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Turkey’s new presidential system and a changing west

Turkey’s new presidential system and a changing west

Turkey : In July 2018, having triumphed in the presidential elections the previous month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began to formally transform Turkey’s long-standing parliamentary system into a heavily centralized presidential one. The new system entrenched his one-man authoritarian rule at home and is having profound implications for the making and substance of Turkish foreign policy as well as Turkey’s relations with the West. This transition has taken place amid an international environment that is undergoing a significant transformation. Today, the West is far from a shining “city on the hill,” attracting Turkey and other countries toward the liberal values it is meant to represent. Populism and nationalism are on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policies are eroding the world order characterized by multilateralism, free trade, and advocacy of liberal values. The European Union is weakened internally by the challenge of Brexit and by diminishing public support for a liberal Europe comfortable with diversity. Complicating this picture are emerging powers such as China, Iran, and Russia that are playing a much more assertive role on the global stage.

This paper argues that the confluence of a “new” Turkey and an evolving international order is likely to continue to strain Turkey’s relations with its Western allies. Although many of the challenges that crowd the Turkish-Western agenda predate Ankara’s formal introduction of its presidential system, these issues are likely to become more visible and harder to overcome. Yet, it is possible that the amount of authority and power the Turkish president has amassed for himself may also create new opportunities for transactional relationships. Furthermore, structural factors and geopolitical realities are likely to dampen Erdoğan’s temptation to break away from the trans-Atlantic alliance. This in turn may create some room for pragmatism and the possibility to improve cooperation between Turkey and the West in addressing common challenges. Against this background, anchoring Turkey to the West within a values-based framework no longer looks realistic. So how should the West approach Turkey? Which is better: engagement not based on rules, or rules-based non-engagement?