Humanity first: The Turkish version of soft power

NAZMUL ISLAM * - ESRA EYMEN CANSU **
Published

The main theorist of soft power policy, Joseph S. Nye Jr. said "soft power" is the ability to attract and persuade through cultural, economic, diplomatic, political values, foreign policies and personal relations. While most influential countries such as China, Germany, France, Russia and India spend a lot of time and money manufacturing national narratives in a top-down manner, some others, such as the United States, do it in a bottom-up manner through the agency of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society.

Fascinatingly, Turkey's soft power policies are both top-down and bottom-up in approach. The top-down ones are pursued by governmental institutions such as the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA), the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) and the Yunus Emre Institute (YEE), while bottom-up approaches are carried out through nongovernmental organizations such as the Turkish Red Crescent Society and many others working in different parts of the world.

Nevertheless, comparatively the worldwide approach of the U.S.' soft power policy is through participation with civil society groups, while Turkey's policies and strategies are a "high volume approach" from the measurement of humanitarian impacts on other countries. Moreover, Turkish governmental institutions and NGOs prioritize and maintain Turkey's national interest, historical legacy and cultural cooperation to maintain its old, historical and current allies to a great extent.

It can be argued that Turkish institutions already have a trustworthy leadership position all over the world due to their enormous humanitarian activities, increasing the country's soft power and positive image in the world. The warm assistance to millions of Syrian refugees since 2013, aid for Qatar in the aftermath of the blockade by the Saudi-led coalition in the past year, the stance on the Rohingya refugee crisis and so on, all prove Turkey's strong position when it comes to humanitarian problems. Turkey also follows a comprehensive policy on aid issues as it always extends a helping hand when it comes to world disasters such as the 2010 Pakistan flood, the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the huge typhoon in the Philippines, the floods in the Balkans, the earthquake in Nepal, the humanitarian crises in Yemen and Libya. All of them have branded Turkey as the world's second most generous humanitarian assistance country as a percentage of gross national income, according to a 2017 report by U.K.-based Development Initiatives.

Additionally, the cultural impact of Turkish soft power institutions are felt via drama series and movies. Turkey is now the second highest exporter of TV series globally after the United States. "Nearly 150 Turkish television series have been sold to over 100 countries" William Armstrong wrote in The New York Times on Nov. 4, 2017.

Most interestingly, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his humanitarian role throughout the world also make Turkey a powerful emerging country. For instance, his recent political reaction against the U.S.' decision on Jerusalem and his famous phrase at U.N. meetings, "The world is bigger than five," have become the instrumental model of soft power impacts by Turkey in the world, particularly in the Muslim world. Another example is the political and economic success of Erdoğan's party, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) that influences MENA region countries in political and economic manners.

New dawn, new history

In terms of persuasion, "having power" and being a deeply responsible actor is where Turkey can be a successful diplomatically capable country by its own narratives, choices, objectives, goals and behaviors. The effective communication of soft power policy and strategy indicates that the new "Turkish story" is rising and emerging as a trustworthy leadership position in the world. It can only be possible through public, private and nongovernmental sectors of soft power institutions where both soft and smart power policies and strategies can be used to achieve the realpolitik domestic and foreign policy interests of Turkey for its own, as well as global, peace and security.

This kind of leadership position gives Turkey huge responsibilities where it can be part of any countries' policy-making and policy implementation processes, like other powerful countries do

to ensure their national interest.

Now, the world is facing a leadership vacuum due to Donald Trump's term in the U.S. and the ascendant right-wing populist parties in Europe. Hence, there is rising demand for a new world order and new leadership, economically, politically and culturally; Turkey may fill that vacuum and write a new history for tomorrow's world.

* Ph.D. candidate, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University

** Postgraduate researcher, Department of International Relations, Ankara Social Science University

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