Confusion about international affairs

04 Haziran 2015

Although Turkey will hold general elections this Sunday, its foreign policy has been hardly discussed during the propaganda period, except briefly in connection with government’s policies vis-à-vis Syria. Economic promises of contesting parties, discussion on per capita income, unemployment rate and poverty have been dominating the agenda.

As in most countries, political parties in Turkey, too, focus on domestic issues in their election campaigns rather than foreign policy, and international affairs rarely, if ever, find a place in the discussions. Yet, in today’s world, it is impossible to think of domestic issues as separate from foreign policy, especially in connection with its impact on domestic audiences.

A recent survey, conducted by Kadir Has University, indicates to a close connection between the public’s perception of the country’s foreign policy and their party preferences. It tries to gauge public approach towards several issues, ranging from relations with individual countries to identification of friend and foe in international affairs.

According to the survey, the Syrian conflict was perceived as the most important issue on the Turkish foreign policy agenda with 20.3 percent, dramatically decreased from 65.5 percent in 2013. This is followed by counter-terrorism and relations with Armenia at 15.5 and 11.9 percent, respectively. It seems that people have become accustomed to the Syrian crisis, while the 100th anniversary of the 1915 events has increased their sensibility towards Armenia.

Even though Syria is considered the primary concern for Turkey, the public’s main focus is on refugees arriving in Turkey rather than the civil war in Syria. More than half of the respondents (51.3 percent) say the government should stop accepting Syrian refugees, while they differ on whether or not to send already arrived refugees back to their country, with 36.3 percent for and 15 percent against.

The most striking results are related to the implementation of foreign policy, which closely reflect current Turkish domestic politics. The perceived role of the president in shaping foreign policy increased from 7.7 in 2013 to 28.4 percent with the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while 25.8 percent of the respondents (up from 8.8 percent in 2013) believe that the president should contribute more to the implementation of the foreign policy.

The results also show Israel and the U.S. as biggest threats to Turkey with 42.6 and 35.3 percent respectively, while almost 38.9 percent think “Turkey has no friends.” Only 37.5 percent of the respondents see Azerbaijan as a friendly nation, followed by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus with 8.9 percent and Bosnia Herzegovina with 6 percent. This distrust of other states can also be seen by the public preference of “going alone” in international affairs (22 percent). In terms of collaboration with other countries, 19.5 percent of the respondents prefer collaborating with Muslim countries, while 34.9 percent prefer Azerbaijan and Turkic states. Only 12.6 percent say that Turkey should cooperate with the U.S. in international affairs.

While 67.1 percent support the continuation of Turkey’s NATO membership, 42.4 percent of respondents, down from 47.5 percent in 2013, still wish Turkey to become a member of the EU. Within those respondents, 46.7 percent think that Turkey will never become a member, mostly (46.2 percent) as a result of differences in religion and identity, while 27.7 percent support a Turkic Union instead and only 4.9 percent sees Shanghai Cooperation Organization as an alternative to the EU membership.

The public’s overall perception of the U.S. still remains negative, with 51.7 percent labeling it as “untrustworthy,” “imperialist,” and “enemy,” while 20.2 percent sees it as a “military ally” and “friend.”

Not a very comforting picture for the forthcoming government.

Bu yazı 04.06.2015 tarihinde Hurriyet Daily News Gazetesi'nde yayımlanmıştır.