One of the most important transformations of the Turkish political system was realized after the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Türkiye has successfully restructured its domestic political system and redefined the responsibilities of many state institutions. Among others, foreign policy actors were diversified. Many governmental institutions such as the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) and the Presidency of Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB), have begun to play effective roles in the field of foreign policy.
However, the most significant change was made in the field of security. The two inward-looking security actors, namely the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and National Intelligence Organization (MIT), have experienced a large-scale transformation. After separating domestic security from external security, two security institutions under the Ministry of Defense, the Gendarmerie General Command and the Coast Guard Command were put under the Ministry of Interior, which is solely responsible for domestic security. Similarly, after Hakan Fidan became the head of MIT, he restructured the institution and separated internal intelligence from external intelligence. Thus, the TSK and MIT have become real foreign policy actors, begun to protect the country’s national security against external threats, and accordingly carried out effective (military) operations in different states against anti-Turkish organizations.
After President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected for the second time after the change of the presidential system, he appointed Hakan Fidan, the chief of MIT, as the new foreign minister. Thus, Fidan has become the chief diplomat of the first Cabinet of the “Century of Türkiye” vision. He is the first foreign minister coming from national intelligence and a security institution. As it is one of the most remarkable appointments of President Erdoğan’s new Cabinet, the expectations from him in his new position are very high.
Fidan is one of the key bureaucrats and aides of President Erdoğan throughout his rule since 2003, when Erdoğan became prime minister of the country. He has been occupying an important seat in the Turkish bureaucracy since 2003. Fidan has a brilliant career ranging from noncommissioned officer to academician, from bureaucratic positions to MIT, and finally to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He first became the head of TIKA, the main state institution that provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to needy states and communities worldwide, in 2003. Then, he was appointed the deputy undersecretary of the Prime Ministry in 2007 responsible for foreign policy and international security.
While in this position, he also served as the special representative of the Prime Ministry. He fulfilled the duty of “nuclear sherpa (guide, longtime special representative)” to then-Prime Minister Erdoğan and the Turkish delegation and as a “governor” at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), at the summit of the organization. As the prime minister’s special representative, he gained experience in different international crises and troubled areas. He also specialized in counterterrorism issues as well.
Lastly, after being appointed the deputy undersecretary of MIT in 2010 for procedural necessities, he was appointed as head of MIT at the age of 42, being the youngest person serving as the head of MIT in the history of the institution. He held this position for 13 years.
Besides his bureaucratic career, his academic career is also quite bright. Fidan graduated from the Land Forces Combat School and the Land Forces Language School. During his tenure in the TSK, he received his bachelor’s degree in political science and administrative sciences from the University of Maryland, University College, the United States.
Then, Fidan received his master’s degree from Bilkent University with his thesis titled “The Role of Intelligence in Foreign Policy” and his doctorate with his dissertation titled “Diplomacy in the Information Age: The Use of Information Technologies in Verifying Treaties.” After completing his education, he carried out academic studies on international security, international development and Turkish foreign policy. He taught courses in the field of international relations at Hacettepe and Bilkent universities. He continued his academic studies at the IAEA in Vienna and at the United Nations in Geneva.
The main focus of his academic studies was the role of intelligence in foreign policy. He emphasized that Türkiye should get rid of the dependence on the intelligence of other states and strengthen its intelligence for a stronger and more effective foreign policy.
Throughout all these critical bureaucratic and academic positions, he was directly and indirectly involved in external affairs. Especially, after the failed coup attempt, thanks to the increase in its humanitarian and technological intelligence capacity, MIT led by Fidan increased its activities in the fight against terrorism in Syria and Iraq, as well as in the country and has eventually increased its effectiveness in the international arena. Fidan has taken part in almost all of President Erdoğan’s foreign visits. He has worked closely with two other ministers responsible for foreign policy issues, former Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and former Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. Therefore, Fidan was already part of foreign policy and national security mechanisms.
Fidan and MIT played a significant role in the normalization of Türkiye’s relations with regional countries in the Middle East. The first phase of dialogue was carried out and brought to a certain stage by MIT and Fidan, then the process was left to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For instance, he has also represented Türkiye in the normalization process with Syria.
Taking all these experiences and personal accounts, it is clear that Hakan Fidan is already a proficient and experienced diplomat. During his new position as the chief diplomat of the country, he will deal with the issues that he used to deal with behind the curtains in front of the scene. Serving as the chief diplomat of Türkiye, he does not have shortcomings but has advantages. One can easily claim that he can represent all three types of power in international relations, namely hard, soft and smart powers.
As a previous head of TIKA, Fidan can easily mobilize the soft power of the country. As an academician, who holds a Ph.D. degree in international relations, he is able to mobilize Türkiye’s smart power. Lastly, as a former soldier and the longtime head of Turkish intelligence, he knows how to mobilize the hard power of Türkiye. It is no surprise that he will reflect his personal characteristics and experiences in the execution of a new style of foreign policy.
There is a high level of expectation that Fidan will surely consolidate the current Turkish foreign policy orientation and institutionalize the new international status of Türkiye. As a matter of fact, he has already given some clues about his foreign policy understanding. In his first public speech as foreign minister, he underlined that “he will follow a national/’milli’ (and independent) foreign policy.” In other words, he has clearly emphasized that he would consolidate the Ankara-centered foreign policy orientation. All in all, Fidan represents a new type of diplomat for the new role of Türkiye in international politics.