Iran Sanctions and Turkey’s Options

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

Soft Power Resistance Axis

Active ImageTurkish foreign policy apparatus has three options to choose from in reaction to the west’s policy of imposing more sanctions on Iran which include maximum interaction with the west and inattention to Iran’s foreign policy goals (pure Kemalism); focus on ethnic concerns (Ozalism), and reconciliation (Erdoganism).

By taking part in the formulation of Tehran Declaration (May 2010) and giving negative vote to the UN Security Council Resolution 1929, Turkey has proven that it attaches special importance to Iran’s nuclear issue. In fact, Turkey’s recent reaction to increased sanctions against Iran was the end result of longstanding domestic disputes about Turkey’s foreign policy over the past 90 years.

The general course of domestic disputes during the past 90 years prove that Turkey’s strategic and fundamental interests can be best met by assimilation into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Major principles of Turkey’s Kemalist policy, that is, nationalism, secularism, republicanism, populism, and revolutionism have been major indexes of Turkey’s foreign policy during that long period of time.

The first option available to Turkey is maximum interaction with the west and inattention to the impacts of Iran sanctions on regional and international strategic equations. For various reasons, including new security concerns both at regional and international levels Ankara is not likely to go for this option.

The second option is pursuit of short-term goals of Turkey’s foreign policy in relation to Iran sanctions. This attitude is rooted in Turgut Ozal’s ideas in the early 1990s. Given Erdogan’s recent positions and the reaction shown to Iran sanctions by Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, it would not be realistic to assume that Turkey will choose this option.

The third option is continued moderation by taking a multifaceted, reconciliatory approach to Iran sanctions policy. In fact, this is the best option available to Ankara in reaction to Iran sanctions and has its roots in Turkey’s foreign policy during the past two decades.

Since the Islamist Justice and Development Party has won elections in 2002, a lot of attention has been focused on historical backgrounds of Turkey’s foreign policy. Banking on its historical and cultural soft power potentials, Turkey is trying to assume a more active role in regional equations and use those potentials in line with its generally western-oriented strategic goals.

Analysis of domestic, regional and international conditions of Turkey will indicate that the third approach is, in fact, consistent with Turkey’s “strategic goals in relation to the west” as well as its faithfulness to “neighbor’s rights.”

Given new regional directions taken by Turkey’s foreign policy apparatus, which gives priority to soft power capacities of the country, the public opinion in Iran and Turkey now expects a lot of the Turkish government.

Establishing an axis comprising certain Middle Eastern countries which can be called “soft power resistance axis” is a new security need of the region and a requirement to oppose intensification of sanctions against Iran. Turkey can take advantage of its foreign policy capacities and instruments based on its historical and strategic significance in order to put that idea into action. Undoubtedly, measures taken by the Turkish government to establish that axis according to the new approach and policies introduced by Erdogan and Davutoğlu will open new avenues for Turkey to interact with regional and international players and will also help that country to continue its reconciliatory policy with regard to Iran’s nuclear crisis.