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Understanding the New Activism of Turkish Foreign Policy: The Case of Western Balkans

Alper Kaliber

‚ Yasar University, Turkey


This study examines the post-Cold War regionalization in Turkish foreign and security policy (FSP) with a particular reference to the Western Balkans. Here regionalization refers to two interrelated processes: first, the process whereby security interest definitions and threat perceptions in Turkey have gained an increasingly regional character, and second the process whereby Turkey has increasingly defined itself as an activist regional power. This study suggests that the end of Cold War politics and global bi-polar rivalry has recognized some leeway for Turkish policy makers to more actively engage in regional security institutions, issues and challenges. In this context, the first wave of regionalization in Turkish FSP began soon after the end of the Cold War and developed in parallel to the rise of the ‘region’ as a new unit of security in global politics. However, regionalism of Turkish FSP took its more mature and comprehensive turn in the regionalist assertiveness in the first decade of 2000s. This second regionalist turn draws on the construction of a particular foreign policy identity defining Turkey as a peace-promoting ‘soft power’ bearing the capacity of ‘order instituting’ in its surrounding regions, namely the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. This paper addresses Turkey’s intensifying engagement with the Western Balkans with a particular emphasis on its mediatory initiatives and policy of encouraging socio-economic integration in the region. Turkey’s bilateral and multilateral diplomatic initiatives, i.e. the Istanbul Declaration on Peace and Stability in the Balkans will be analyzed with respect to its aspiration of becoming an activist multi-regional actor. The current study also seeks to discuss whether the discourses of Turkish policy-makers emphasizing strong cultural-historical ties between Turkey and the regional countries could be associated with recent debates on Neo-Ottomanism. The paper also suggests that the definition of Turkey as a multi-regional actor with an expanded sphere of influence serves to the problematization of the conventional foreign policy paradigm in the country. In the conventional Kemalist discourse Turkey is depicted as an island of stability and as a bridge between the West and the East. For the current foreign policy-makers, this symbolized nothing but passivity and stagnation, which is replaced by a new activism based on an assertive regionalism. For them, Turkey’s Ottoman historical and cultural legacy, which is marginalized by Kemalism, provides Turkey a unique geographical depth to realize its potentials. Regionalist theories of international security provide useful insights to analyze the emerging and developing activism of Turkish foreign policy since the 1990s. However, they are analytically ill-equipped to explore the power politics behind the reorganization of Turkey’s geopolitics and the reconstruction of Turkish FSP identity in recent years. This article argues that the process of region building is a political one and the rise of regionalism in Turkish FSP both in the 1990s and in the 2000s may not be understood as independent from the domestic power political relations.


About author:


Alper Kaliber is assistant professor of International Relations at Yasar University, Izmir, Turkey. He completed his PhD in Political Science at Bilkent University, Turkey in July 2005. Dr. Kaliber served as a research fellow at University of Birmingham conducting a project entitled ‘De-securitizing Foreign Policy Unpacking the Impact of Europeanization: The Cyprus Case’, funded by Compagnia di San Paolo, Torino/Italy, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, Stockholm/Sweden, and VolkswagenStiftung, Hanover/Germany within the framework of European Common Foreign and Security Policy Studies. He worked as a consultant and researcher in the SHUR project ‘Human Rights in Conflicts: The Role of Civil Society’, funded by the EU 6th Framework Programme. He previously taught European security and European integration modules at Sabanci University and University of Birmingham. His areas of interest include Critical Security Studies, European security, the Cyprus conflict, Europeanisation, Turkish politics and modernisation. Among his recent publications are ‘Human Rights, Civil Society and Conflict in Turkey’s Kurdish Question’, in “Civil Society, Conflicts, and the Politicization of Human Rights”, Raffaele Marchetti and Nathalie Tocci (eds.), (United Nations University Press, Tokyo, 2011): 139-160 and ‘Re-imagining Cyprus: The Rise of Regionalism in Turkey’s Security Lexicon’, in Cyprus: A Conflict at the Crossroads, T. Diez and N. Tocci (eds.), (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009): 105-123.