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  • 8/3/2019 bulent aras





    Turkey and Eurasia: Frontiersof a new geographic


    Blent ArasHakan Fidan

    Abstracturkey has adopted a new course in oreign policy toward Eurasia.his article employs the notion o geographic imagination to analyzehow urkish policy-makers have developed a new political rhetoric andoreign policy towards the Eurasian region, speciically Central Asia, theCaucasus and Russia. urkish policy-makers aim to urther urkeysinterests ranging rom security, over regional trade, to energy issues inthis geography, in addition to creating an environment o cooperation

    and eliminating regional power constellations. We conclude that urkeysrenewed activism has opened new horizons or its relations in this regionand that this new oreign policy orientation is linked to reorm andchange in urkeys domestic landscape.

    Keywords: Critical geopolitics, Turkey, Eurasia, Russian Federation,Caucasus

    Te literature on critical geopolitics questions the relationship betweenspace and place, as well as the cultural and political dimensions that enterinto close interaction with them.1 It especially ocuses on how the geo-

    Blent Aras, Department of International Relations, Ik University, Kumbaba Mevkii, 34980, ile, stanbul.abulent@isikun.edu.tr.

    Hakan Fidan, Deputy Undersecretary of the Prime Ministry of Turkey, hakanfidan@bilkent.edu.tr.Authors Note: The views expressed here reect the views of the two authors alone and do not those of

    the Turkish government.

    1 For a sample of works in the tradition of the new geopolitics, see, John A. Agnew, Geopolitics: re-visioning world politics (London: Routledge, 1998), Simon Dalby and Gearid . Tuathail, The CriticalGeopolitics Constellation: Problematizing Fusions of Geographical Knowledge and Power, PoliticalGeography 15, no. 6-7 (1998), Gearid . Tuathail, Rethinking Geopolitics (London: Routledge, 1998),Gearid . Tuathail, Geopolitical Structures and Geopolitical Cultures: Towards Conceptual Clarityin the Critical Study of Geopolitics, in Geopolitics: Global Problems and Regional Concerns, Bison


    New Perspectives on Turkey, no. 40 (2009): 195-217.

  • 8/3/2019 bulent aras






    graphic imagination shapes the cognitive maps o political elites and thuspaves the way or naming regions (i.e., Middle East), constructing mentalzones (i.e., East and West), and the making o a culture o geopolitics.Geographic imagination is based on (and leads to) a number o attribu-tions and categorizations, shaping the rhetoric and practices o policy-makers. For example, there is a certain kind o understanding and percep-tion about a region i it is located in the West. Tis conceptualization issocially constructed through historical experiences and interactions. Telanguage and rhetoric used to describe such a region rom policy or-mulation to the perception o its trafc order are inuenced by thelong-standing image and interpretation o the West. Tese attributions,categorizations, and perceptions lead to the emergence o a culture o

    geopolitics, which inuences the making o regional oreign policy.Te creation o new geopolitical images o threat plays an impor-

    tant role in the determination o oreign policy preerences. Geographicimagination may also re-dene potential enemies as potential allies anda previous zone o conict as a potential area o inuence. Such changesreect a distinct orm o relationship between power and geography.2raditionally, geopolitics has been considered a concrete science deal-ing with natural, objective and static realities vis--vis the vague bound-

    aries o oreign policy analysis. Te premise o critical geopolitics haschallenged this traditional view with the idea that geographical spaceis a product o social construction.Tis new approach is concerned asmuch with maps o meaning as it is with maps o states. Te boundary-drawing practices [] are conceptual and cartographic, imaginary andactual, social and aesthetic.3 Imaginative creativity plays an importantrole in constructing and interpreting geography. In this process, concepts(such as identity, perception, and bias) are as important as material ac-

    tors (such as proximity, territory, and spatial borders).In this article, we argue that geographic imagination provides aramework o assumptions and representations or policy-makers.Tese assumptions and representations are the practical implicationso interactions between knowledge, power, and spatiality in shapingthe relationship between politics and geography. We analyze the role ogeographic imagination as determinant o political language and rheto-

    paper 4, ed. L. Tchantouridze (Winnipeg: Centre for Defense and Security Studies, 2003), . Gearid

    Tuathail, Critical Geopolitics (Minnesota: University of Minnesota, 1996).2 As Said noted, just as none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely free fromthe struggle over geography. That struggle is complex and interesting because it is not only aboutsoldiers and cannons but also about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings. Edward Said,Culture and Imperialism (London: Chatto and Windus, 1993), 7.

    3 Dalby and Tuathail, The Critical Geopolitics Constellation, 4.

    196 Blent Aras and Hakan Fidan

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    ric, which nds its expression in oreign policy behavior. In this sense,the geographic imagination integrates both agent- and structure-levelactors into regional oreign policy analysis. We argue that the role ogeographic imagination in determining regional policy provides a useultool or understanding urkish oreign policy towards Eurasia. We holdthe idea that urkey adopted a new course in oreign policy due to po-litical transormations at home, which resulted in a reconstruction o theprevious geographic imagination in policy-making circles. Te exibilityand adaptability o the new geographic imagination seems greater con-sidering the dynamic harmonization process with the EU oreign policyline. urkeys adoption o a zero-problem policy towards its neighbors,in connection with this new understanding o geography, has resolved

    previously contentious issues to a considerable degree. Te urkish pol-icy-makers new geographic imagination o bordering regions cast asidethe ormer bad neighborhood atmosphere and made urkey a moreactive regional participant and partner. urkeys zero-problem policy, asan imitation o the EUs neighborhood policy, has allowed urkey toreach beyond its immediate borders.

    In the ollowing sections, we will use the notion o urkish policy-makers geographic imagination in order to analyze the development o

    the new political discourse and oreign policy currently applied to theEurasian region, specically Central Asia, the Caucasus and Russia. Wewill conclude the article with a general assessment o the new policy ap-proach and its implications or urkeys uture role in the region.

    The origins of Turkeys new geographic imaginationTe geographic imagination o urkish policy-makers has been stronglyinuenced by urkeys recent domestic political transormation and, to

    a lesser extent, by changes in regional and international politics. Te oldgeographic imagination regarded urkeys neighborhood as a geographyo chaos and a source o instability. Tis resulted in urkeys consciousalienation and limited involvement in the region. urkeys domestictransormation, a avorable international environment, and the advento a new geographic imagination changed this old pattern in regionalpolicy. Te meaning o the nations geography has changed; territoriallimitations to involvement in the region have been eliminated in theminds o the policy-makers; domestic security has been tied to regional

    security; social sectors have increased their role in policy-making; andde-securitization has changed the security-rst approach to oreign pol-icy-making. As a result, the altered geographic imagination has created anew ramework or urkish policy in neighboring regions and beyond.


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    Te shit rom bad neighborhood to zero-problem zone in less thana decade is very telling about the transormation o urkeys geographicimagination. Domestic changes in urkey, primarily the consolidationo stability and the deepening o democracy, are the main drivers behindthe recent change in policy-makers geographic imagination. Tere is adirect connection between domestic stability and regional security, andeven domestic stability should be considered a precondition or positiveattitudes toward regional security. urkey has undergone a process oserious reorms and political transormation, which have accelerated a-ter urkeys ofcial recognition as a candidate country by the EuropeanUnion (EU) at the Helsinki Summit in 1999. Te membership pros-pect provided urkey with a common goal around which dierent elite

    groups came together. Te coalition government o the time adoptedstructural reorms in the economy and started a major democratizationprogram. In the elections o November 2002, the Justice and Develop-ment Party (Adalet ve Kalknma Partisi, AKP) won a landslide victoryby running a pro-EU campaign. Te reorm process has continued un-der this new government.

    Tis domestic reorm process has contributed to the emergence o anew geographic imagination, with signicant implications or urkeys

    oreign policy. Te result o relative domestic stability was not only theprevention o trans-border destabilization, but also a bolstered sel-condence in oreign policy, the emergence o a new sense o neighbor-hood, and the re-evaluation o the merits o peace and stability in re-gional terms. urkeys peaceul transormation led t