This is a time of great change in the world. In the midst of this, Turkey has redefined itself; the new Turkey is very different to what it was in the past. Nevertheless, some people still live in the past, do not believe in the concept of Turkey having “national interests” and think that only the US can and will determine the interests of other countries.
This world no longer exists. The major powers used to lead and weaken other countries to suit their own interests, but today we must accept that the things that we thought were true are no longer so. All countries around the world have changed their policies. The US wants to leave NATO, despite being a founder, while China is seeking to reach beyond its borders to all continents. Meanwhile, Russia has achieved its goal of having a permanent naval presence in warm water ports. The European Union, meanwhile, suffers its own problems. Some small and weak states remain as pawns of the old powers.
The repositioning of Turkey can be understood by asking if it would have been able to make its presence felt as a regional actor on the international scene, and have been listened to, if it had not implemented the “power policy”. This is being asked a lot these days, especially in light of the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. Turkey has activated a strategy that shows its hard power, using a harsh tone for official statements and exposing its military capabilities on the ground. An example of this was the military exercise in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean involving its air force and navy. Drones were also deployed. Moreover, gas exploration vessels have continued their work protected by Turkish warships.
The message is that Turkey is a military force to be taken seriously. It not only possesses advanced weapons, but also a domestic defence industry which makes them. This message seems to have got through, as once sabre-rattling countries are now seeking dialogue and negotiations with Ankara to reduce tension. This week, we have seen a shift from the field to the negotiation table, where the soft power takes over.
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In truth, Turkey adopted hard and soft power policies some time ago. While developing its military capacity, and putting it on display, Turkey’s diplomats have played their role to solve disputes through negotiations. The fact that the crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean has reached this stage is a result of this dual approach. The main goal is always to settle disputes peacefully without the need for armed conflict.
Likewise, the goal of Turkish support for the people and governments in places like Azerbaijan and Libya is to stabilise the countries, not to inflame the situation. International institutions which have pursued a policy of “neither war nor peace” in the region for centuries, have caused an increase in chaos and overlooked the deaths among the vulnerable civilian populations due to unfair decisions made in the interests of powerful parties.
Every time that the ceasefire agreement signed by Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1994 is violated, for example, the world asks, “Will the clash in the Karabakh region turn into a bigger war?” No steps have been taken to defuse the situation, so the Azerbaijan-Armenia problem that has been frozen for years is on fire again.
Azerbaijan repeatedly highlights the occupation and violation of its sovereign territory to no apparent avail. Now it has decided to use its power against Armenia, which has attacked it again with the encouragement of the old powers. This suggests that Azerbaijan has also changed and come to understand that soft power is not possible to use without hard power to back it up. Countries that are weak in the field lose out at the negotiations table, or else they continue to stare into the eyes of the land-hungry wolves for years in the hope that the problem will be solved.
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This article first appeared in arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 30 September 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.