Why is Turkey turning away from the West?

Turkey’s decision on whether to go ahead with its planned purchase of Russian S-400 air defence missiles is a debate on finding an alternative foreign policy paradigm. It is apparent that Turkey is prepared to downgrade its traditional relations with the West, and the United States in particular.

But why is Turkey in doing this? Does it have a compelling reason?

Turkish leaders argue the country needs S-400s for its security. But given that the missile system is not the most capable one in its class, that explanation is weak, as Turkey could acquire similar systems from NATO countries.

Several pundits have argued that remaining within the Western orbit could be harmful for Turkey given the new regional realities arising from the Syrian crisis, the Kurdish issue and the rise of Iran.

This explanation is also problematic. To begin with, on regional issues, there are serious differences between Turkey and Russia. Secondly, Western countries do not have a unified view of global politics, so Turkey could easily push for its agenda without abandoning its traditional alliances.

The third explanation is economic. According to this view, Turkey should decrease its dependence on the West if it wants to increase its economic growth. Similarly, this explanation also has many flaws. China and India are Turkey’s key competitors in new markets in Asia and Africa, not Western countries.

Turkey benefits from the European Union’s trade agreements with countries such as Japan and several South American states through its customs union with the bloc. There is no evidence Turkey’s position would be more advantageous if it broke with the West.

The final argument to explain why Turkey would want to break with the West is security. According to this argument, Turkey should look to new alliances with non-Western countries such as Russia. In particular, the ultra-nationalists who support Erdoğan back rapprochement with Russia and Iran. But Turkey is a part of the Western defence alliance and there is no substitute for that. The only alternative is to develop bilateral defence cooperation with countries like Russia, but that is never likely to be as effective as being part of NATO.

The main reason for Turkey’s search for an alternative foreign policy is domestic politics. The problem for Erdoğan is that as he tries to solidify his new presidential regime, Western nations make trouble for him and that is why he and his allies desperately need to break Turkey’s already-weakened bonds with the West.


The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.