Turkey’s new ‘Strategic Depth’
The trajectory of the Syrian turmoil will probably issue the final verdict with regard to the feasibility of the Strategic Derinlik’s assertiveness.
Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoglu Photo: REUTERS/Umit Bektas
There are some books which inspired the masses, or influenced small but powerful
elites, and changed the world by causing shifts in mindsets and paradigms. For
instance, even the modern military doctrines of the 2000s still refer to Vom
Kriege (On War) by Clausewitz, and use the unique terminology of the book, such
as “fog of war.” Like those, which changed the world drastically, there are also
books that help us understand these drastic changes. For example, Charles
Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities might give us a clearer idea of the radical
differences that can exist between the goals of a revolution and its actual
outcomes. Thus, Dickens’ work casts light on the “great expectations” of Tahrir
Square’s libertarian youth, and how the social momentum they generated was
hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood.
In recent years, a book in the
Turkish international relations literature, the Stratejik Derinlik (Strategic
Depth) of Foreign Minister Prof. Ahmet Davutoglu, has found a place somewhere
between the first and second categories.
In other words, while the shifts
in the Turkish strategic thought cannot be understood without reading Prof.
Davutoglu’s work, it would also be fair to say that, as a geostrategic concept,
the book itself caused some of those significant shifts.
Davutoglu doctrine in Turkish foreign policy, Turkey embraced two different
geostrategic traditions. The first school was the static Cold War paradigm which
assessed Turkey’s role to be a defensive military garrison between Soviet
expansionism and the democratic West. Within this narrow context, Ankara’s main
mission was tying down over 20 robust Soviet divisions and being positioned at
the very center of NATO’s intelligence activities for keeping Europe safe.
However, this geostrategic stance was highly status quo-oriented and static in
After the collapse of the USSR, Ankara’s strategists in the 1990s
saw themselves “get caught in a bad neighborhood,” surrounded by fragile or
failed states and rising PKK terrorism which served as a proxy war tool of the
Syrian and Iranian tyrannies as well as Greece, Armenia and some other
Within this context, the surrounding regions of the Balkans,
Middle East and Caucasus were perceived as sources of mounting threats and
Under these circumstances, and in
accordance with the military elite’s paternalist intervention in domestic
politics, the 1990s’ geostrategic tradition was intensively militarized and
dominated by the realpolitik paradigm.
At the culmination of the 1990s’
understanding, Turkey developed its first post- Cold War military strategic
concept in 1998. The concept was based on the framework of active deterrence.
Through forward engagement – forward defense principles, it sought to use
Turkey’s military potential actively as strategic leverage when dealing with
political disputes. In essence, the second geostrategic approach was quite
proactive, but it was still status quo-oriented in terms of grand
GEOPOLITICAL SCHOOLS generally bring about realpolitik
understanding and realist, interest-based calculus. However, the Stratejik
Derinlik includes its own geopolitical and geostrategic reading which embraces
normative idealism and focuses on identity debates.
In the Stratejik
Derinlik, Prof. Davutoglu strongly criticizes the Turkish strategic community’s
former geopolitical schools by indicating that those efforts saw Turkey’s
geopolitical position merely as a tool with which to defend the status quo,
instead of an asset for opening up to the world. Claiming that Ankara had
embraced almost a do-nothing policy in the past, the Stratejik Derinlik argues,
Turkey’s geopolitical potential needs a “dynamic interpretation” which would
foster Ankara’s regional and global influence.
In accordance with “the
dynamic interpretation of geography” vision, the new doctrine offered an unusual
geopolitical and geostrategic reading, known as “geocultural integrity.” This
perspective is manifested in Turkey’s abandonment of militarized realpolitik in
favor of greater emphasis on historical, cultural affinities.
doubt, the famous “zero problems with neighbors” policy was a central part of
this paradigm. Clearly, through improving trade and interaction, and by focusing
on historical-cultural ties among the Middle Eastern societies, the Stratejik
Derinlik idealizes a post-nation state in historical Ottoman territory. Some
scholars even characterized this concept as “making the borders de facto
In his book, Davutoglu refers to Laing’s classical
anti-psychiatry work, The Divided Self, in order to explain Turkey’s identity
debates and geostrategic preferences. He draws attention to the notions of inner
self and embodied self and the assumption of a person’s embracing a false self
due to alienation.
The book claims that if a nation becomes “alienated”
from its historical/geographical attitudes, then it, too, might embrace a false
This identity-focused, romantic interpretation of geopolitics has
brought about two main outcomes. First, Turkey started to pursue assertive
strategies and softpower offensives toward the Islamic world and the historical
Ottoman territories. And second, the new geopolitical school perceived the
Turkish-Israeli partnership of the 1990s as an alienation factor when
normalizing Turkey’s political identity.
THE STARTING point of the new
geopolitical concept of ‘strategic depth’ was a justifiable reaction against the
past’s narrow geostrategic schools of thought which saw the country as nothing
more than a geopolitical pivot.
However, the doctrine required a peaceful
security environment to putting its imperial perspective into practice, as well
as the sacrificing of the Israeli military partnership.
Without a doubt,
the current militarization of international relations in the region hinders the
capability of soft power and historical- cultural affinities. Clearly, in the
contemporary Middle East, every single actor can be charmed by more robust
security guarantees and shows of force, but definitely not by honorable ideals
and golden-age nostalgia.
In summary, the trajectory of the Syrian
turmoil will probably issue the final verdict with regard to the feasibility of
the Strategic Derinlik’s assertiveness.
The author, who served as a
post-doctoral fellow for the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar –
Ilan University, holds a PhD from the Turkish War College, and a Master’s degree
from the Turkish Military Academy.