By now, it's become fairly commonplace to hear Turkey's once-vaunted "zero problems with neighbors" foreign policy spoken about in the past tense. The last two years have certainly not been kind to this policy, which had tried to break past some historical dynamics that had characterized Turkey's relations with certain neighboring countries for decades, if not centuries. While some of the "zero problems" policy's failure can be chalked up to mistakes -- both conceptual and practical -- made Turkish policymakers and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the changes brought about by the Arab uprising and the forces they unleashed, also helped undermine many of the assumptions that Ankara was -- rightly or wrongly -- working under.
In a new analysis, Ian Lesser, an astute observer of Turkish affairs with the German Marshal Fund, takes a look at some of these changes, suggesting that Ankara may be entering a period where it has to now fight several new "cold wars." From Lesser's article:
Over the past decade, Turkey’s foreign policy has been directed toward breaking this pattern of crisis-prone relations, with some real success in the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East. The end of largescale competition in Eurasia, alongside Turkey’s economic dynamism and expanding regional commerce, created the conditions for a “zero-problems” approach to the neighborhood. This was a posture admirably suited to its times. But these favorable conditions are disappearing rapidly, and Ankara faces some troubling cold wars, new and old, that will shape the strategic environment and the nature of Turkey’s security partnerships.
Turkey is highly exposed to spillovers from the deepening conflict in Syria and its regional consequences. This is not a temporary problem. It is quite possible that Syria will remain a zone of chaos for the next decade or more; a sort of larger-scale Lebanon, with a durable capacity for destabilization across a wide area. In addition to the direct effects of political and sectarian conflict in Syria, the deteriorating situation there has spurred a proxy war, with various armed groups backed by Iran, Egypt, the Gulf monarchies, and Turkey itself. Russia, too, is part of this equation, and Turkey’s forward leaning posture in Syria may well complicate otherwise positive relations between Moscow and Ankara. To the extent that Europe and the United States become more heavily engaged in support of armed opposition groups, even short of direct intervention, the proxy dimension of the war in Syria will take on new significance….
….After a decade of relatively benign conditions, the sharp deterioration of the security environment in Turkey’s neighborhood, together with changes afoot in Europe and the United States, will pose new challenges for Turkish policy. The evolving environment will increase rather than decrease Turkey’s need for strategic reassurance. The proliferation of cold wars, new and old, regional and potentially global, suggests that Ankara and its transatlantic partners would be well advised to take some of these frictions off the table. Cyprus, Israel, and the Kurdish insurgency are prime examples of cases where progress toward resolution would pay dividends on multiple fronts. For Turkey’s broader strategy of political and economic diversification to be sustainable, Ankara needs to hedge against rising security risks on its borders and further afield. The interdependence of Turkish and transatlantic strategic interests is more obvious than ever. So, too, is the shared interest in potentially transforming détentes.
Ankara is likely not unaware of the dangers posed by the possibility of these new "cold wars." The recent efforts to come to terms with Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) after decades of fighting is clearly an indication of that, although Turkey's relations with Cyprus and Israel remain rocky and recent events give little hope that the friction with those two countries will ease anytime soon.