We have recently been passing through a period when traditional paradigms of foreign policy have become null and void. As the world’s geopolitics is being reshaped, the next two decades will be crucial in terms of deciding the winners and losers of the 21st century. The lifespans of hegemonic powers are not as long as they used to be in the premodern eras. The changes in the balance of power occur rapidly in our time. A few decades earlier, only a few experts of international relations anticipated the emergence of China as an economic superpower, which has turned the world’s geopolitics upside down.
Turkey’s emergence as a regional power is yet another unexpected occurrence in the post-Cold War period. Until the eruption of world wars in the first half of the 20th century, the world had been divided and ruled by the European colonial powers. After the end of World War II, the United States became the hegemonic power of the Western world. By means of NATO, the U.S. controlled a good number of states, including the Western European countries and Turkey.
As the Cold War ended with the defeat of the USSR and its Warsaw concept, the U.S. declared its triumph due to the emerging unipolar balance of power. During this so-called “new world order,” the U.S. unlawfully invaded Afghanistan and Iraq without impunity. Such a reckless and aggressive foreign policy attitude soon led to the end of the unipolar hegemony of the U.S.
In addition to the emergence of China as an economic superpower, Russia turned back to the world stage as a military giant. Even though the influence of the leading European powers over the world’s geopolitics continued to decrease, new regional powers such as India, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey and Indonesia emerged, concluding with a multipolar balance of power in international relations.
In one of his speeches, European Union High Representative for Foreign Relations and Security Policy Joseph Borell emphasized the emergence of three great powers: China, Russia and Turkey. Regarding Turkey, he advised that the EU should cooperate and establish close relations with Ankara.
A decade earlier, however, not only the leading European powers but also the U.S. were unwilling to accept Turkey’s emergence as a regional power. During the last decade, Turkey has proved its worth by appealing to its both soft and hard power in the international arena.
Left alone by its NATO allies in Syria, Turkey has adopted an independent foreign policy and has become one of the key players in the Syrian crisis by establishing a constructive dialogue with Russia and Iran. Meanwhile, Turkey utterly defeated three major terrorist organizations, namely Daesh, the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), within and outside its borders.
Making use of its powerful navy and diplomacy, Turkey established a strong treaty with Libya on the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), changing the rules of the game in the Eastern Mediterranean. During the Nagorno-Karabakh war, Turkey’s involvement changed the course of the war, concluding with Azerbaijan’s retrieving of Karabakh. Turkey has begun to replace the role of France in North Africa and that of Britain in the Middle East. The countries of these regions welcome Turkey as a non-colonial power that has historical ties with them.
After Turkey proved its strength in the international arena, countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel sought normalization and improvement in their relations with Turkey.
The ongoing rapprochement between Turkey and Israel is especially crucial in terms of Turkey’s role in transporting natural gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe. Instead of Greece, the so-called spoiled child of Europe, Turkey and Israel could assist the European countries in alleviating their dependency on Russia in terms of natural gas.
The upcoming decades will certainly witness the rise of Turkey as a smart regional power.