Erdogan Prioritizes Foreign Policy In State Of The Union Address

Saban Kardas

Jamestown Foundation
June 1 2009

Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a naval exercise
On May 30 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered his
State of the Union address, focusing on Turkey’s enhanced profile in
regional diplomacy. Erdogan provided details relating to his trips
to Azerbaijan, Russia and Poland, and discussed recent foreign policy
initiatives, most importantly Turkey’s role in energy security. Erdogan
attempted to boost public confidence in the foreign policy agenda,
which he described as "very active, dynamic and intensive," essentially
offering a restatement of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)
government’s position on these issues (, May 30).

Erdogan highlighted Ankara’s role in energy policies, which he
described as one of the most important issues on the global political
agenda. He illustrated how his government had "turned Turkey’s
geographic position into an effective foreign policy instrument,’
while arguing that the country’s location enables it to act as an
"energy corridor and terminal" between Western markets and the Middle
Eastern or Caspian energy producers. However, he noted that if Turkey
fails to develop longer term planning, it will be unable to fully
capitalize on these opportunities or meet its domestic needs.

Erdogan’s views on energy geopolitics reflect the growing energy
demands of an emerging economy. Although Turkey has initiated various
projects to increase its domestic production and invest in alternative
energy sources, its domestic energy output accounts for only one third
of the country’s needs. Recent Turkish foreign policy initiatives
have endeavored to turn this ongoing dependence on imports from a
liability into an asset, by capitalizing on Turkey’s position between
the suppliers and Western consumers.

Erdogan maintained that the AKP government had taken important
steps toward diversifying suppliers and energy transportation
routes. After summarizing several existing and planned oil and gas
pipeline projects across Turkish territory, Erdogan added that Turkey
had become an integral part of the discussions on ensuring European
energy security. He claimed that once these projects are completed,
"Turkey will emerge as the fourth largest hub after Norway, Russia
and Algeria, in supplying gas to Europe." He also suggested that the
Turkish port of Ceyhan will become an "important energy distribution
center and the largest oil sale terminal in the eastern Mediterranean."

In that context, Erdogan prioritized the Nabucco project, since it
will consolidate Turkey’s role within European energy security. He
hoped the construction of the pipeline will begin soon and become
operational by 2010: "we will sign the [intergovernmental] agreement
in June," he added. Erdogan’s statements also reflect recent changes
in Turkey’s position over the stalled Nabucco project, which raised
expectations that the intergovernmental agreement might be concluded
in June (EDM, May 15).

Turkey’s diplomatic initiatives in the South Caucasus were another
key feature of Erdogan’s agenda. After noting Turkey’s cooperative
policies within the region, he highlighted his trip to Azerbaijan. He
underlined the close ties between the two nations by referring to the
growing bilateral trade volume, and Turkish investment in Azerbaijan’s
economic development.

Erdogan also stressed Turkey’s continued support for international
initiatives to resolve regional issues, most importantly the
Karabakh question. He repeated his government’s recent stance on the
Azeri-Armenian dispute by maintaining that "Turkey and Azerbaijan
will continue to share a common destiny, and walk on the same path"
and that Turkey "will protect Azerbaijan’s interests as much as our
own interests." He warned the Turkish and Azeri peoples against those
"who work to undermine the friendship and brotherhood between the
two countries through false claims" (, May 30).

He was clearly seeking to alleviate domestic concern over the
normalization process between Turkey and Armenia. Nationalist
forces within Turkey had successfully mobilized public opinion
against the AKP government’s overtures toward Armenia. They argued
that it had betrayed the interests of Azerbaijan, by separating the
Turkish-Armenian normalization from Azeri-Armenian negotiations. The
mounting domestic pressure and criticism from Baku forced the
government to reduce the pace of Turkish-Armenian rapprochement
(EDM, April 29, May 6). Erdogan’s trip to Azerbaijan as well as
other recent high level contacts between the countries, has served
to reassure Baku (EDM, May 14). Nonetheless, these moves toward Baku
added to uncertainty surrounding the future of the Turkish-Armenian
rapprochement, and Turkish politicians have recently proven reluctant
to comment on the issue.

He also referred to the recent naval exercises carried out by the
Turkish military in the Aegean and Mediterranean. Erdogan stressed the
use of high-technology weaponry and said the successful conclusion
of the exercises was proof of the country’s power of deterrence in
the region. Moreover, he emphasized that the Turkish army not only
ensures national defense, but it also makes significant contributions
to global security.

Erdogan’s address provided significant clues concerning Ankara’s
strategic vision, which underpins the thinking of the Turkish political
elite on foreign affairs. Erdogan repeated the geopolitical argument
that Turkey is uniquely located in a strategic position at the
intersection of several regions. He maintained that Turkish foreign
policy strategies are devised with the aim of turning this position
into an asset. Moreover, he reflected on how a constant search for
markets and energy supplies to sustain Turkey’s economic development
now drives many of the country’s foreign policy initiatives. Equally,
he revealed that military power remains an essential component of
Turkish foreign policy, despite the government priding itself on its
effective use of soft power.

Erdogan’s use of geopolitical rhetoric also highlighted the shifting
priorities of Turkish foreign policy under the AKP government. He said
that since a large part of Turkey’s territory is in Asia, that part of
the world naturally occupies a vital place in Ankara’s foreign policy
agenda. This admission is important, since some analysts describe
the reorientation of Turkish foreign policy toward the Middle East
and the South Caucasus as an indication of an ideological shift and
the emergence of neo-Ottomanism – whereas Erdogan rightly explains
it as a geopolitical necessity.

You may also like