Turkey’s soft power laid ground for risk-taking, military gains, former U.S. colonel says

Turkey’s use of soft power, including diplomacy and commerce, laid the foundation for calculated risk-taking and military and geo-strategic gains, said Rich Outzen, a retired U.S. army colonel and a geopolitical strategist.

Military interventions in Syria’s Idlib, Libya and the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh showed that some risks were worth taking, Outzen said in a conversation with Edward Stafford for Ahval’s Anatolian Dispatch podcast series.  

“We see a pattern of diplomatic engagement; diplomatic engagement breeds the commercial activity, the commercial activity breeds the military cooperation, and the military cooperation leads to industrial exchanges and in some cases defence and industrial cooperation,” Outzen said. “And very soon as a result, you have a network of access and the access includes places in the Balkans, places in the Caucasus, places in North Africa and the Gulf, as well as Central Asia.”

Outzen spoke with Stafford to expand on his July 9 article published on the website of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy entitled "Deals, Drones, and National Will: The New Era in Turkish Power Projection”.

Turkey’s budget for diplomacy overseas has expanded vastly in recent years, with the country tripling its diplomatic representations in Africa and more than sextupling the amount of trade with the continent, Outzen said.

Turkey has also undergone a sort of revolution in military technology, putting new drones, satellites and electronic warfare to work within its power projecting network, he said.

Traditional foreign policy during the republican period had been cautious and pragmatic in contrast, Outzen said.  

“Even into the early post-Cold War, we saw that Turkey was very careful and they followed this ‘zero problems with neighbours policy’, which tried to apply a sort of idealistic multilateralism and tried to solve the problems with Syria, with Iran, with Russians, but found the region around it on fire,” he said.

In 2020, Turkey projected hard power on multiple fronts, such as in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh, Outzen said.

“Three different theatres with three different dramatic applications of power projection and, by the way, a fourth running all year, a cross-border against the PKK, a smaller extend in Syria and a greater extend in Iraq. This does not comport with the idea of a weak or isolated Turkey.”