Turkey: New Kid on the Block

Turkey: New Kid on the Block

When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Mogadishu at the weekend, along with members of his family and several Cabinet Ministers, he was doing more than simply bringing humanitarian aid to Somalia as a pious Ramadan gesture. He was asserting perhaps more firmly than ever that Turkey is now a global power to be reckoned with.

In June this year, Mr Erdogan won an unprecedented third term of office, with his mildly Islamist AK Party capturing over half the popular vote. This has helped give him the self-confidence not only to curb the power of the military -- which has so often in the past thwarted Turkey's democratic evolution -- but also to assert his country's new international status.

What we are witnessing is in fact a new stage in Turkey's diplomacy. Until recently, under the guidance of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu Turkey concentrated on consolidating friendly relations with all of its neighbours, irrespective of their political system. That famously included Israel, though relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv soured considerably following the Israeli assault on the Gaza NGO aid flotilla in May last year.

Despite such setbacks, engagement with all neighbours has continued. Mr Erdogan personally tried to persuade Syria's Bashar al-Assad to introduce sweeping political reforms. Having failed in that initiative he has now called for al-Assad to step down, helping to cause a cascade of criticism against the regime in Damascus, whose only significant remaining foreign ally is Iran.

Looking westwards, Mr Erdogan's government continues to pursue the goal of membership of the European Union, despite the frosty response of some EU member states, including France and Germany. The Prime Minister remains convinced that Turkey still needs to Europeanise aspects of its economy and society, interestingly thereby building on the legacy of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk -- which provides a revealing counterweight to Mr Erodgan's 'Islamism'.

But Mr Erdogan's assertion of Turkey's new role in the world has recently extended further than Turkey's immediate neighbourhood. Turkey played a pivotal role in trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Libya; then later, when confronted with Colonel Gadaffi's obduracy, he joined in calls for Gaddafi to go.

Accordingly, this week's mission to Somalia should be seen in the wider context of Turkey's flexing its muscles, in what it hopes will be seen as a positive way. True, recent Turkish air-attacks on alleged bases of Turkey's outlawed Kurdish guerrilla movement, the PKK, inside Iraqi Kurdistan have somewhat spoil this flattering image. Nonetheless, the general thrust of Mr Erdogan's policy is clear.

Indeed, it can be summed up in a simple date: 2023. That year will see the centenary of the founding of the Turkish Republic, when Ataturk laid the bases for a state which would challenge the description of Turkey during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire as 'the sick man of Europe'. Given Turkey's extraordinary economic growth rate -- over 8 per cent last year -- and the dynamism of its youthful population, Turkey aspires to be the strongman of Europe by 2023. And to be welcomed to the top table of global players.


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