Visitors to Turkey are warned about developing a “Turkish muscle” – the extra belly fat that you get from eating too much Turkish food. Yet it’s the country’s desire to flex its foreign policy muscle that has, at times, proved worrisome. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s “Zero-Problems” foreign policy, which emphasizes regional engagement and outlines an active role in promoting Turkey’s interests on the world stage, is a far cry from Turkey’s past practice of isolating itself from its neighbors. But some of its recent diplomatic forays under this policy, especially the nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran and renewed relations with Syria, have led some in the West to query whether we are losing Turkey.
Earlier this month, I traveled to Turkey on a trip sponsored by the Rumi Forum and discussed the zero-problems policy with officials, parliamentarians, and community leaders, among others. Equally as interesting as learning more about the goals of this new assertiveness, though, was hearing about some of the speed bumps in the process of carrying it out – namely the challenge of working with coalition governments.
At the heart of the zero-problems policy is a desire for peace and stability, goals which political and business leaders alike understandably embrace with vigor. During the trip, contentious issues like Iran and Syria were explained in this context; its diplomacy with Iran helps prevent war in the region, engagement with Syria has economic benefits. Turkey’s desire for stability, though, also requires having stable partners to work with. Divided governments carry an inherent risk of being quite the opposite, and, as such, they constitute a significant impediment for Turkey. (more…)