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Is Türkiye Reorienting Itself Towards the West?

It cannot be said that the efforts of Turkish foreign policy to open up space for itself through pragmatic steps in line with regional and global balances are adequately understood.

Analyzes that depict Türkiye as “breaking away” from the Western alliance are based on the misconception that Türkiye cannot rationally determine its national interests and act accordingly.

When every relationship President Erdogan develops beyond the Transatlantic alliance is presented as either an alternative to the West or a distancing from the West, unfounded prejudices about Türkiye’s foreign policy emerge.

As analyses of Türkiye are reduced to variations of the perception of a country caught between the West and the East, constantly experiencing ebb and flow, problematic perspectives on Turkish foreign policy become widespread.

Unless it is based on the assumption that Türkiye has legitimate national interests and priorities, these analyses lose their ability to provide a profound explanation. Looking at the analyses of Türkiye’s recent critical foreign policy steps, we still see a dominant framework of “returning to the West.”

The guarantees obtained from both Sweden and NATO, along with the approval of Sweden’s membership, indicate that reducing Sweden’s membership to a mere attempt to return to the West is not possible.

Sweden’s commitments regarding counterterrorism and NATO’s acceptance of appointing a special representative for counterterrorism reflect the success of Türkiye’s efforts to bring international terrorism to the agenda of the alliance.

Pledges of support regarding customs union, visa facilitation, and membership process from Sweden also serve Türkiye’s efforts to strengthen its relations with the EU. Regarding the purchase of F-16s, Türkiye managed to pave the way for a more intensive lobbying by Biden in Congress by taking away Sweden’s bargaining chip from Washington.

These concrete gains show that Türkiye’s decision is driven by serving its national interests rather than a concern to approach the West. The most concrete achievement for the Transatlantic alliance that emerged from the Vilnius Summit was Türkiye giving the green light to Sweden’s membership, but it cannot be said that Ukrainian leader Zelensky got exactly what he wanted.

If Ukraine had been formally invited for membership, NATO would have taken an extremely forward step against Russia. It is clear that alliance members are reluctant to provoke Russia and engage NATO directly in war.

While Ukraine’s membership is being delayed, progress in Sweden’s membership seems to be seen as easier from the alliance’s perspective. President Erdogan’s statements in support of Ukraine’s NATO membership during Zelensky’s visit show that Türkiye is even more courageous in this regard than the West.

If Türkiye had only acted to improve its relations with the West, it would not have gone beyond the West’s cautious approach to the Ukrainian issue. Türkiye’s clear stance on this matter indicates its belief that NATO’s expansion to include Ukraine serves its national interests.

We know that the Western alliance did not provide sufficient support to Türkiye when it had to cooperate with Russia in the field when necessary. One striking example is when Türkiye shot down a Russian plane for violating its airspace and received calls for calm from the West.

While the US and some European allies should have strengthened Türkiye’s hand against Russia in Syria, their support for the YPG deepened Türkiye’s national security concerns. While Türkiye was blocking Wagner and Haftar and ensuring stability in Libya, Western countries failed to provide concrete contributions.

These examples show that despite the lack of necessary strategic support from the West, Türkiye did not hesitate to fight on the ground while developing its relations with Russia. In this context, Türkiye supports Ukraine’s NATO membership not to please the West but because it has the potential to limit Russia’s power projection in the Black Sea.

Regional actors like Türkiye are aware that they do not have the luxury of joining any bloc to solve their problems in the face of rapid changes in international relations. The definitions of the West and the East from the Cold War era are no longer valid in terms of defining today’s international system.

While it is true that the Western alliance has institutional continuity, we also see that the alliance cannot unite around the same policy even on fundamental issues. Therefore, different alliances need to be formed on different issues.

For example, the US, which tries to limit China’s sphere of influence, is simultaneously seeking cooperation with countries outside the Western alliance like India, and also seeking cooperation with China on climate change.

Within an international system that is difficult to even define as multipolar, actors are constantly seeking different areas of partnership in the face of new challenges. It is necessary for Türkiye to be part of different alliances on different issues, which is a requirement for a dynamic and healthy foreign policy.

It is important to emphasize that Türkiye acted in line with its national interests both when objecting to Sweden’s membership and when giving the green light. The thesis that Türkiye is turning to the West is based on the assumption that it is moving away from the West, which is a very superficial perspective.

In the upcoming period, Türkiye will continue to collaborate with countries outside the West, and if we interpret this as moving away from the West, we would be making the same mistake. Just as in the case of Sweden’s NATO membership process, it is more reasonable to approach Türkiye’s foreign policy from the assumption that it is producing policies based on its national interests and priorities.

Kadir Üstün for Yeni Şafak

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