What ideas drive Turkish foreign policy? Think lebensraum

The architect of Turkey’s foreign policy is a pan-Islamist academic who considers Israel a “geopolitical tumour” and believes his country needs lebensraum.

That is according to an analysis of Ahmet Davutoglu’s writing in his former guise as a university professor in the 1990s, before he entered politics as Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s foreign affairs adviser.

The study, by Behlül Özkan of Marmara University, Istanbul, paints a striking picture of the thinking that has moulded Turkish policy in the Middle East for over a decade. For Mr Davutoglu, his country’s future is a stark choice between deference to larger powers that will exploit it or creating a scenario in which Turkey does the exploiting. He believes his country’s Ottoman past can help overcome the nation-states dividing Muslims in the Middle East.

By developing strong economic ties and a circle of alliances, Mr Davutoglu believes Turkey can control its hinterland. As recently as 2001, he described this process as acquiring new Lebensraum – using the term in both Turkish (“hayat alanı”) and German – in areas inhabited by Muslims, Prof Özkan said.

This doctrine is built upon a common Muslim identity. Countries with significant non-Muslim populations like Israel and Lebanon do not fit the picture and are “artificial”, Mr Davutoglu argued. He described Israel as a “geopolitical tumour” and said Turkey became “a peripheral country that favoured the interests of Western colonialism in the East” when it recognised Israel.

Mr Davutoglu is now a lead contender to succeed Mr Erdogan as prime minister.

Originally published in the Jewish Chronicle, 14 August 2014