Neo-Kemalist Turkey: Can the “Old West” be the New Direction in Foreign Policy?

In this analysis, we point to a conjuncture in Turkey’s foreign policy that is independent of the outcome of the May 14 elections. Even if the outcome of the elections allows the AK Party to continue in power or ends 21 years of rule, Turkey may make foreign policy moves reminiscent of Kemalist Turkey at the beginning of the second century.

At this point, we will first draw a framework based on the discourse of French President Emmanuel Macron during his visit to China. Then, we will discuss the possibilities of a “new order” for Turkish Foreign Policy centered on Israel to the east, Britain, and France to the west.


The statements made by the French President after his visit to China, when considered together with the lingering tension in the Turkey-US axis, may enable new areas of maneuver in foreign policy.

Indeed, Emmanuel Macron’s statements are in line with Turkey’s foreign policy, which is pursued relatively autonomously from the US axis.

Macron envisions Europe as a third superpower led by France, and this Europe points to a potential that has established its strategic autonomy from the US.

The French President justifies the necessity of this potential on the grounds that Europe is caught up in crises that are not of its own making and that these crises prevent it from establishing its strategic autonomy.

This justification leads the war in Ukraine to be addressed, after one year, with the question “Whose war?”.

After all, “the Europeans cannot solve the crisis in Ukraine. In that case, how can the Europeans undertake a mission in Taiwan or make statements to that effect?” shows that the war is not really “their war”.

The conclusion that follows from Macron’s discourse is not only that Europe lacks the capacity to solve crises that it did not cause, but also that this situation is the result of being a follower of the US.

This conclusion reminds one of Slavoj Zizek’s observation:

It is not the “small states” but the “old world powers” such as Germany and France that are most uncomfortable with the perception of a Western bloc led by the US, and with globalization that is now discursively obsolete.

On the other hand, to read Macron’s rhetoric during his visit to China as a mere example of Charles de Gaulle’s legacy would be a realpolitik weakness.

It was de Gaulle’s strategic objection to a bipolar world.

Today, the world has every reason not to be subservient to a US that is grappling with its own internal contradictions while focusing on weakening Russia and preventing China from gaining strength.

Depending on the potential of the US to resolve its internal contradictions, it will be able to put these reasons into action.

Indeed, it was the US’s capacity to resolve its own internal contradictions that enhanced its ability to lead the Western bloc during the Cold War. It is the relative decline in this capacity that created the conjuncture that made Macron’s rhetoric during his visit to China possible.

Because of this decline, US President Biden’s distinction between “democracies and authoritarian regimes” is no longer able to guide the global order. The most important evidence of this is the lack of European willingness to take ownership of the crisis in Ukraine, which is evident in Macron’s words.

In the absence of this position, the “old world powers” and regional powers may seek alternative routes.

Of course, the alternative route does not only mean new alliances. It also means an autonomous defense industry. When the French President says that Europe should focus on strengthening its own defense industry, he points to the other dimension of this route.

At this point, however, it is also important to consider the rift between Germany and France, who are also fighting over who should lead Europe.

As we have mentioned before, Germany envisions the EU’s strategic autonomy on a basis where the US and NATO take a back seat, while France aims for a strategic autonomy where Europe is the main subject, transforming into a “third superpower” as Macron puts it.

Turkey’s position in the coming period will be determined both by the course of its relations with the US and the way in which Europe deals with its goal of “becoming a superpower”.


With its foreign policy in recent years, Turkey has been moving in a direction that is not content with being a pivot country. In the near term, it is clear that relations with the US will not “normalize” due to the purchase of modernized F-16s, the Biden administration’s attitude towards Turkey and the AK Party’s lack of a prominent liberalization agenda.

A possible Erdogan victory in the May 14 elections necessitates scenarios for this situation.

In this context, the possibilities of a “Neo-Kemalist” foreign policy for Turkey should be considered. Even a Millet Alliance that has come to power may not be able to avoid such a strategy due to the conjuncture.

The most problematic point of this conjuncture is that the United States, in addition to its own capacity problem, has disrupted the balance between Turkey and Greece in favor of Greece.

All in all, while the coldness between Turkey and the US has continued to ossify since the S-400s, the institutionalization that has abandoned “leader diplomacy” and promises such as coordination with NATO have exceeded the degree of resolution.

In other words, acting on the assumption that “a possible change of power in Turkey will directly affect the foreign policy conjuncture” may perpetuate the image of a “drifting” country in the near term. Likewise, the decision-making capacity of the Millet Alliance, which has a very fragmented structure, is also a question mark. In this respect, “establishing a relationship with the US based on mutual trust” will not be as easy as it seems, both in terms of the conjuncture and in terms of Turkey-US relations, if we take the common consensus text of the alliance as a reference.

The memory of the neo-Kemalist foreign policy consists of three agreements, most notably the 1939 Turkish-British-French Alliance.

Signed on October 19, 1939 in Ankara between Turkey, Britain and France, the Treaty of Assistance Mutuelle (Traited’Assistance Mutuelle) was the first alliance of Republican Turkey with Western states.

The agreement was based on the assurance of mutual provision of defense needs of the alliance member countries and aimed to ensure regional security against the potential threat posed by Italy and Germany in the conjuncture of the period.

Five years prior to this agreement, Turkey had signed the Balkan Treaty with Greece, Yugoslavia and Romania and ratified the Sadabat Pact with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan in July 1937.

Each treaty was ultimately the product of a concern to adapt to and respond to the new conjuncture.

Today, we face a similar conjuncture, both in terms of Turkey’s relations with the US and the diminishing capacity of the US to establish a global norm due to its own internal contradictions. The notion of strategic autonomy from the US, which is being discussed in Europe at both intellectual and political levels, also supports this conjuncture.

In this respect, Turkey’s move towards normalization in its relations with Israel is an important milestone.

On the other hand, Turkey is also looking for a “massive arms deal” with the UK due to the supply obstacles put in its way by the US, in a way, Turkey is turning towards a neo-Kemalist foreign policy.

In addition, just like Macron’s emphasis on “strengthening the defense industry”, Turkey has made a remarkable breakthrough in the defense industry in recent years. In this respect, we can say that Turkey has found the necessary conditions, both internally and externally, to establish its own strategic autonomy.

This is why it is vital to remember the “Old West”.


The Turkish-British-French alliance was signed for 15 years, and at the end of the Second World War, none of the members of the treaty stated that they were withdrawing from the alliance.

When the United States became Turkey’s main ally with the Truman Doctrine in 1947, the conjuncture to talk about the treaty seemed to disappear.

In this respect, the removal of the raison d’être of agreements may not require an official announcement, and a new agreement may take its place.

In conclusion, it is vital for Turkey to keep this situation in mind with the upcoming elections.

Adem Yılmaz, PhD hakkında 4 makale
He received his bachelor's degree in International Relations. He completed his Master's and PhD studies at Ankara University Political Science program. His research interests include Political Theory, Political Sociology, Philosophy and Turkish Political Life. He also continues his analysis in the field of foreign policy.

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