Turkey at a crossroads: Will it turn to the East or West?
Turkey celebrates its centennial in 2023. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire 100 years ago, the republic was established with a secular outlook. Turkey joined NATO in 1952, formally cementing its place in the free world and within the Western fold. Today, it possesses the second-largest army in the transatlantic alliance.
However, Turkey has warmed up to Russia in recent years. The two countries doubled their trade to $68 billion in 2022, despite sanctions on the Russian economy by Turkey's NATO allies. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also expressed his desire for the country to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — a Central Asian security bloc hosted by China — as a full member.
"The United States still is the most dominant actor in the international stage. But it has now serious, credible challengers. Most notably, of course, China," professor Senem Aydin Duzgit from Sabanci University said. "You have the rise of new actors. Russia is one of them. India is one of them."
"This creates a system in which midsize players have more space to conduct partially independent foreign policies from the United States," she explained.
Turkey's foreign policy shift from the West is described as "strategic autonomy" in Turkish governing circles.
"Strategic autonomy means having a different policy line in case where Turkey's middle and long-term interests are not compatible with the United States or NATO," said Talha Kose, director of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, a research institute with strong ties to the Erdogan administration.
"As the United States is less interested to play the regional politics, I think Turkey becomes an important actor — a stabilizing actor," he added.
As Erdogan secures a third term in office, Turkey is at a crossroads: will it pivot to the East or West?