Turkey’s performance and the widening gap between its expectations and capabilities

When Turkey’s foreign policy towards the Caspian Sea region has been analyzed in terms of its performance in realizing its stated objectives, it is far from being fully successful. Although Ankara has achieved significant results over the last 20 years, it suffers problems from to the lack of realism in setting its ambitious objectives. It has become already clear that Ankara’s objectives were too ambitious for a regional actor like Turkey to achieve.

Although the prospects for Turkey’s performance in the Caspian region has been largely limited in realizing the desired outcomes, some of its shortcomings stems from factors that are beyond its control. In fact, the Caspian Sea region is a very complex region where other major regional powers like Russia and Iran experience significant troubles.

It should also be stated that, some of Turkey’s shortcomings in the Caspian Sea region are related to the nature of the regional geopolitics. In fact, Turkey’s capacity to project its power over the Caspian Sea region is limited due to its geographical distance to the region. Turkey is not a part of the regional security complex in the Caspian Sea region.

In addition to Ankara’s inability to project hard power in the Caspian Sea region, there are also significant limitations to Turkey’s soft power in this region. Firstly, Ankara lacks a comprehensive strategy for enhancing its soft power in the Caspian Sea region. In addition, although Turkey’s partners in the Caspian Sea region tend to use Turkey’s diplomatic channels in enhancing their relations with NATO and other Euro-Atlantic structures, Turkey has not coordinated its policy towards this region in close coordination with its Western allies yet.

Besides, Turkey’s economic power is not enough big to attract the regional countries. In the beginning of 1990s Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan were willing to get Turkish economic assistance to address their immediate economic problems emerged at the result of the Soviet collapse which made them open to Turkey’s economic influence. This took place particularly in the form of Turkish “Eximbank” credits. However, soon regional countries got disappointed with Turkish incapability meeting their expectation for assistance. Later, utilizing them their rich energy resources Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan became too wealthy to be influenced by Turkey’s limited economic power.

Last but not least, contrary to the taken for granted cultural similarities between Turkey and the Turkic countries in the Caspian Sea region, their actual linguistic and cultural differences, especially with Kazakhstan, limit Ankara’s capacity to project its soft power in this region considerably. Besides, these Turkic states prefer to promote their own national culture in order to maintain their autonomy vis-a-vis other cultures, particularly closer cultures, such as Turkey’s own culture.[1]

To sum up, Ankara’s performance in extending its influence in the Caspian Sea region is better in comparison with the results of its earlier policies towards this region towards during the 1990s. This is mainly related to its adoption of a more cooperative attitude towards all countries in this region with a greater emphasis on the use of soft power and a cooperation based on pragmatic considerations.

  • [1] For example, on the limits of Turkey’s capability to project its power beyond its borders in the Middle East,see M.B. Altunisik, “The Possibilities and Limits of Turkey’s Soft Power in the Middle East”, Insight Turkey, vol.10, no. 2, 2008, pp. 41-54.
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