing economy, large population, military might, active diplomacy, strong state tradition and national identity, Turkey has become a decisive regional power capable of taking the initiative and forwarding a proactive foreign policy. Almost annually since the failed coup attempt of June 2016, Turkey has taken decisive military measures against the PKK/YPG and Daesh terror groups, bringing the fight to Syria and Iraq. Turkey has shown the world that it has the capability to defend its own national security independent of foreign support. Furthermore, since having developed its own defense industry, Turkey has been able to gather intelligence from both within Turkey and from neighboring countries to aid in the fight against various terrorist organizations simultaneously.
In 2019, Turkey embarked on three regional interventions in the Middle East, namely Syria, Qatar and Libya. In 2019, Turkey took a crucial step in the Syrian crisis. Despite a fierce anti-Turkish political and media campaign being waged globally, last October Turkey carried out a military operation – namely the Peace Spring Operation – in northeastern Syria with great success. This latest military operation lasted only 10 days, yet still, Turkey has achieved its goals.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 25, Turkey signed seven bilateral agreements with Qatar, paving the way for a transformation of the two countries' bilateral relations. On one hand, Qatar and Turkey are close economic partners, with increased bilateral trade and investments. On the other, the two have boosted their political and military cooperation to the level of strategic partners. Turkey has enlarged its military base in Doha, which contributes not only to Qatari national security, bolstering the strength of the country's national security forces, but also deters other regional states from intervening in Qatari politics.
Most significantly, on Nov. 27, Turkey signed two separate memoranda of understandings (MoUs) with the Libyan government; one outlining military cooperation and the other delineating the maritime boundaries of both countries in the Eastern Mediterranean.
According to the terms of the first MoU, Turkey is to provide military assistance in the form of weapons and military personnel to Libya's U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). The second MoU, meanwhile, succeeded in frustrating the game of other regional powers to exclude Turkey from its rights and national interests. The MoU allowed Turkey to prevent Greece and other neighboring states to create any fait accompli and to conduct exploration activities in Turkey's declared exclusive military zone. Ahead of this, Turkey demonstrated its deterrent naval prowess by sending two drilling ships and two seismic research ships to the region.
Similarly, Turkey has spoken out in global political discourse and voiced its demand for international influence. Throughout the year, Turkey has succeeded in conducting negotiations with leading global powers, such as the U.S. and Russia, and improving its cooperation with Asian countries – especially Muslim nations, such as Malaysia, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia, as well as improving its humanitarian and developmental role in Africa.
In conclusion, Turkey will continue at full speed in its quest for further autonomy and a diversification of its relations with global powers. While taking proactive steps to protect its national security against regional threats, Turkey will continue to play a constructive role in global politics.
About the author
Muhittin Ataman is Director of Foreign Policy Studies at SETA Foundation. He is a professor in the Department of International Relations at Social Sciences University of Ankara. Ataman is also the Editor-in-Chief of Insight Turkey.