Until 2002 Turkey has followed an assertive-confrontational foreign policy, with a realist approach since 1990s. It was assertive because Turkey tried to utilize the opportunities that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was confrontational because of the uncertainties in the region and realist because it was aimed strictly at state centric National Interest perspective. In the 2000s, contrary to the confrontational tools that were used in the previous decade, Turkey started to emphasize diplomacy and politics instead of military and strategy.
The first period of foreign policy activism in 1990s gained momentum with the 2002 elections and establishment of the single party government of AKP. The increased emphasis on diplomacy, regional activism, and soft power(power of attraction) capabilities is due to three main reasons.
First, US unilateralism caused an anti-American tendency which opened the way for Turkey to prove its reliability in the Middle East. The Anti-American tendency also pushed Turkey to the European union which in turn have led to increased political and economic reform process. Second reason, is the policies of single party- government and domestic politics.
Especially the Strategic Depth doctrine of Davutoğlu and AKP leaders’ emphasis on Turkey’s historical cultural and religious ties with the region have led Turkey to be actively involved in almost all activities in its surrounding region including the conflict resolution processes, regional IGO’s and economic and strategic initiatives.
The existence of a single party government also decreased the political instability in the domestic politics of the country which left the influence of the Armed forces out of the political sphere. When the impact of Armed forces decreased in the foreign policy making of Turkey, the emphasis on strategy, national power and confrontational tools have also decreased automatically. Finally the third, and arguably the most influential reason was the prospect of EU membership which was boosted after the 1999 Helsinki decision of the union.
Finally, as Davutoğlu once said, “Turkey, without having a solid stance in its surrounding regions, cannot become member of the Union.” This expression is in contrast with the literature which claimed that Turkey has lost its EU membership direction in the post- 2005 era. Most of the literature on EU-Turkey relations states that EU member states like France and Germany increased their criticisms against Turkey’s membership, Turkey will not overcome the obstacles on its path to EU, and therefore Turkey lost its enthusiasm to become a member of the union and started to turn its direction towards Asia and Middle East.
However, as the paper argues, with a careful reading of Davutoğlu’s arguments and a parallel analysis of Erdoğan’s speeches the causal mechanism can be established the other way around. It can be argued that when Turkey’s relations with Europe fall into a stalemate, AKP leaders follow an active regional policy in order to show Turkey’s role as an important regional actor and increase the prospect of membership.