Turkey’s increasing engagement within its region from the Balkans to the Middle East is indicative of a new perspective on the new regional and international dynamics.
The new realities of global politics force all major and mid-sized powers to have a regional stronghold. While globalization liquidates the hard borders of the “ancient regime,” how different nations interpret this “evaporation” very much depends on their self-view. This, in turn, determines the way they see the region(s) within whose nexus they exist.
The recent developments in the Balkans and the Middle East and how Turkey is acting are cases in point. Kosovo’s independence revealed a new round of power struggles between the Russian axis and the American-European alliance in the Balkans. True, accepting or rejecting Kosovo’s independence is not an earth-shattering event. Yet the social and psychological impact is apparent. What is of particular importance is the fact that contrary to some expectations Turkey’s recognition of Kosovo as an independent state did not cause much of a headache for Turkey in relation to Cyprus or northern Iraq. This result has strengthened Turkey’s position in the Balkans and is likely to generate more momentum for the Turkish policymakers to act with more confidence in the region.
Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian-Israeli talks and the start of official meetings between Ankara and the Kurds of northern Iraq are even more significant. There was much talk and speculation about Turkey’s role in the Syrian-Israeli negotiations. It finally became public: Turkey acted and continues to act as a mediator between the two staunch enemies of the Middle East. This action was also endorsed by Americans, Israelis and other Arab countries. We don’t know if the talks will lead to a settlement regarding the Golan Heights and an eventual rapprochement between Syria and Israel. This depends on a variety of factors, most of which would be beyond Turkey’s control. Yet the fact that Turkey is in the middle of a piece of history making is no small matter.
Finally there is the start of official talks between Ankara and Arbil. After several years of tensions, months of highly-charged declarations, weeks of intense diplomacy in and around Iraq and finally a military incursion, the Turkish and Iraqi-Kurdish officials decided to sit around a table and talk about security, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), trade, Kirkuk and the future of Iraq, which everybody wants to see as a secure, stable and prosperous country. And they did this with the blessing of the National Security Council (MGK). This means that the soldiers, who are considered to be the hard-liners on the Iraqi Kurds, have come to an understanding of historic proportions with the civilian authority to open Turkey’s arms to northern Iraq again. (I say again because Turkey did this before).
Considering the big picture, what you have here are all the means and channels of power brokering: diplomacy, politics, military, economics, communication, culture and perceptions. Yet again, no one should expect miracles. The use of hard and soft power in the case of Iraq (or other instances) would not solve the problems over night. What is important is setting up the rules of engagement properly, and this is what Turkey seems to be doing.
I think we can call this Turkey’s “smart power.” To quote Joseph Nye, who developed and enlarged the concept of soft power over the last three decades, smart power is “the ability to combine hard and soft power into a successful strategy.” In a sense, this is an extension of Nye’s soft power because power is “the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes one wants.”
But soft power is not simply psychological impact. It is not just a package of economic, educational or market incentives. And it is not simply good diplomacy. Rather, it is the socio-political capital of a country’s power to affect change for the long-term benefit of all sides.
The long-term perspective is the key here, and t