Turkey’s Failed Tale of Middle-Power Diplomacy
Written by Anurag Dwibhashyam MA Sociology, College for Integrated Studies, University of Hyderabad.
Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.
Over the past few years with the emergence of Tayyip Erdogan, firstly as the Prime Minister and then the President of Turkey, Ankara has undergone a radical transformation in its domestic and external stance by moving away from its celebrated stance of Kemalism  and democratic principles to adopting a populist hegemonic ideal. Despite being a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Turkey has quite ironically set its foreign policy in an ‘independent’ path by involving itself in various unnecessary conflicts only leading to their escalation much to the disdain of other members. Ankara has chosen to carve itself out as a regional hegemon by leveraging its geostrategic position as a bridging country located between Asia and Europe. Its intentions are evident from its various proactive actions and interventions, including the ones in the past: Turkey’s intervention between NATO and the Warsaw Pact (Ruby, 2020), military intervention in Libya (Zaman, 2020), intervention in the Syrian War (Power, 2019), the maritime dispute with Greece ("Turkey touts past maritime conquests ahead of talks on the dispute", 2020), and also with the current Armenia-Azerbaijan war (Bagirova & Hovhannisyan, 2020). Such actions indicate that Turkey is interested in acquiring a position to seek greater bargaining potential against all the major countries. The self-oriented foreign policy of Turkey establishes ambiguous ties with both the west (the US) and the east (Russia), hoping to derive benefits from both the parties without committing to any serious diplomatic ties. Such a foreign policy approach is known as ‘Middle power diplomacy’ in International Relations, wherein the middle power country tries to play a role between the major powers in pursuit of its interests (Baç, n.d.).
A ‘middle power’ is a sovereign state, that is neither a great power nor superpower but still possesses an influential capacity in the world order.
According to Laura Neak of the International Studies Association:
“Although there is some conceptual ambiguity surrounding the term middle power, middle powers are identified most often by their international behavior–called ‘middle power diplomacy’—the tendency to pursue multilateral solutions to international problems, the tendency to embrace compromise positions in international disputes, and the tendency to embrace notions of ‘good international citizenship’ to guide...diplomacy.” (Neack, 2000)
This article will consider the aspects of middle power diplomacy of Turkey from a different angle and in the context of the ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia wherein President Erdogan is trying to excessively involve the country in as many controversies as it can, just to get the recognition it wants and to assert itself as a major power.
The dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan dates back to the late 1980s when the communist rule in the former Soviet Union was nearing its end (Croissant, 1998). The then autonomous mountainous regions of Nagorno-Karabakh chose to join Armenia. But after the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed independence, which led to war causing hundreds of fatalities and further led to the non-recognition of the independent status of Nagorno-Karabakh by other countries. Though internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan, it is primarily populated by ethnic Armenians (de Waal, 2003). The long-simmering conflict finally cooled down with the involvement of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which set up an arbitrary group called the “Minsk Group” in 1994 (OSCE, n.d.). It is co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States.
The recent tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where both the countries' military forces are clashing over the Azerbaijani breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, doesn’t seem to get stabilized in the near future. Despite having the ceasefire established along the so-called line of control for more than three decades, minor ceasefire violations have happened many times throughout. But, with the global pandemic taking a toll on the world, no diplomatic effort has been made to de-escalate the current conflict (Gaurav, 2020). The increased third party involvement, especially from Turkey, proliferates the conflict. Turkey, a member of NATO, backing Azerbaijan while its other NATO counterparts are going against Turkey’s wills and more interestingly with the disinterest of the big brother, the US in playing the vital role of arbiter in this alarming situation decreases the probability of establishing a ceasefire. The US’s passivity towards the issue can be understood by President Trump’s ‘America First’ policy, which signals its partial withdrawal from world politics, domestic issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing elections (Kaymakamian, 2020).
Amidst the chaos and the little efforts to control the situation by Russia and France, who took the lead as the co-chairs of the Minsk group, things got worse when Turkey, despite being a member of the NATO and the Minsk Group, openly backed the predominately Muslim populated Azerbaijan and claimed Armenia to be a “threat to peace in the region” (Reuters, Ankara, 2020). Turkey has also been accused of allegedly sending F-16 fighters and even militants from Syria to assist Azerbaijan in the conflict with Armenia (Reuters Staff, 2020). These moves are a result of Ankara's overly ambitious foreign policy that seeks to establish regional hegemony. This has become a major destabilizing force in the proximity of the Middle-East and Caucasus.
Hence, it is clear evidence that Turkey’s excessive involvement in the current Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict is to derive a classic third-power position aiming to attract both Moscow and Washington into the conflict and gain for itself some bargain-chips which include demands for more concessions in various crises that Turkey has involved itself, including the Syrian conflict and Libyan civil war.
The underlying fact is that Ankara’s hegemonic behavior is not only destabilizing the proximity of the Middle-East and Caucasus but is also hedging itself in a very obtuse strategy of making the great powers playing against each other by causing an imbalance in the world order. Noting the fact that Turkey is wittily using its NATO membership only to gain a strategic upper-hand in the conflicts it chooses to surge, NATO must recognize that Turkey is nothing but a power-liability and it needs to be kept in check.
Stopping such kind of meddling tertiary involvement in bilateral issues most importantly that of the current dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the only way to gain international peace and stability.
 Kemalism, as introduced by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was designed to separate the post-Ottoman Turkey from its Ottoman predecessor to embrace a modern lifestyle including the ideals of democracy, secularism, free education etc.
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