16:00, 14 Apr 2008
RUSI, Whitehall, London, SW1A 2ET
Link to map: multimap
PLACES AVAILABLE: Open to all
About the event:
“Turkish Foreign Policy; challenges and opportunities”
A Lecture by Ali Babacan, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs
Turkey’s strategic environment is unique and its desire to support the West’s common objectives long-standing. Turkey is of critical importance to the Eastern Mediterranean region, the NATO Alliance, as well as in tackling the terrorist threat. The challenges Turkey faces are numerous; its relations with the European Union, the Cyprus question and energy security. Yet, its concerns on these issues are rarely the subject of detailed discussion within the UK.
The Royal United Services Institute welcomed Ali Babacan, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, on Monday 14 April. He addressed Turkey’s foreign policy priorities and preoccupations:
Sir Paul Lever, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my distinct pleasure to be here with you all today to discuss Turkish foreign policy. But before I do that, I would like to pay tribute to our host, the Royal United Services Institute. As one of the oldest such establishments of its kind, I need not tell you that throughout the years, thanks to its excellent work, RUSI has become more than just an acronym for a renowned think tank, but a leading brand that stands for excellence and objectivity.
In trying to explain, contextualize and put into perspective Turkish foreign policy, it is always worthwhile to briefly take stock of the current international setting. This is necessary as Turkey is located in a part of the world that is home to some of the most important challenges facing the international agenda today.
As we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, I think it is fair to admit that we are far from having established an international order. In the post 9/11, post Afghanistan and post Iraq war environment, disorder may be a better word to explain the international state of play. Indeed, while stock markets around the world have been experiencing some turbulence over the past three months, in the domain of international affairs, we have very much been in a bear market when it comes to the hard earned and easily lost shares of peace, stability and security.
Turkey today deals with a plethora of issues in the foreign policy arena. Some of these issues are relatively new and some have their roots in history, but it is fair to say almost all of them are as complex as they are intractable.
A quick look at Turkey’s surroundings is self-explanatory: Middle East; Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran’s nuclear file; Balkans and South Caucasus.
Apart from these challenges, Turkey also deals with many “invisible” or “asymmetric” threats that have become more acute in the post-Cold War era. Terrorism tops the list but it is closely followed by varying types of organized crime, such as illegal mass migration and drug trafficking.
Concerns related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery means, climate change, the perennial problems of poverty and underdevelopment that still afflict many parts of the World and the resulting rise of extremism continue to preoccupy the international community as well as Turkey.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is no doubt that the shocking images of the terrorist attacks of September 11th will be etched in the minds of a generation. As we try to comprehend what it is that drives human beings to commit such acts of monstrosity, we must also recognize that terrorism, as a phenomenon, has evolved to the point where it threatens not only individuals or specific groups but the unsuspecting masses, and, on a global scale.
Terror has no religion. Terror has no nationality. No country is immune from terrorism threats. Eliminating the threat posed by terrorism requires a multidimensional approach, with political, economic, cultural and military components. Moreover, we cannot hope to succeed in overcoming this threat until and unless a sincere collective effort is undertaken.
As you all know, Turkey, like the United Kingdom, is a country that has suffered tremendously from terrorism and we are highly sensitive to this issue, regardless of who the perpetrators are or whatever their misguided motives may be. The truth is that there is fundamentally no difference between the terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Ankara, Diyarbakir, London or Madrid. The result is one and the same, innocents murdered indiscriminately.
For Turkey, the threat posed by the PKK terrorist organization based in the north of Iraq represents our single most immediate security challenge. Throughout the decades, Turkey has done much to uphold European security and defense. In the post Cold War environment, Turkey sent its finest sons to keep the peace and fight against terror networks in many troubled parts of the world. Today Turkey stands as a bulwark against drugs and human trafficking towards Europe.
Turkey rightfully expects the same unwavering and sustained support and solidarity of its friends and allies in Europe in its efforts to counter the clear and present danger emanating from the PKK. Unfortunately, that cooperation, especially in some EU countries, is less than forthcoming.
Europe needs to better understand that the terrorist organization PKK seeks survival through extortion, trafficking in human beings, drug smuggling, child abuse and homicide. They do this under the cover of their associations, cultural foundations, media companies, etc. The fight against this organization, which poisons and abuses European youth as well, is a responsibility not only of Turkey, but also of other friends, partners and allies.
Turkey will continue to fight PKK terrorism. Whether Europe is able to display genuine solidarity on this issue will be an important test of the long standing partnership between Europe and Turkey on issues of security and defense, and will surely reflect on the public opinion especially in Turkey.
The general situation in Iraq is also a priority issue for Turkish foreign policy for a variety of reasons, not least of all as Iraq will continue to be our neighbor long after the Coalition forces leave one day.
For the moment, I am happy to say that, after 5 years, there is now, more than ever, room for optimism with regards to the future of this country.
The security situation has visibly improved although the tangible progress on the ground is still very fragile and far from irreversible. For politicians and community leaders of all colors, more security translates as an opportunity for compromise. Compromise is the only way to move forward in Iraqi politics.
Preserving the territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq as Iraqi forces assume more and more responsibilities, will be crucial. An Iraq divided, whether politically, economically, ethnically or religiously, is an Iraq that cannot be viable in the long term. What is more, division of Iraq could bring devastating results for the whole neighbourhood.
For our part, Turkey is doing everything it can to promote political dialogue among different political factions, ethnic and confessional groups. Only through dialogue can Iraqis start to reach the painful compromises that will allow the country to move forward on some of the main issues. Main issues like security matters, the hydrocarbon law and the future status of Kirkuk continue to artificially divide the Iraqi people and occupy the agenda.
The enlarged regional process that Turkey pioneered, which brings together both the neighbors of Iraq and the P-5 and G-8 nations, will continue to be an important mechanism to develop regional support for the challenges facing Iraq. Turkey will continue to do whatever it can, to support Iraq’s difficult transition to become a sovereign, democratic and prosperous nation, at peace with itself and its neighbors.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we have continuously stated, full membership to the EU has always been, and will continue to be, a fundamental foreign policy priority of our Government. Our aim is full membership and nothing else. The truth is that, things that bind us together are much stronger than those that separate us. Our common values, like democracy, pluralism, rule of law, respect for human rights and the free market, our entwined liberal economies, the geostrategic imperatives of our time and the shared interests at stake – like energy, environment or immigration - mean that our futures cannot be apart.
As Turkey strives towards full membership, an enormous transformation process has begun to take shape. This transformation has been as much political as it is economic and social. You can take my word for it, compared to the country of just 5 or 6 years ago; Turkey is a profoundly different place. It will be another different country, 5-7-10 years from now on.
We have been enacting reforms in the political domain, enhancing our democratic system and improving our laws in terms of fundamental rights and freedoms. We have also been putting in place economic reforms in the public sector and financial sector in order to achieve better performance and in order to make Turkey a much more open economy.
The EU accession process has irreversibly put Turkey on a path towards achieving the standards of a first class democracy, a democracy which is on a par with those in Europe. Already, Turkey is a much more open country; a much more open democracy and economy. The transformation we have put in motion is creating its own dynamics. Opening the country has produced tangible results. We have now more than 400 television channels including national, local and regional ones. We have 1100 radio channels and internet access for almost all schools in Turkey. 7 or 8 year old children are communicating with the world from their computer labs regardless of where they are in Turkey.
What needs to be done in Turkey is to continue the reforms with a strong political will. And that is exactly what we aim to do. We have already achieved a lot, but much more remains to be done. The newly enacted Law on Foundations is a case in point. The revised version of Article 301 of the Penal Code which is before the Turkish Parliament is another. We aim to drop these and other outstanding issues from the agenda as soon as possible.
With regards to the technical nitty-gritty of the ongoing accession process, things are on track, but the pace can be sometimes slow, sometimes fast. We have opened 6 chapters and closed 1, and are looking to open more before the end of this year.
Unfortunately though, we have found out that the opening and closing of the chapters in the case of Turkey are not being determined only by objective criteria. For example, we have now 8 chapters blocked because of the Cyprus issue. Another 5 chapters are not being opened because of the position of one member state across the Channel. There are other chapters being held hostage to politics even though both Turkey and the Commission are ready to open them.
We will not allow this discriminative approach to perturb us. What we have done is to put distance between our actual internal reform process and the formal opening process of the chapters. Last year, we announced a national program for adopting the EU acquis. This program covers all the chapters based on a calendar that stretches to the year 2013. We are proceeding with that program. Regardless of chapters to be opened, in every chapter we are making headway.
The truth is that, maybe, before the start of the negotiations, the big question was “when will Turkey be ready for the EU?” But nowadays, I believe the real question is “when will the EU be ready for Turkey?”
We are keenly aware that EU membership responsibilities transcend the mere assumption of the Union’s political and technical legislative framework; and that it requires adoption of the spirit and culture of compromise. As we have shown in the past on many tricky issues, we are ready to compromise whenever and wherever there are real compromises to be reached.
For too long, Cyprus has been on the backburner while the Greek Cypriots have used every opportunity available to them to thwart and complicate Turkey’s path towards EU accession. Now, following the elections in the south of the Island, there seems to be some room for optimism. But we must not jump to conclusions and let our enthusiasm get the better of us. If experience is anything to go by, we should accept, at the outset, that achieving a just and comprehensive settlement that is based on the political equality of the two constituent states will be hugely difficult.
In this vein, we look forward to the right circumstances presenting themselves for the UN Secretary General to take the initiative to rekindle the process to bring about a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus question. And, as in 2003 and 2004, in Turkey, we stand ready to actively contribute, I wholeheartedly, to the UN effort to devise a solution.
As the experience of 2004 showed, a settlement can only come about if both sides genuinely want it. It still remains to be seen whether the newly elected Greek Cypriot leader will demonstrate the genuine political will, in deeds and not just in words, to work towards a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem within the framework of the United Nations. For our part, we want to be cautiously optimistic.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On all of the immediate challenges and priorities we are faced with that I have elaborated on - like the fight against terrorism, Iraq, Cyprus and the EU – the strategic relationship that Turkey enjoys with the United Kingdom is of critical importance. The UK’s unwavering support for our entry into the European Union, the work we are doing together on combating terrorism and our cooperation both on the ground and through our dialogue with regards to some of the major issues of our time is testament to the enduring quality of the partnership our two great nations enjoy.
We look forward to hosting Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in Turkey soon.
In addition to the immediate challenges I have talked about, Turkish foreign policy is also actively engaged in working to resolve some of the chronic issues that have troubled our region and international relations for too long.
In the context of the Middle East, efforts to break the perpetual cycle of violence, revive the peace process, ensure security for all, create a state for the Palestinians, and the promise of a lasting peace side by side for both are all high priorities, given that the Palestinian question lies at the core of all ills in the region. The situation in the region is tenuous and we all know well how high the cost of inaction can be.
As always, Turkey stands ready to contribute to the search for peace. The status quo cannot be allowed to continue. A two state solution based on established UN parameters is the only formula that guarantees a safe and prosperous future for all the peoples of this troubled land.
The crisis in Lebanon also requires our urgent attention. By contributing to UNIFIL II, Turkey has shown its interest and desire to help strengthen the Lebanese Government as it strives to solidify its nation wide control. This process will not be easy but with the help of the international community, it is certainly possible. Syria is one of our important neighbors and Turkey is also actively engaged in trying to ensure that Syria is included in the equation that leads to peace in the region.
In Turkey, Afghanistan also has always been close to our hearts. The nation-building process there is running into major difficulties. Turkey has heavily invested, politically, militarily and economically, in the international efforts to help the Afghan people meet the challenges they are facing. Having assumed command of ISAF twice and currently running a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Wardak province, Turkey continues to significantly contribute to fostering stability in this troubled country.
The impasse in the ongoing search for a diplomatic solution to the question of Iran’s nuclear program and the ramifications of further UN sanctions is yet another factor further aggravating regional tensions. Turkey and Iran have been neighbors for centuries. We share a long history with Iran and have bonds with the Iranian people based on mutual respect. We enjoy mutually beneficial bilateral relations with Iran with particular focus on trade and energy.
Unfortunately, developments over the past few years have created a confrontational atmosphere between the international community and Iran. It is evident that international community has some serious question marks surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. We firmly believe that every country has the right to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. However, we are, for overriding national, regional and global security concerns, opposed to the development of new nuclear weapons. This applies both to the Middle East and to the world at large.
It is clear that while Iran is being asked to display greater transparency with regards to its nuclear program, the international community must also be able to put together means to bring about a diplomatic solution to the current impasse.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While we work on the many challenges before us, we in Turkey are proactively looking for ways to apply innovative approaches to some of the issues on the international agenda. As such, Turkey is increasingly serving as an impartial and convenient venue for high-level political/diplomatic contacts that allows parties to some of the major regional issues to come together and hold talks, either on a bilateral or trilateral basis.
For instance, in 2007, Turkey hosted a meeting between the Iranian Chief Negotiator and the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy concerning Iran’s nuclear program; a trilateral summit between the Presidents of Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan and another presidential-level trilateral meeting between Turkey, Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.
All of these contacts were aimed at helping improve the dialogue between the relevant parties and supporting their efforts to arrive at lasting solutions to the problems at hand. In this widely acclaimed role as a “facilitator”, Turkey benefits from the fact that it has gained the confidence and trust of many regional actors due in large part to its fair and balanced policies.
In line with its increasing contributions to international peace, security and stability, Turkey has put forward its candidature for one of the non-permanent seats at the UN Security Council for the term 2009-2010. As it has not been represented in this body since 1961, Turkey’s election in recognition of its growing responsibilities will only be fair and will also give a boost to its efforts to help realize the goals and vision of the United Nations. Turkey is serving as an engine of regional economic cooperation and integration. It has become an emerging donor of international assistance as a responsible member of the international community.
Here, I also want to say a couple of words about the Turkish economy.
Today, the total GDP of Turkey has reached 659 billion Dollars and per capita GDP is 9.333 Dollars in nominal terms. This equates to the sixth largest in the EU if Turkey was a member and the 17th largest worldwide. When we make a projection towards the future, in 10 to 15 years, Turkey’s standing in the ranks will be going further upwards. It is quiet an ambitious, but realistic target that Turkey could be in the top ten economies of the world in 15 years or so.
All the economic indicators have been moving in a positive direction during the last past 5 years. For example, as an indicator to measure openness, our exports were only 36 billion Dollars in 2002. Last year it was 107 billion Dollars. FDI traditionally was around 1 billion Dollars a year and then in 2005 it started to pick up. It was approximately 10 billion Dollars in 2005, then last year it reached 22 billion dollars.
Also, we are moving on with the Maastricht criteria on the budget deficit and public debt stock. Actually, in 2005, when we did meet the budget criteria, our budget deficit was 14% of GNP and last year it was 1.2%. This is a figure which is better than some countries which are in the Euro-zone.
Our public debt stock is less than 38.8%. The average of the Euro zone was 60%. So in terms of the total public debt stock; we are below the average of the Euro-zone already. Indeed, our growth rates, which have been above the European average for many years, are creating new dynamics for regional cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Turkey is destined to play an important role in the diversification and security of world energy supplies, due to its proximity to nearly 70 percent of the world’s proven energy resources and its strategic location along the main transport routes of the oil and natural gas resources of the Caspian basin. Indeed, our contribution in this regard is already apparent, with the pipelines that are presently operational. We have more oil pipeline and gas pipeline projects in the works. The North-South and East-West energy corridors will be crucial to energy security in the 21st Century.
The Bakü-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline project, the heart of the East-West Corridor concept, has been operational since June 2006. Last July, the second major component of the Corridor, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline, went online. The year 2007 also saw the opening of the Turkish-Greek natural gas pipeline as well as the ground-laying ceremony of the Samsun-Ceyhan oil pipeline. Other planned or ongoing projects such as Nabucco, the Turkish-Arabian natural gas pipeline and the Turkish-Israeli energy corridor will further enhance Turkey’s key role in energy security and complete its transformation into a major global energy hub.
Clearly, in the medium to long term, Turkey is going to be a very important route for supplying alternative energy sources to the European Union. Only in the field of gas for example, after Russia, Norway and North Africa, Turkey is going to be the fourth main path towards the European Union.
Increased humanitarian and development assistance is becoming another defining feature of Turkish foreign policy, as evidenced by the fact that Turkey’s international aid budget has been steadily expanding over the recent years. The amount of official development assistance reached 714 million Dollars at the end of 2006. When combined with private sector assistance, this figure rises to 1.7 billion Dollars, placing Turkey among leading donors in the world. In 2007, Turkey for the first time hosted a summit of the Least Developed Countries in the world. As a recent example of our multi-dimensional foreign policy, we hosted the Turkey-Pacific Foreign Ministers’ Conference in Istanbul. And, this coming August, we will be holding another high level summit with African countries, namely Turkey-Africa Summit.
Another critical function Turkey is fulfilling is to demonstrate that a truly western-type liberal democracy can exist and thrive in a predominantly Muslim country. For the newly independent and other countries which are in the process of democratization, nation-building and economic development, the Turkish experience serves as a useful guide and a source of inspiration.
Perhaps this last point also illustrates the most important mission the new circumstances have given to Turkey: promoting peaceful co-existence, harmony and cooperation between different cultures. In the post-September 11 world, a debate over a possible “clash of civilizations” has increasingly occupied the global agenda.
As the only majority - Muslim member of NATO and as a country in the process of EU accession, Turkey is doing its best to help steer this discussion in the right direction. Turkey believes that while the fight against terrorism is a necessary one and must continue unabated, it is also necessary to avoid creating new rifts in the world by associating terrorism with a particular geography or religion.
Turkey co-sponsored together with Spain the “Alliance of Civilizations” initiative under the auspices of the United Nations. This project aims at promoting dialogue and cooperation among countries from diverse cultural backgrounds and countering extremism of all types through collective efforts. 60 countries, 12 international organisations took part in the Friends of the Alliance.
It can comfortably be said that one crucial aspect of reforms in Turkey are how they influence a much wider geography. Indeed, what we are doing in Turkey is influencing many countries in North Africa, Middle East, Central Asia, and Caucasus. Many reform-oriented young intellectuals in these regions are feeling more hopeful, confident and empowered when they see the real progress in Turkey. Our success is an enormous source of inspiration for many countries.
After 36 years, just 2 weeks ago, the Organization of Islamic Conference came up with a new charter. It comprises concepts like transparency, rule of law, fundamental rights and women’s rights and is a very important step in the right direction. As a country that has consistently advocated for change towards more open societies and democratic reforms within the Islamic world, Turkey was very active in the drafting of this new political document which was approved by all 57 members at the highest level.
As Turkey we are involved with a very intense and broad foreign policy agenda.
At times this can feel overwhelming. Reconciling international expectations with regional realities can sometimes resemble walking a tight rope. Pushing back against prevailing misconceptions in the international community about our region and explaining the complex undercurrents and emerging dynamics that are widespread in our part of the world can often be difficult, if not impossible. Even worse, efforts to address these issues which have their roots in history, going back decades if not centuries, are frustrated more often than not.
But, in these times of uncertainty, we are convinced that Turkish foreign policy has a crucial role to play in the international arena. We will continue to implement policies that not only serve the goal of ensuring peace and stability, based on dialogue, mutual respect and compromise, but also to further the promotion of human rights, democratic governance and economic prosperity in all the geographies where we are active, where we have a voice, and where we can make a difference for the better.