Turkish Foreign Policy towards the Middle East under the AKP (2002-2013): A Neoclassical Realist Account

Tziarras, Zenonas orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-8468-642X (2017) Turkish Foreign Policy towards the Middle East under the AKP (2002-2013): A Neoclassical Realist Account. Doctoral thesis, University of Warwick.

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The problematique driving this research stems from the different approaches concerning Turkish foreign policy (TFP) under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) since 2002. Moreover, the controversy about TFP, also expands to a theoretical debate within the International Relations, and Foreign Policy Analysis, literature. However, although more balanced approaches have
emerged in recent years to explain TFP, a comprehensive and systematically integrated approach that deals with TFP drivers, causal chains and foreign policy behaviour is yet to be seen; and this is a gap that this thesis seeks to fill. In this light, this thesis’ objective is to explain TFP towards the Middle East under the AKP. Thus, the central and overarching question to be answered is: what are the foreign policy-making dynamics under the AKP? The goal is to trace the causal relationship between the (independent and intervening) variables (system and domestic level) vis-à-vis the dependent variable (foreign policy behaviour) in terms of the foreign policy outcomes of “revisionism” and “status quo.” In answering the overarching question, the thesis also addresses a set of sub-questions: how are domestic developments linked to external developments? Is there evidence of revisionism or ideological incentives in TFP? Answering such questions also allows for inferences on long-standing
questions about TFP to be made. For example: is Turkey turning away from its traditional Western allies? Has Turkey been promoting peace and cooperation, or have its policies created polarisation between international actors? The main argument is twofold. First it is argued that TFP under the AKP towards the Middle East has been revisionist. This stems from the fact that AKP elite ideology is revisionist and the domestic driver that has the primary role in filtering systemic dynamics and leading to the foreign policy outcome. Thus, whenever the circumstances – namely, little to no external or domestic effective opposition – allow AKP policy-makers to act according to their ideologically-charged rhetoric, TFP behaviour is revisionist. When AKP is constrained by other external or domestic drivers, TFP is more prone to maintaining the status quo. As such, system-level drivers (international power relations, external threat perceptions and international economic interdependencies), and most
importantly international power relations, play the primary role in shaping and causing shifts in TFP but always in conjunction with unit-level variables. Lastly, it is suggested that the region’s volatility will keep forcing Turkey to switch back and forth in its alliance with the West not least because of the gap between its revisionist aspirations and its limited capabilities. The same
aspirations will unavoidably be challenged as they face the reaction of other regional and international players.

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