BISS Seminar: Sinan Ülgen & Ersel Aydınlı

BISS Seminar : Mr. Sinan Ülgen, Chairman, Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) and Prof. Dr. Ersel Aydınlı, International Relations Department, Bilkent University

On March 19th, 2018, the Center for Foreign Policy and Peace Research hosted a seminar in which the speakers focused on the following questions: “Is Turkey at a Crossroads with its Allies?” and “Western Choices on Turkey: Get it Right or Lose It”.

In his presentation entitled “Is Turkey at a Crossroads with its Allies?”, Mr. Ülgen focused on how Turkish foreign policy, shaped by a desire to consolidate Turkey’s position within the Western community, has evolved to include Ankara’s intent to acquire a higher degree of strategic autonomy. Mr. Ülgen further discussed the challenges that have surfaced as a result of this evolving ambition for both the West and Turkey, and how to overcome them.

Mr. Ülgen emphasized that the current foreign policy in Turkey has a domestic agenda and this has an impact on relations with the West. However, there has been a lack of proper Western response to this tendency. From the EU’s side, certain questions have been raised about which direction to go with Turkey, especially in light of democratic norms and human rights—offer full accession to the EU or a transactional relationship? Regarding US-Turkish relations, there has never been as large a trust deficit as currently exists. There is a lack of robust actors and institutions that in the past have helped to normalize the two countries’ relations.

Prof. Dr. Aydınlı presented an in-depth review of the origins of the problems with the West, arguing that they are deeper than just ideology, and that the West has put too much thinking into what they deem as an ideational shift. This overemphasis on the ideational shift and the West’s failure to instead recognize the major structural changes occurring in Turkey and its politics, leads to a strategic miscommunication between the West and Turkey. Prof. Dr. Aydınlı emphasized that Turkey is much more powerful than in the past and therefore there should naturally also be a shift in its relations with the West and vice versa. Greater emphasis needs to be put on the West’s willingness to acknowledge and accommodate—thereby properly managing—this power growth in Turkey.

Furthermore, Prof. Dr. Aydınlı emphasized that in regards to Turkey, the West should focus on long-term rather than short-term observations. While the West should think about Turkish foreign politics in a more structural way and respond accordingly, Turkey also needs to consider different foreign policies and responses.

The roundtable concluded with an active Q&A session, in which participants elaborated further on the specifics of Turkish-Western relations and their prospects in the near future.