In the post-Arab revolutions, Turkey faces a very complex situation as a result of the vacuum created by the transformation of some countries in the region into failed states, and the intensification of regional competition due to the decline of Washington’s traditional role in the Middle East.
This has necessitated Ankara to consider the available options, either to retreat and retreat to itself to secure the interior, or to rush outside its borders to fill the regional void and fortify itself and its allies by establishing an advanced defense belt deep in the region.
The attempts of some regional and international powers to reconfigure the region according to new foundations based on isolating Ankara, undermining its interests and threatening its national security, accelerated the adoption of the second trend, especially after the failure of the military coup to topple the Turkish government on 15 July 2016.
At the time, Ankara found that its stockpile of soft power was no longer a decisive element in protecting its interests and immunizing it from negative repercussions, especially with the transformation of the struggle of wills in the region into an armed conflict, the rise of terrorism, and the acceleration of international intervention.
While some link the international and regional position against Turkey with reasons related to the nature of Turkish foreign policy decisions, which seek to be more independent in their strategic orientations, the reality confirms that the problem is much deeper than that.
Given that Turkey has the second largest army in NATO, and one of the most militarily superior armies in the region, it has found that employing its potential strength in the field is the only option available to it.
Turkey adopted an advanced defense policy, which necessitated its military involvement in a large number of fronts, including Syria and Iraq, then the Persian Gulf in 2017, the eastern Mediterranean and Libya in 2019, as a response to the efforts made to isolate or exclude it.
This coincided with the formation of 3 regional and international trends hostile to Turkey. The first trend is the grouping of international powers, which often relied on a policy of containment and a balance between the poles of the region to facilitate control of the directions of the region and to prevent any of the regional powers from deviating from the path previously decided for them.
The second trend is the grouping of regional regimes that considered Ankara’s adoption of the line of Arab revolutions as a threat to its continuity in governance. Finally, the performance of the Turkish economy, which depends on production for export and on investment in infrastructure, declined under the weight of external pressures and regional chaos.
While some link the international and regional anti-Turkish stance to reasons related to the nature of Turkish foreign policy decisions, which seek to be more independent in their strategic orientations, the reality confirms that the problem is much deeper than that. The United States of America, under President Barack Obama, facilitated the control of Iran and Russia over Syria, and also tried to create an independent entity for the PKK on the borders of Turkey, and the powerful lobbies of Israel, Greece, Armenia and the UAE in Washington helped deepen the dispute between the two parties.
As for the European Union, many of its countries have brought up historical, cultural and sometimes religious backgrounds in the conflict with Turkey, and what French President Emmanuel Macron recently expressed is the tip of the iceberg. As for the Arab regimes, they have also tried to play on the chord of history sometimes, and sometimes on the chord of nationalism.
Turkey is a difficult number
Despite this, Turkey has succeeded in imposing itself as a difficult number in the equation, as it prevented the transformation of northern Syria and Iraq into a platform to threaten its national security, as well as foiled the efforts of the emerging alliances in the eastern Mediterranean to isolate it and deprive it of its legitimate rights, and stopped the military coup in Libya. Ankara has also succeeded in presenting itself to its friends as a reliable ally, committed to supporting its allies, and can be relied upon in adversity, and this has been clearly demonstrated in cases related to Qatar, Libya and Azerbaijan.
So far, Turkey has managed to impose itself on opponents and competitors and prevented its marginalization and isolation, but this has entailed many costs and burdens on it. Advanced defense policy requires increased spending on expanding military commitments. In addition, diplomatic positions that are defiant to America and the West in general, or to Russia and Iran, or to the Arab alliances hostile to it in the region, entail political and economic costs to Ankara, and it is not possible or expected that Turkey will be able to stand in the face of all these parties simultaneously to no end.
In 2018, Turkey ranked 14th among the largest exporters of military equipment in the world. In the same year, the defense industries sector witnessed the strongest export growth of all Turkish industries.
For Ankara, increased regional engagement was not an option so much as a reality imposed on it. Despite the opponents’ attempts to portray Turkish foreign policy as ideological, unrealistic, or aggressive, by talking about the militarization of foreign policy, or expansionist agendas and ambitions, Turkey is not a suicidal country but rather a calculated adventure based on the notion that no matter how close you are From the “other”, he will not respect you and give you weight or value you unless you are strong on earth.
Employment of military force
Ankara’s calculations also in this regard are based on the inevitable use of military force in foreign policy in these regional circumstances, and that the United States or European countries are not in the process of direct clash with Turkey now, and that this stage is a test that carries opportunities as well as challenges and costs.
As for the alternative, namely retreating inward, it will not protect Turkey, nor will it prevent others from practicing the same aggressive policies towards it, and it will not be able to stop the regional transformations that are intended to be formed against Ankara’s interests and national security.
One of the paradoxes regarding the duality of challenges and opportunities is that the growing economic pressure and the acceleration of the decline of the currency exchange rate in the country have been inversely associated in the recent period with the rise of the Turkish defense and military industries sector, and the increasing military involvement externally guarantees Ankara’s economic interests that are intended to be infringed upon.
In 2018, Turkey was ranked 14th among the world’s largest exporters of military equipment. In the same year, the defense industries sector witnessed the strongest export growth among all Turkish industries, as its exports crossed the threshold of two billion dollars for the first time, and then $ 3.1 billion in 2019.
Moreover, the Turkish military involvement externally allowed Ankara to employ homemade technologies that succeeded in gaining international fame and to change the balance of power on the ground and the concepts of new wars such as the attack drone, for example, which played and continues to play a decisive role in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Azerbaijan.
Turkey’s increasing foreign roles in military terms reflects its seriousness in defending its position and that of its allies. In this sense, Turkish involvement raises costs related to the roles of other players as well, with the aim of pushing them to seek understandings that take into account Ankara’s interests in order to avoid a military clash with it.
The Turkish side believes that despite the political and economic costs of its role, once stability is secured for the regional environment, the returns to military roles and mutual economic interests with the allies will begin to flow, but the main challenge in such an approach is whether Ankara and the Turkish economy can withstand until Then, especially in light of the presence of many internal and external variables moving at the same time.