GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Towards a Strategic Partnership: Turkish Foreign Policy and GCC Alliance Building in the Era of the Arab Uprisings
Paper Proposal Text :
At the GCC’s 108th Ministerial Council session in 2008, the GCC named Turkey as their first strategic partner outside of the Gulf. In response to regional instability caused by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, developments in the Iranian nuclear programme, and the Arab uprisings in 2011, the GCC States have done their utmost to secure their regimes and extend their regional alliances. Turkey’s rising economic and political status in the Middle East coupled with its historic ties to the GCC through the Ottoman Empire, has become a preferred partner in the GCC’s ongoing process to harmonize foreign policies and put pressure on the Assad regime through attempts to refer Syria to the UN. However, Turkey’s role is not simply codified by the geo-strategic imperatives of the GCC. Turkey has its own unique foreign policies which prioritize security of its southern borders (including Syria and the Israel-Palestine conflict), pacification of the Kurds and diplomatic engagement with Iran. In each of these areas, a closer partnership with the GCC could be beneficial.

This paper argues that the complimentary trade between the GCC, a major oil and gas supplier to Turkey, and Turkey, a major steel supplier to the GCC construction industry and source of visitors for pilgrimage, is fundamental to the growth of Turkish – GCC relations over many other relationships. The sustainability of a long term relationship then depends to a large degree on the maintenance of Turkish and GCC independence from other alliances, especially from the US, Russia and the EU. The US remains Turkey’s closest ally and Turkey is recognised to be America’s low key ally and a pivotal state despite a diminished post-Cold War security rationale and substantive differences over the Iraq War in 2003. US – Turkish cooperation will be required for the long term stability of Iraq, but so far the instability brought about by US interventions in the Middle East have only served to undermine Turkish goals in the region. Russian – Turkish cooperation is also of value for Turkey to achieve tangible returns from its new activist policies on the Caucasus, avoiding repetitions of regional instability created by Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008. Turkey aims to repeat such policies as a mediator in other Middle East conflicts.

Turkey has already undergone one pragmatic shift in favour of the Arab States after its invasion of Northern Cyprus in the 1970s and the rise in the international oil price. The decision to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in 2008 therefore appears to be a similar pragmatic shift but this time emanating from the Gulf States during a period of great instability. The main question that this paper aims to answer is: Will Turkey’s traditional secular, pro-western and non-interventionist foreign policy on issues pertaining to the Middle East be affected by the rise of Turkish nationalism and non-alignment; the Arab Spring; Turkey’s historic, cultural and religious ties to the Arab States; and the current GCC trend of repatriating security policy from its dependence on the US? It is envisaged that only through a more institutionalised, categorical and exclusive relationship could Turkey and the GCC States transform an economic-led agenda signed in 2005 and the beginning of a strategic partnership signed in 2008 into modified Islamic and strategic paradigm in the Middle East. To what extent this will include a security element given Turkey’s existing commitments in NATO, the GCC’s inability to quickly integrate Jordan and Morocco, and the interests of other powers in the Middle East, will be major considerations in the formative process.