Similar to living organisms, nations and states take shape according to their geography and geopolitical significance, demographic and social structure, political and cultural codes, natural resources and regional and global dynamics. State elites engender their security policies after evaluating all these factors through a historical perspective.
As former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger claims in his famous book "Diplomacy," both the cultural-institutional context and the constructed historical identities of related actors determine the security policies of states.
As World War I ended, the Ottoman Empire, one of the greatest empires in the premodern world, went out of existence. The fall of the Ottoman state, as an empire that took part in the European state system and ruled over the lands over three continents, provided invaluable openings for the spread of European colonization.
While the Republic of Turkey was founded as an independent country after the occupying powers were defeated in the war of liberation, the European colonial powers succeeded in taking possession of the remaining lands of the Ottoman Empire.
After World War II, however, the colonized countries in North Africa and the Middle East acquired their independence one by one. The Algerian war of independence could only be won after 1.5 million Muslims were slaughtered by France. As their flags include the star and crescent symbol of the Ottoman Empire, it is reasonable to argue that these newly independent countries aimed at harvesting legitimacy from the symbolism of a lost empire.
When the new Republic of Turkey emerged, the Jacobin political mentality rejected the Ottoman legacy. Defining itself as the antithesis of its Ottoman predecessor, the new political regime created a crisis of identity which caused Turkey to lose precious time for recovery.
After the transition to a multiparty system in 1950, Turkey became a member of NATO. During the course of the Cold War, the Atlantic alliance protected Turkey against Russia’s expansionist policies. However, Turkey’s membership in NATO also endangered its independence by subjecting Turkey’s politics and economy to global powers.
During the Cyprus crisis in 1974, Turkey was confronted with the consequences of its dependency on NATO. During the Prime Ministry of Bülent Ecevit with Necmettin Erbakan as his coalition partner, Turkey began to invest in industrial production and in the defense industry.
In the post-Cold War era, the former bipolar world order was replaced with a multipolar balance of power. During this period of rapid change, former President Turgut Özal transformed Turkey into a regional economy by pursuing neoliberal economic policies.
In 1997, the political leadership of Erbakan launched a massive campaign for constructing an independent national defense industry. However, a group of generals within the Turkish military overthrew the government with a coup d’etat. Under the influence of NATO, these corrupted generals not only overthrew a legitimate government but also halted Turkey’s economic move in the industry.
After the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2002, military and bureaucratic tutelage would come to an end for the first time in the history of modern Turkey thanks to the people’s steady support for the civilian rule of the AK Party.
While nation-states come to the fore in the new world order, Turkey has emerged as a strong player in the post-Cold War era with its strong leadership and stable government. In my next column, I will examine how Turkey has succeeded in acquiring its original identity in the ever-changing geopolitical dynamics of the present period of chaos.
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