Turkey’s latest cross-border operation was launched on Syria’s Afrin on Jan. 20 to eliminate what Turkey perceives as terror threats from the region. It was broadly based on the right to self-defense as defined in article 51 of the U.N. Charter. As the operation progresses, it is being dissected by experts from various angles, and the Turkish public is bombarded with endless news and debates on the merits of the operation. Yet, there has been no attempt to gauge the public’s view of the operation, which should be of utmost consideration for policymakers.
The Center for Turkish Studies at Kadir Has University has just released the results of its annual Political and Social Trends in Turkey Survey, which includes questions about Turkish foreign policy and cross-border operations as well as the presence of Turkish soldiers in foreign countries. It was conducted across Turkey in late December-early January before “Olive Branch Operation” started.
According to the results, the majority of the Turkish population supports the government to carry out cross-border security operations to combat terrorism. The 56.1 percent support should have been anticipated, as the Turkish public also considers “terrorism” as the most important problem facing the country for the last couple of years. However, when questioned about Turkey’s policy of creating more or less permanent military presence on foreign soil, the public support slightly decreases to 48.1 percent. The clear message is to conduct precise cross-border operations to deal with security threats and then withdraw in a timely manner.
The government’s overall performance in foreign policy is seen as “successful” by the public, with 45.9 percent support. Although the increase from last year’s 35.2 percent seems to be closely related to party loyalties as ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) voters predominantly find the government’s foreign policy successful, while it is quite low among other party voters. The increase in support, nevertheless, has been quite noticeable in the last two years as Turkey has modified its Syria policy.
On the other side, 57.8 percent of the respondents expressed support for Turkey’s EU membership, breaking the three-year downward trend. While debate over alternative scenarios for Turkey’s relationship with the EU has been taking place in Europe and Turkey, 43.6 percent of the respondents still believe that membership negotiations should continue, while 29.8 percent of the population prefers suspending them and 26.6 percent ending the talks altogether.
There is a similar trend in terms of Turkey’s NATO membership. Some 59.2 percent of the respondents support the continuation of Turkey’s membership, while only 8.6 percent believes that it is better to end Turkey’s NATO connection. However, the public seems to be divided over the value of the security umbrella of NATO, as 39.8 percent think that Turkey can ensure its own security without being a member of NATO, while 37.7 think it cannot.
Questions regarding Turkey’s friends and foes brought about similar results as the past few years. While the U.S. ranked first among the countries posing threat to Turkey with 64.4 percent, up from 60.4 percent in 2016, and closely followed by Israel, the closest friends/allies were listed as Azerbaijan (67.8 percent), Turkish Cyprus (43.9 percent) and Russia (30.5 percent). Interestingly, while there is a clear decrease in the “lone-wolf syndrome,” i.e. supporting Turkey’s stand-alone behavior in its international relations, the percentage of the population saying that Turkey should cooperate with the Turkic republics has increased to 25.4 percent out of nowhere. Under the prevailing nationalist rhetoric in the country, people seem to gravitate toward the old saying “There is no friend to Turks but Turks.”
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