Turkey’s real force of influence might come as a surprise
Turkey rose as a player with an influential muscle of its own – through effective humanitarian aid
It's natural that all countries have different aims in foreign policy and different ways to attain them. However, one aim has been common for all cultures – spreading influence. Turkey is the only Muslim majority NATO member country with a decade long stability record in its economy, offering low corporate income taxes for entrepreneurs and a large domestic market. Spending 2.7 percent of GDP for its military, we can say Turkey is a diplomacy player but it is neither rich enough nor is it active enough in terms of using its military might to be an effective actor in the region.
Following the Arab Spring and the ongoing conflicts in North Africa, none of the above factors have proven to be effective enough for influence or to create change in developing societies. We have seen the U.S. aid to Egypt and European military might in Africa becoming functionless in domestic policy choices; however, Turkey rose as a player with an influential muscle of its own – through effective humanitarian aid. Turkey will also be holding the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), in May 2016 in Istanbul, which is crucial for setting the agenda for effective humanitarian action around the world.
We might get short-term results via military solutions, whose ghosts will haunt us in the long run or create a circle of dependency through trade, which will be dispensable by another trade partner. Sociopolitical depth in foreign relations and persistence depends only on an ability to find solutions to domestic problems. For instance, Iraqi governments today have had a closer relation with Turkey than with the U.S. because Turkey chose to the Iraqi refugees when the U.S. and the UK was bombing its infrastructure.
No matter what the aim was in the first place, future generations will remember not the political background but the reality they faced on the ground. When the war was over, Turkish construction companies rebuilt most of Iraq, built pipelines for Iraqi oil reserves and even marketed Iraqi oil. Even though the initial aim was to bring democracy to the land, one generation will remember the stars on the American flag by explosions and torture in prison cells, and the same generation will remember the crescent of the Turkish flag by the food packages and a destination of safety from a cruel war. For the majority of the Syrians today, Turkey is not a former repressor as the Baath regimes had propagated, but a welcoming relative.
Turkey rose as a player with an influential muscle of its own – through effective humanitarian aidCeylan Ozbudak
In times of crisis, all those in need remember the ones who stood with them. This fact is not subject to change according to shifts in regimes, ideologies or governments. In the past decade, Turkey surpassed even the U.S. in humanitarian aid distribution across the world, creating loyal friends for the times she might ask for a favor. Turkey has embraced Syrian refugees fleeing civil war, Palestinians suffering Israeli offensives in Gaza, Yazidis in need of shelter and Kurds fleeing Kobane clashes between ISIS militants and YPG.
Turkish footprints in Africa
Turkey almost rebuilt entire countries in Africa. Mohamed Nour, the Mayor of Mogadishu, Somalia stated his trust in the Turks in these sentences in 2013; “If I request computers from the U.N., they will take months and require a number of assessments. They will spend $50,000 to give me $7,000 of equipment. If I request computers from Turkey, they will show up next week.”
Also, Somali President Hassan Sheik Mahmoud, elaborated on what he defined as the features of the Turkish model in Somalia as; “They are building or implementing projects that are really tangible ones. They are doing the work there. They are driving their own cars. They are moving the city. They are building. They are teaching.”
Return the favor
Somalia is not the only place Turkey delivers aid and cooperation for reconstruction in Africa. Ethiopia, Mali, Sudan, Congo and many other countries benefit from Turkish aid and in return, there are times the Turkish government asks for favors. In the recent confrontation with the Gulen movement, the government decided to transform the Gulen schools abroad to schools run by the Turkish government and did not face much resistance in those countries. In a recent meeting with the President Erdoğan, the Malian president pledged to stand by the Turkish government over the Gulen schools issue.
Due to the partnership ties made through cooperation and assistance, business and trade between Turkey and Africa gained momentum as well. Turkey opened a number of high commissions and embassies in Sub-Saharan African countries and 34 embassies in the region. Turkish exports to Africa surged from $9 billion in 2005 to $17 billion in 2012 and Turkey aims to increase trade volumes with Africa to around $50 billion by 2015.
In the past decade, international development assistance and humanitarian aid has become the primary factor of influence in Turkish foreign policy. While geographically expanding humanitarian aid programs, the demand-driven aid policy of Turkey gained global appreciation. Turkey has shown that as a force of influence, love and cooperation can be more effective than military might and confrontation. Nowadays, our world is thirsty for the former more than the latter.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak