Global arena of politics is diverse and overarching in that it has many a curios interplay of states and non-state actors. What makes it intriguing is that there are many hierarchies of power and normally the focus of contextualization are the superpowers. But while the analysts normally utilize the superpowers as prisms to view the coming orders as well as anarchy, it must be kept in mind that the international order is not just the sum total of the patterns of interactions between superpowers.
Major Powers and their national interests, power-plays and politics also contribute to the system of anarchy. Many analysts have in their works, using the term rising powers and major powers interchangeably like T.V Paul. In fact, there is not much difference between the two; both have growing military potential, geopolitical pursuits which correspond to their national interests, a middle tier economy and both of them have larger visions which can be mapped by their foreign policy discourses. The most intriguing feature which perhaps predominates major powers is that they do have larger interests and influence in one or more than one regions around them.
This is, in fact, an amalgamation of a state’s national interests tangled with their geo-political footprints. Their policies revolve around their interests surrounding various regions which are in their sphere and where they can be extra-regional powers which have the capacity to overwhelm the regional politics and in any way, dictate the regional order or become a core feature of it. In short, these major powers have the proclivity to tip the regional balance of power for their own advantage.
Turkey is one state which very easily falls into the category of major powers and holds that status, especially in contemporary times. In order to estimate this status, one needs not to look further than the national interests and the pursuit of these interests by Turkey in the current dynamics. The foreign policy dynamics of the state and the geopolitical mapping of Turkish politics makes a strong impression of Turkey as a major power which has, as it had the potential as well as the regime sustenance to, become a balancer is not one but multiple regions in its periphery and even beyond.
In this, Turkey has a clear edge in terms of its geographic positioning which makes it a very important point for not just the pursuit of its own interests but those of the super-powers as well. Turkey is what we can call the gateways of Europe and Asia; is bound by the Aegean Sea in the west, in the south by the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea in the north which makes it a very important maritime country. The fact that it shares borders with Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Bulgaria and Greece a makes it a very important entity in terms of security and strategy. What is more is that it shares maritime borders with Greece, Russia, Northern Cyprus, Egypt, Ukraine and Romania further solidifies its position as an important geopolitical player with great potential.
But while this may have given Turkey an edge, it has also made its national interests rather broad especially concerning its role as a rising power. In this bid, Turkey has become embroiled in multiple conflicts in the peripheral regions; the Middle East in terms of Syria, North Africa in terms of Libya and energy competition with Greece in terms of Eastern Mediterranean. In each of these regions, Turkish policies and strategies have come up to the surface and the state has tipped the balance of power in its own favour which makes Turkey a pertinent state in terms of the regional orders.
There is little to no doubt that the entry of Turkey alongside Russia in 2017 as a joint front in the Syrian Crisis in a partnership heavily undermined the position of the US. Even though Turkey was militarily active since 2016—the strategy deployed at that time was on a different tangent. Together, the alliance which was forged by Syrian Regime, Iran, Turkey and Russia which was a two-front alliance; not only was it against ISIS but also the opposition groups which were aided by the US, but Turkey also carried on with its policies aimed at eradicating the Kurdish forces from gaining impetus in the crisis and thus in 2018 conducted the Afrin Operation which upset as the US-sponsored Kurdish monopoly in the area.
But the optics of the conflict were precarious for Turkey, it was a part of an alliance which was supportive of the sustenance of the Assad Regime wherein Turkey, to this day does have apprehensions towards the regime. If one cuts forward to the situation in 2020-then the beginning of the year marked with a new war front where Turkey and the Syrian forces became entangled in a conflict in Idlib. So much so that Russia had to step in, as the Syrian Forces were sponsored and backed by Russia and Turkey had to accept a ceasefire deal which was not very much in its favour in March 2020.
The deal was included a security corridor from M4, which connects Aleppo and Latakia—a front which Turkey is dependent on for not just security but also logistics. But many view this as a temporary setback to the Turks—there is no doubt that Putin has a complete triumph but for Turkey, the deal meant safeguarding its larger strategic goals which include safeguarding the S-400s from Russia and the guarantee that Rosatom nuclear reactors in Turkey will be built by the Russian aid.
Libya; in terms of Libya as well—Turkey has come forth to become a very strong-willed contender which has now suddenly acclaimed the status of being a kingmaker in the state. The state entered the Libyan civil war in 2019 and was supporting the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord or GNA headed by Serraj which is also the UN acclaimed government against the Libyan National Army or LNA which was headed by warlord Khalifa Hifter.
Interestingly, here too Turkey and Russia are involved but in the opposite trajectory i.e. they are on the opposite ends of the spectrums with Russia throwing its support behind LNA. But here the stakes were high as Turkey, Qatar and Italy were supporting the GNA against the LNA which had heavy support from UAE, Egypt, Russia, France and KSA. This made the rivalry a rather tense one and the conflict a very complex one as well. Much of the politics also revolved around the energy deal which Turkey signed with Tripoli-based government in order to safeguard its Mediterranean interests which upset the Egypt-UAE-Greece-France-Israel grouping in Eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, the recent air offensive by Turkey in Libya against Hiftars forces which basically pushed the LNA back and reversed their strategy has put Turkey in a very strong position in Libya.
These two strong episodes in the regional foyer are just two out of the many gambles Turkey is willing to play in a larger geopolitical context. There are other Turkish bids in terms of its episode with Greece on drilling in Eastern Mediterranean, Turkish entry in Central Africa, Turkish soft power tactics in Central Asia, Turkey’s steady footing in Balkans and Black Sea region and as of late—its soft power entry in South Asia, via Pakistan.
It is a state which has very delicately balanced between the US—being its NATO ally, Russia as a partner and China, as well as the two states, are steadily growing their bilateral partnership because of geopolitical reasons as well. This delicate balance requires a lot of sophisticated policy-making and active pursuit of them from a strong regime which has currently domestic, regional and international clout as well as power. There is no doubt, that Turkey is still way behind in terms of economy but that might be the only hindrance in the state being a great power of the current century.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Amna Javed is PhD Scholar at School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. She is an expert on Middle Eastern politics with a focus on Turkey.