2012 was a tough year in terms of Turkish foreign policy. 2013 may prove to be an even more interesting and challenging year in terms of regional problems.
We have just ended a tough year for Turkey. At the beginning of 2012, we had indicated that the primary areas of risk were Syria and Iraq outside Turkey, while the PKK and the Kurdish question remained primary areas of risk inside Turkey. The Syrian problem did really become a dead end of Turkish foreign policy. As the Assad regime resisted change, the active foreign policy of Turkey came to a dead end and lost its space for maneuver while the gap between “rhetoric” and “reality” grew.
In 2012, Turkey pursued a foreign policy that was active on rhetoric and yet passive and trapped in terms of reality. Turkey-Iraq relations grew increasingly tense due to the Tariq al-Hashimi problem. Turkey-northern Iraq relations entered a new dimension which was a positive development. Developments such as the possibility of our foreign minister being arrested in the Turcoman region, the Iraqi authorities denying a plane carrying our energy minister permission to land, and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s protests that “Turkey is meddling in Iraqi internal affairs” drew more tension in terms of Turkey-Iraq relations throughout the year.
In 2012, the PKK was on the offensive. Turkish foreign policy misread both the Syrian problem and the Arab Spring, and hit a dead end in these fields. The PKK declared war on Turkey, meaning to profit on these developments. It tried to attain dominance in the field, in the southeastern region of Turkey. It spilt a lot of blood. However in the final analysis it stood defeated.
Syria, Iraq and the PKK were the highlights of 2012. They put Turkey through a difficult and dangerous process.
PKK inside, Iran and Iraq outside
2013 will also prove a difficult year. In the following year of 2014, we will be having two elections of critical importance: local elections and the presidential elections. This makes 2013 an exceptionally important year. In 2013, Turkey has to prove successful both inside and outside. It must renew its foreign policy vision whilst starting a process that will resolve the PKK problem. At least the AK Party government and Prime Minister Erdoğan want to experience 2013 not as a year of dead ends but rather a year where problems in certain fields start being resolved. It is very well known that a successful 2013 will yield success in the 2014 elections. Inside, this means at the very least a resolution of the PKK conflict or the PKK deciding to abandon its weapons. Therefore I think the AK Party government will be very active in this field in 2013. If the Assad regime ends in the first quarter of 2013 and the post-Assad period in Syria begins, which is possible, then we could say that the PKK problem could enter the tracks in terms of a possible solution in 2013. The fact that Russia has also retracted its support for Assad is an indicator that Syria is fast approaching a post-Assad period.At the same time, this shows us that in 2013 the main areas of risks for Turkey are Iran and Iraq rather than Syria. 2013 will primarily be the year of Iran. The Iran question will replace the Syria question and will form the center of our international relations agenda. The U.S.-Israel-Iran triangle will constitute the key knot of this year. We could expect the Obama administration to portray an active and harsh foreign policy rhetoric and actions in its approach to the Iranian problem.
The Iranian problem automatically implies the Iraqi problem… Iraq will constitute a critical leg of the Iranian problem. As Jalal Talabani grows ill and as a “Talabani Gap” – to borrow a phrase from the foreign press – appears in Iraq’s internal dynamics, one can observe that Iraq is entering a high level of risk. In 2013 we will experience a very serious and risky Iraq problem. Turkey has to approach this problem from a broader and changed vision. Turkey has to balance its relations between northern Iraqi and the central Iraqi governments and fully advocate the integrity of Iraq while also improving its relations with northern Iraq, thus taking a stance against sectarian based Sunni-Shia conflicts.
Turkey-EU relations should be rekindled
Iraq and Iran problems outside, the PKK inside… A move that would improve Turkey’s chances for success whilst dealing with these problems would be to rekindle Turkey-EU relations. It is in Turkey’s benefit to reinvigorate Turkey-EU relations and strengthen the “EU anchor” of Turkish foreign policy.
In January 2013, Ireland will hold the European Union presidency. In February or May of 2013, French President Hollande will visit Turkey. Furthermore, 2013 may bring a plausible and yet significant rekindling of the full EU membership negotiations with some of the vetoes on the chapters of the negotiations being lifted. 2013 may also be a year in which a liberalization of the visas being applied to Turkey might occur through an agreement being signed. According to the comments of Daniel Gros, head of prominent think tank CEPS: “I am hopeful that Europe will come out of the recession … the EU still views itself as too small an actor to deal with regional and global problems as aptly as a larger power. This is why it is so reclusive. Turkey must take the initiative for Turkey-EU relations to rekindle.” Kemal Derviş also holds a similar opinion: “Turkey could take the initiative and with a correct and functional ‘full membership concept’ may rekindle Turkey-EU relations in the common denominator of mutual interests.” He also advises us to work within the framework of a “differentiated full membership” that is not within the economic area of Europe, but fully participates in all the decision-making institutions and processes of the EU. “Such an undertaking could hasten Turkey’s full membership, I believe this,” he says. The EU badge is very important for Turkey. If Turkey undertakes moves that will rekindle relations with the EU, it will be in a stronger position both with regard to Iran and Iraq and with regard to the PKK problem. We will experience a difficult but interesting 2013.