Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Turkey: The Emerging Regional Hegemon in Middle East

It is not very difficult to observe the rise of a powerful turkey in one of the most volatile and unstable regions on the planet. By simply looking at the past initiatives and foriegn policy shifts in Ankara, one can realize that turkey is set to become as the regional hegemon in middleeast.

Turkey’s vision for the region and for all its external relations evolved during the 1990s and consolidated in the first decade of the 21st century. It’s based largely on Turkey’s economic interests. Turkey became a tiger among economies of the world and has been growing by leaps and bounds. The country does not have oil or gas, so its strength is exporting and it has achieved high growth rates through exports. It is now the 17th largest economy in the world, which is quite remarkable.

Turkey to continue to grow, it needs access to as many markets as it can secure, and it needs stability and peace to interact with these places. This applies to its orientation towards Europe, which is its biggest market, but also its relationships in the north towards the Balkans, Caucuses, and Black Sea area—and its relations with Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf countries in the Arab world.

The enormouse importance that turkey today places to Middle East has laregely been attributed to their fading dreams of joing the EU. In the last two years we have been witnessing a very radical change of foriegn policy in Ankara, which inculded but not limited to its tough stance against Israel over Gaza war of 2008 and Gaza Flotilla participation of 2010, mediating roles between Syria and Israel, mediating between Iran and West, placing nuclear defense systems, actively supporting the Arab Spring and promoting turkish style of democracy in these countries along side increasing economic ties with the region and helping in reconstruction initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This does not indicate that turkey is turning away from Europe and the United States, but the country is charting a more Turkish set of interests and positions. Turkey is now more willing to go out on a limb for its beliefs or if they believe it is important for its political and economic interests.

Whereas Turkey may previously been perceived as being somewhat dependent on the West, it no longer sees itself that way. Recenet incursion of turkish military into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurish guerillas is a clear example of such a self perception by turkey. The withdrawal of US forces from Iraq only seems to have encouraged Turkey’s will to have a strong military presence in its border region with Iraq and possibly to establish a counterweight to Iran’s influence on a Shia-led government in Baghdad.

Similarly, Erdogan's recent visits to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia and the way these newly established regimes embraced him signals to turkey's new claim of Regional Hegemony. But, the question here is will turkey's new position be acceptable to other relevant powers such as; Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel in the region? And what about the United States? will it see this rise as benefetial? or will try to contain the rise of turkey through balancing? The answer to these questions are not clear at present and will be a subject of a lenghty debate which may not be feasable to mention here.

However, I strongly encourage the United States to cautiousely embrace the new role of turkey as a regional hegemon and to chart out a new working relations with this moderate islamic, popular and powerful country in the region. I suggest that United States should invest in turkey's future role as protectorate of U.S. interests in the region. Since turkey has more appeal to the public in this region, it is for the interest of the united states to seek turkey's role in order to solve some of the middle East issues.

United States must first work in normalization of Turkey's relation with Israel, which will avoid further tensions in the region or possible standoffs between Israel and Turkey which may lead to tensions between Washington and Ankara. United States should encourage and support the Ankara's initiatives in bringing about a nuclear agreement between Iran and West, which may prove to be successful given the proximity of the two countries and their shared interest in maintaining peace and stabality in the region.

Over all, Turkey has an enormously important role to play in the region. It could be a bridge between the West and the East, between Islam and Modernity, and between Israel and the Arabs. But, there is always the danger of "Power Corrupts", which means the United States would still need to keep its influence in the region and help turkey evolve as a responsible regional hegemon.

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