The Influence of Geography on Turkish Foreign Policy: Challenges and Opportunities

Article

Although during last three decades the process of globalization seemed to make the link between power and territory less relevant than during the Cold War, for certain states, geography remains the crucial factor conditioning the size and shape of their decision-making process towards external partners. ...

Although during last three decades the process of globalization seemed to make the link between power and territory less relevant than during the Cold War, for certain states, geography remains the crucial factor conditioning the size and shape of their decision-making process towards external partners.

Being located at the crossroads of several geopolitically active regions, Türkiye is extremely exposed to risks coming from its direct neighborhood. At the same time, this specific position motivates Ankara to make its diplomacy more flexible and creative, that, among others, explains its stance towards Russian war in Ukraine.

Political position of each state is conditioned by its location on the map in terms of both opportunities and risks. No country may ignore geography in formulating its strategic aims and the obvious task of any government is to make geography best serve national interests by taking advantage of opportunities and avoiding exposure to risks[1]. Being located on the edge of Eurasia, on the crossroad of a number of geopolitically active regions that usually produce problems rather than solve them, Türkiye is forced to take into account the possible influence of its geography on every decision, especially directed at this neighborhood: a step made towards one of its neighbors may affect all others in the most unexpected way[2].

For many years, the Middle East, the South Caucasus and the Balkans were a traditional source of troubles, the Eastern Mediterranean a source of tensions and as a result, the Black Sea seemed to be the most stable and peaceful of all regions surrounding Türkiye. But after the 2014 seizure of Crimea and especially, after the full-scale war started in 2022, this is no more the truth, which confronts Ankara with the fact, that all of its surrounding regions may be defined as ‘difficult’ and qualified as a source of risks rather than stability. In such an environment, the foreign policy of a country finds itself in a role of a permanent crisis-management, that is to say, forced to avoid further deterioration rather than seeking for any evident beneficial opportunities.

The uncertain future of post-war reality in Syria, the frozen conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, tensions between Balkan states, situation around Cyprus, as well as the ambiguous policy of Greece in the Aegean, surely make Ankara think of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and its potential consequences in the Black Sea region in terms of avoiding escalation rather that a kind of a geopolitical gamble.

In such circumstances, it is not easy to be neither pro-Russian, nor pro-Ukrainian as the already difficult overall situation forces Ankara to simply be pro-Turkish, that is to say to think about the national security before any other considerations. Another potential escalation in its direct surroundings, leading the war in Ukraine expand to the Black Sea as a whole would produce additional risks, eventually turning Türkiye into a country fully encircled by unpredictable and potentially risky environment. Having to deal with a bad enough situation, Ankara’s objective is to keep its northern neighborhood as ‘normal’ as possible in the actual circumstances, that means in practice, to make Russia and Ukraine unable or/and unwilling to escalate hostilities in the Black Sea.

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