Analysis - Political Transformations

Two Conflicting Paths

Turkish Foreign Relations After the Failed Coup

Friday، July 22، 2016
Two Conflicting Paths

The consequences of the failed coup attempt in Turkey still resonates. The Turkish government is continuing its prosecution of those suspected to be involved in the attempted coup within various state institutions: according to Al-Arabiya news website, around 50,000 members of the army, police, and judiciary, as well as government employees and teachers have been dismissed or arrested since the coup. Two members of the Constitutional Court have also been arrested while many academics were banned from traveling outside the country.

Currently, the Turkish government is busy restructuring and securing its internal front. It is possible that such actions will reflect on the country’s foreign policies, which will steer Turkey towards appeasement with some regional powers, and a reduced involvement in regional crises.

Nonetheless, tensions will likely increase at the same time in US-Turkish, and European-Turkish relations as the United States refuses to extradite the opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkey, and as the US and European criticism continue of recent government measures, specifically its proposal to reinstate capital punishment.

Turkey seeks appeasement with some regional and international powers

The Turkish government’s engagement in the pursuit and prosecution of those involved in the coup attempt, as well as its efforts to restore internal security and stability, is shifting the country’s foreign policy. The government is currently taking steps towards mitigating its tense relations with some regional and international powers and focusing its foreign actions on dealing with issues that constitute a direct threat to the country’s security. Turkey’s potential foreign policy directions can be detailed as follows: 

1. Turkey is proceeding with implementation of the reconciliation deal with Israel. Signed on June 28, 2016, the agreement seeks to restore ties between the two countries, which deteriorated as a result of the Israeli attack on the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara in 2010. Six years later, Ankara has found itself in need of closer security, intelligence and military cooperation with Tel Aviv to deal with its fragile security status, aggravated after the coup attempt. Today, Turkey faces increased threats of terrorist attacks from ISIS and some Kurdish groups, as security controls have loosened considering security and intelligence forces are currently focusing their efforts on tracking coup perpetrators.

2. Turkey is seeking stronger ties with Russia, after restoring relations through the apology it addressed to Moscow on June 27, 2016, for the downing of a Russian fighter jet last November, an incident that deeply shook the countries’ bilateral relations. Turkey, currently preoccupied with dealing with its internal crisis, needs to strengthen economic ties with Russia to alleviate the adverse effects of the coup attempt on the Turkish economy. The state will also need to reach an understating with Moscow on the Syrian crisis that guarantees Turkish interests in the Middle Eastern country, primarily to prevent the creation of an independent Kurdish region in northern Syria. Russia’s large influence in Syria and its tight relationship with the Assad regime can be a great asset in this regard, which indicates the loss of faith in the United States as a Turkish ally in light of disagreements on various issues.

This new direction materialized when Turkish authorities declared the arrest of the two Turkish pilots who brought down the Russian warplane on November 24, 2015, on charges of participating in the coup attempt. Accompanying this move was Erdogan’s statement that the culprits in the jet incident also participated in the coup, along with the announcement of the first arranged meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin to be held in early August.

3. Turkey is pushing to open communication channels with Iraq and Syria, either through regional intermediaries such as Algeria and Iran - two countries that benefit from good relations with Turkey as well as Iraq and Syria - or through international intermediaries such as Russia. In fact, Turkey attempted to adopt this approach even before the coup, only to abandon it following internal criticism of statements made by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim that Turkey is seeking to restore its relations with Iraq and Syria. This step has now become necessary to guarantee Turkey’s security as the country suffers from a division within its armed forces and security agencies. Smoother ties with two countries that share a common border with Turkey, and could constitute a threat to its national security, will help maintain border security.

Increased tensions between Ankara, Washington, and the EU

Turkey’s relations with the United States and the European Union were tense before the failed coup. This is due to US-Turkish disagreements regarding the Syrian crisis and US support of Kurdish groups in Syria on the one hand, and EU-Turkish differences over the implementation of the refugee deal, and Europe’s refusal to remove entry visa restrictions on Turkish citizens without any amendments to the Turkish anti-terrorism law on the other. It is possible that more tension lurks in the future as a result of several factors:

1.  The United States’ refusal, until now, to extradite opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen who lives in Pennsylvania. Erdogan accuses the Hizmet Movement leader, Fethullah Gulen, of orchestrating the failed military coup and has asked the US to repatriate him to Turkey for prosecution. Prime Minister Yildirim has also stated that his country would re-examine its relationship with Washington if Gulen is not repatriated.

The White House has announced that it received Turkey’s request, confirming that it would be processed through the appropriate legal procedures. US President Barack Obama further offered, during a phone call between the two leaders, to help the Turkish government in its investigation of the coup attempt.

2. US and European criticism of the measures taken by the Turkish government after the failed coup. The US, along with European powers, are concerned that Erdogan will exploit the coup attempt to seek revenge on his enemies and will extend his control over the country. These concerns follow the wide scale arrest campaign launched within the judiciary, the police, and the army, in addition to the Turkish President and his Prime Minister’s announcement that constitutional and legal measures will be examined for the reinstatement of the capital punishment. Furthermore, on July 21, the Turkish parliament ratified a cabinet decree to declare a three-month state of emergency and to suspend the European Convention on Human Rights.

These concerns were highlighted in the words of Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who confirmed that any country imposing the death penalty could not be a member of the European Union. She called on Ankara to respect democracy and human rights. Other EU officials expressed similar views; Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, stated that the swift arrests of judges, police officers and members of the armed forces indicated deliberate intention through the presence of a previously prepared list of suspects by the Turkish government. While the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warned Turkey that any steps towards reinstating the death penalty would harm its efforts to join the EU, asking Ankara to deal with the coup perpetrators according to the law. French President François Hollande said that he expected violations to occur after Erdogan reinstates full power and Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz stressed that the failed coup did not give Erdogan a green light to act arbitrarily.

The declaration of a state of emergency in Turkey and the suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights met with condemnations from Europe, where there is fear that these measures will be used to limit freedoms further in the country.

To conclude, Turkey’s foreign policy following the failed coup attempt will prioritize two key factors: security and stability within Turkey, and the strengthening of the Turkish economy to protect the economic accomplishments achieved by the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) government over the past few years. These targets will encourage Turkey to implement its policy to “limit its enemies”, especially in neighboring countries and the Middle East.

It is also expected that several regional and international powers will benefit from the current phase of instability in Turkey and its focus on internal affairs to obtain more concessions from Turkey on several regional issues. For example, Russia will seek to benefit from Turkey’s move towards closer ties and its tense relations with the US and the EU to convince Ankara to change its policies towards Syria to fit Russia’s agenda, which will undoubtedly alter the course of the conflict in Syria.

Keywords: RussiaTurkeyIraqForeign PolicySyriaErdoganGulen MovementForeign AffairsAKP

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