As Turkey achieved greater domestic
country became more capable of realizing its foreign-policy objectives. The
government undertook numerous groundbreaking initiatives, including but not
limited to efforts to resolve the Cyprus issue, end enmity with Syria, and
normalize relations with Armenia. Similarly, we expanded our efforts to bolster
Turkey's ties with emerging actors in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. We also
adopted new foreign-policy instruments ranging from mediation to development
assistance, which became cornerstones of the new pro-active Turkish diplomacy.
Particularly after I assumed the post of minister of foreign affairs, "zero problems with neighbors" became the most publicized of Turkey's foreign-policy principles. Taken literally, this was obviously an idealistic model -- however, it also represented a clear change of mentality in Turkish foreign policy. Under subsequent AK Party governments, we have broken ground in reconnecting with the Balkans, Black Sea region, Caucasus, and Middle East. Turkey's foreign-policy agenda is no longer dominated by the chronic disputes with neighbors that used to consume its energy in regional and international affairs. Thus, Turkish people started to see their neighborhood not as a source of problems and potential threats, but as an arena of cooperation and partnership.
When the recent wave of democratic protests started to
shake the Middle East, the validity of our new conceptual framework was once
again confirmed. At the root of the regional turmoil was the Arab people's
genuine demand for good governance that respected their civil rights, honor, and integrity.
Previously, the AK Party had argued on many occasions that just as we
continuously reformed our economic and political systems, the rulers in the
wider Middle East needed to initiate similar domestic reforms. Unfortunately,
their failure to take timely steps to meet their citizens' demands forced upon
them a rapid transformation, which not only resulted in the death and misery of
innocent people but also poses a risk to regional peace and stability.
The Arab Spring, thus, presented us all with difficult decisions: We either could maintain ties with these oppressive rulers, or we could support the popular uprisings to secure basic democratic rights. More significantly, the uprisings also posed a challenge to the conceptual foundations of our new foreign policy, which we had carefully nurtured over the years. Turkey naturally opted for the second alternative with regard to Syria, leading many analysts to argue that we have abandoned the "zero problems with neighbors" policy, or claim that it had simply failed. Many critics of our foreign policy, it appears, have interpreted the "zero problems" principle in a simplistic way, as if it suggested we would continue to follow this ideal at all costs and condone regime-inflicted violence on innocent civilians.
Those criticizing Turkey's foreign policy, however, fail to understand how our policy toward the Arab Spring was formulated. It was through a balanced consideration of our foreign-policy principles, and an acknowledgment of the fact that "zero problems with neighbors" made sense only when it was considered in conjunction with other principles. Notably, Turkey balanced the "zero problems" principle with our belief in achieving a balance between security and freedom, which formed the core of our policy toward the Arab Spring. Our key principles, together with the "zero problems" policy, have not failed -- nor have they been rejected. Instead, they continue to guide our foreign policy in our neighborhood.
Those who narrowly focus on the "zero problems" principle miss Turkey's greater foreign- policy vision. As we readjusted our policies in response to the new strategic situation in the Middle East, we also embarked on new initiatives. Turkey has drawn attention to the problems of the least-developed countries, led a campaign to mobilize the international community to assist famine victims in Somalia, sustained its engagement in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and reenergized its bid for European Union membership. More remarkably, these initiatives have been carried out while Turkey was working to address the humanitarian tragedy unfolding on its border with Syria.
When the revolutionary events in the Middle East began, we were determined that we would not be passive bystanders, but active agents that impacted this historic transformation of the region. Our government, therefore, made an unequivocal decision from the very first day of the Arab Spring to extend our assistance to the people of the region, so that they could enjoy the same universally acknowledged rights as their peers do elsewhere in the world. We refused to stand idly by as the basic democratic rights enjoyed by the Turkish people were denied to others by violence and oppression.