From Regional Influence to Diplomatic Isolation: Turkey’s Failing Foreign Policy

As recently as March 2013, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu, invoked the legacy of the Ottoman Empire and nostalgically spoke of the time when Yemen and Skopje were part of the same country.[i]This denoted a feeling of power and influence which the Turkish government was experiencing at the time, in spite of the recent diplomatic defeat it had suffered when the UN Security Council rejected the setting of a no-fly zone over Syria and any form of armed intervention against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. For all practical purposes, Turkey had good reason to feel strong. Firstly, Turkey’s economy never went through the economic crisis which hit the European states since 2008 and never experienced recession. Second, Turkish investments, particularly in the area of the former Ottoman Empire, are valued at several billion dollars, all the more reason Turkey should be influential in this area.[ii] Most likely the Turkish government felt strong enough to try and put into practice their so-called neo-Ottoman policy but the way in which Mr. Davutoglu phrased his speech: “we [author’s emphasis] will again tie Sarajevo to Damascus, Benghazi to Erzurum to Batumi”, was bound to raise a few eyebrows and concerns from the states in question. Rather than issuing a call for voluntary unity among today’s countries, which happen to be located over the territory of the defunct Ottoman Empire, the choice of words can be interpreted as Turkey trying to assume some form of tutelage over said countries. Such an approach, however, is only part of the problem and is only partially responsible for the current diplomatic isolation which Turkey is experiencing.

The seeds of Turkeys current international situation were planted much earlier, with the over-the-top attempts by the Turkish government to force a military intervention against the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Attempts to pass a UN resolution for the establishment of no-fly zones over Syria, which would have inevitably implied foreign air-forces enforcing it over Syrian airspace, have met with stiff opposition from Russia and China. This, combined with Turkey’s proposals to enlarge the UN Security Council, a move which has the potential of reducing Russian and Chinese influence, has obviously antagonized the two permanent members and strained their diplomatic ties with the Turkish Republic. The complete failure of Turkey’s foreign policy, however, did not come from the failed attempts to intervene in Syria and subsequent diplomatic problems which resulted from that but from the reaction of the Turkish government to its own domestic issues. The Turkish society itself was divided over the Syrian issue, with opinion polls showing that less than 30% of Turkish citizens supported the government’s position of military intervention.[iii] However the real cleavage between the government and the people became apparent over a construction project supported by the ruling party which sought to rebuild an Ottoman-style military barracks (which was to function as a shopping mall) on what today is a park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Initial outcries against the construction project ignited a bigger wave of protests against prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and his party on grounds that it promoted an Islamist agenda, that it was ruling in an authoritarian manner and that it was threatening the secular nature of the state. The police intervened with great brutality in order to disperse the crowds, leaving thousands injured and five dead.[iv] The excessive use of force against the protesters has been condemned by countries and organizations which are considered allies of Turkey: the European Union, through the voices of the Commissioner for Enlargement, Stefan Fule,[v] and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton[vi] and the United States, through the voice of Secretary of State John Kerry.[vii] Combined with the defiant stance which prime minister Erdogan chose to adopt as a reaction to the criticism, this marked the complete diplomatic isolation of the Turkish Republic and, ultimately, the failure of its foreign policy which sought to acquire greater influence within the former territory of the Ottoman Empire.

Ultimately, it can be stated that Turkey tried to behave as if it was a great power and influence the outcome of events in its region but failed. However it was not this particular event that brought about its complete isolation on the international scene and the subsequent failure of the neo-Ottoman policy. Instead, it was the domestic policy of suppressing dissent, carried out by what is perceived as an increasingly autocratic regime against the people, which proved to be the final cause of the downfall. Briefly stated, Turkey’s foreign policy has failed at home.


Bogdan Cristea, M.A. International Studies


iTulin Daloglu, “Davutoglu Invokes Ottomanism As a New Order for Mideast,” Al Monitor, March 10, 2013,

ii“Trade Agreements and Economic Relations of the Republic of Turkey (by Country)” (Ministry of the Economy of the Republic of Turkey, n.d.),

iiiSophia Jones, “How the War in Syria Has Helped to Inspire Turkey’s Protests,” Foreign Policy (June 11, 2013),

ivHRFT: Fact Sheet on Gezi Park Protests as of July 16 (International Federation for Human Rights, July 16, 2013),

vStefan Fule, “Speech: EU-Turkey Bound Together (Press Release),” June 7, 2013,

viCatherine Ashton, “Statement by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton on the Latest Developments in Turkey,” June 12, 2013,

vii“U.S. Calls for Restraint by Turkish Police Confronting Protests,” Reuters, June 3, 2013,

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