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Kemal Kirisci, on Turkey's shift from Hobbes to Kant

Kemal Kirişci

Kemal Kirişci, professor at Boğaziçi University's department of International Relations and author of numerous works on Turkish politics, published "Turkey's foreign policy in turbulent times" in 2007.

For help in illustrating the change in Turkish foreign policy over the past decade, Kirişci turned to a political scientist's favourite duo: Thomas Hobbes and Immanuel Kant.

Hobbesian culture, as Kirişci puts it, is "characterised by a deep mistrust of the international system and reliance on self help rather than any cooperative schemes for solving conflicts." Kantian culture, on the other hand, exists "when states share a body of common values and norms, often associated with pluralist democracies, and enjoy friendly societal relations too."

"Traditionally, Turkish thinking towards international relations has been deeply influenced by the Hobbesian vision. The international environment has traditionally been seen as anarchical and therefore creating the imperative need to be militarily strong and to be prepared to use military force for 'win-lose' outcomes."


Turkey's foreign policy in turbulent times

The political and economic transformation of the past decade, however, has brought Turkish foreign policy far closer to Kantian values. It is the European Union, writes Kirişci, which "has succeeded in having an impact on Turkey's 'culture of anarchy', moving the country out of a Hobbesian world toward the Kantian one."

"Domestically, the country has become much more open to pluralism and much more at ease with its cultural and ethnic diversity. […] This transformation of Turkey has major implications in terms of the European integration project in general and in particular with regard to this project's ability to 'export' or expand the zone of stability, peace and prosperity – the zone of 'democratic peace'."

Nothing illustrates the new "win-win" approach to foreign policy better than the shift in Turkey's position on the Cyprus issue in 2003-2004, argues Kirişci. Without a new willingness to take risks, to challenge the status quo, and to invite public criticism of entrenched assumptions and positions – signs of a civilianisation of foreign policy – Turkey's endorsement of a solution to the Cyprus' division (on the basis of the Annan Plan) would have been practically impossible.

The European transformation of Turkey – "the engagement of Turkey by the European Union and the principle of conditionality that the EU employs with candidate countries" – has helped Turkey develop a new "soft power" foreign policy vis-à-vis the Middle East, writes Kirişci. This transformation has not gone unnoticed.

"More and more Arab officials have openly welcomed Turkey's relations with the EU and have made statements to the effect that they consider this to be something positive in terms of their own economic and political development. Ironically, an Arab media that once used to bitterly criticise Turkey's western vocation during the Cold War and in the 1990s today is presenting Turkey's membership in the EU as a test case."

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