Turkey leverages economy for global power
Turkey is one of those nations. A decade of robust and largely uninterrupted growth has allowed the longtime U.S. ally to influence world affairs and become an ambitious force in its strategically critical neighborhood at the nexus of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
As with China and other large emerging nations, the swift rise of Turkey, South Africa, Colombia and several other regional economic powers contrasts with — and to some extent owes to — the economic weakness in the U.S., Europe and Japan in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and recession.
Although the emerging nations were set back by the crisis, the damage to their economies proved largely temporary and they have since resumed robust growth that is enabling them to quickly make gains on more developed nations.
Turkey’s secular Muslim leaders have made no secret of their ambition to reprise the economic pre-eminence, if not the military predominance, of the Ottoman era, when the region was the center of an empire that encompassed most of the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and the Balkans before crumbling in the aftermath of World War I.
A street artist entertains in Istanbul. Turkey, as an emerging power, is ... more >
Growing economic strength is giving Turkey a platform to fashion a more independent and Islamic-leaning foreign policy that puts the nation’s economic interests squarely in the forefront over its traditional role of furthering the agenda of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Sinan Ulgen, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a partner at Istanbul Economics, said Turkey’s extraordinary economic performance in the past decade has transformed the nation’s outlook on the world and is the driver behind its more assertive foreign policies.
“It’s quite radical, quite a sharp economic transformation,” he said, noting that per-capita income in Turkey tripled from $3,000 to $9,000 in less than a decade while foreign investment flows jumped from $1 billion a year to $20 billion a year and trade with the rest of the world burgeoned to $200 billion.
“That has totally changed the foreign policy outlook,” and along with the end of the Cold War made Turkey particularly keen to re-establish peaceful economic relations with neighbors with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Greece, Eastern Europe and Russia. Turkey has adopted a “zero problems” policy toward such neighbors, with which it previously had cool or hostile relations.
“Now, one of the objectives of Turkish foreign policy is to ensure that Turkish exporters get new export markets and that the country receives more foreign direct investment,” Mr. Ulgen said.
The Middle East, in particular, “is seen as a new untapped market for its economic actors,” but the nation also is making forays into Africa and as far away as South America and China in its efforts to expand its universe of trade and influence.
While some in the West worry that Turkey is turning away from its Cold War-era ties with Europe and the U.S., particularly in aligning itself with Arab nations and against Israel on the Palestinian question, the nation’s leaders insist that they seek only to supplement and expand their diplomatic universe.
Turkey’s newfound independence in foreign policy was perhaps epitomized in 2003 when the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But Turkey later showed its solidarity with the U.S. — as well as its entrepreneurial side — by becoming a major supplier of food and other necessities to U.S. troops in Iraq.
Gaziantep, a bustling and wealthy city not far from the Iraq border in southern Turkey, boasts that nearly 40 percent of the city’s trade is with U.S. forces in Iraq. Mayor Asim Guzelbey said he is not worried about a loss of business as the U.S. winds down its military presence in Iraq.
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