Turkey has been following a two-track foreign policy for the last two decades. On the one hand, Turkey has been following an Ankara-centered and relatively independent foreign policy. After the collapse of the bipolar world, Turkey, similar to many other countries, has been trying to increase autonomy in its foreign policy. As a middle power, Turkey has been searching for ways to become an effective regional power and a game changer in its region. As a matter of fact, it has increased its level of autonomy in foreign policy especially by consolidating domestic political stability and by increasing its level of self-sufficiency, especially in the defense industry. Accordingly, Turkey began to play a more effective role in regional issues such as the Syrian and Libyan crises.
On the other hand, Turkey has been following a multilateral and diversified foreign policy orientation. It is aware of the conditions set by the increasing interdependence and interconnectedness on a global scale. Large or small, advanced or underdeveloped, Western or non-Western, all states have to take globalization and interdependence into account in their foreign relations. Today’s world is integrated more than ever. There are too many problems and threats for one state to overcome by itself. In order to cope with these issues, states must comply with the principles of international cooperation and solidarity.
In addition to the above-mentioned two-track foreign policy understanding, Turkey has been following a two-track foreign policy orientation in another dimension. It has been following a realist foreign policy; that is, as a nation-state, it prioritizes its national interests. It builds power to deter any real or potential external threat and invests in strategic sectors to achieve its economic development. On the other hand, Turkey has been giving attention to humanitarian concerns. Even though it is not the strongest or richest state in the world, Turkey is the leading country providing humanitarian and developmental aid to other countries. Additionally, Turkey has been trying to contribute to the consolidation of the international system.
During the coronavirus crisis, Turkey maintained and even improved this two-track foreign policy understanding. At the national level – parallel to the motto used by the Turkish government, “the problem is global, but the solution is national” – it has been successfully taking measures to manage the coronavirus crisis in the domestic setting. Therefore, it took significant measures to control, as much as possible, the spread of the coronavirus. Turkey successfully controlled the spread of the virus and the health system did not collapse, as it did in many other countries. The Turkish health sector did a great job in managing the pandemic and in keeping the number of losses of lives low, compared with similar countries.
At the international level, Turkey emerged as one of the most important and effective actors contributing to other countries’ efforts to manage the pandemic. According to the explanation given by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has sent assistance to 57 different countries, both friendly countries and otherwise. Similarly, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu pointed out that 128 countries on multiple continents have requested health equipment and materials from Turkey.
When we look at the reasons for the aid to other countries, we see that Turkey’s latest behavior reflects the above-mentioned two-track foreign policy understanding. There are three main motivations for the external activities of Turkey during the coronavirus crisis. First of all, Turkey continued to send medical aid to certain states and crisis regions such as Somalia, Palestine, Syria and Libya solely for humanitarian reasons. Turkey does not expect a political or economic return from these countries.
Second, Turkey has sent medical assistance to some countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel for political purposes. Turkey wanted to show its goodwill and friendship during hard times to these countries. It seems that the most recent Turkish assistance to some Western countries has already paid off. Many Western politicians have expressed positive views about Turkish efforts. That is, the medical aid to Western countries contributed to a positive perception of Turkey.
Third, Turkey has been trying to sell some health care supplies to other countries for commercial purposes. Even under normal circumstances, Turkey sells health care equipment and medical supplies to countries that are able to buy them. Naturally, Turkey is now selling medical equipment as part of a win-win strategy. In other words, it tries to make the most of the pandemic and improve its economic relations with other countries, since exports play an important role in the Turkish economy.
In conclusion, Turkey continues to execute its realist and humanist foreign policy orientation by maximizing its national interests and also by contributing to both regional and global peace and stability. By considering global and regional interdependence and the globalization processes, Turkey has been prioritizing a constructive policy over a conflictual one. In spite of the inconvenient international atmosphere, Turkey has insistently been using an inclusive and constructive political discourse toward international issues.
[Daily Sabah, 13 May 2020]