Policy Note | The Middle East at Breaking Point: Turkey’s Neighbourhood Policy and the Need for Enhanced ‘Soft’ Power


AKP’s neighbourhood policy in the Middle East is in tatters. The regional order that the AKP leadership once tried to establish by employing ‘soft’ power underpinned by a problem-solving approach, trade agreements and cultural exchanges, and public diplomacy has failed to come to fruition and Turkey is now at loggerheads with a number of regional actors. At the same time, the Middle East has become more anarchical and fragmented than before.

The questions that naturally arise are whether Turkey’s failure is because the dynamics that have developed in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring transcend Turkey’s foreign policy capacity or is it because of the underperformance of Turkish foreign policy?

This policy note argues that Turkey’s ‘soft’ power falls short in influencing developments on the ground against the backdrop of the new political landscape in the Middle East. Counter-intuitively, the suggestion is not for Turkey to consider the use of ‘hard’ power but to deepen and enhance its ‘soft’ power by addressing neglected aspects of its domestic politics.

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About MERI:  The Middle East Research Institute is Iraq’s leading policy-research institute and think tank. It is an independent, entirely grant-funded not-for-profit organisation, based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.  Its mission is to contribute to the process of nation-building, state-building and democratisation via engagement, research, analysis and policy debates.

MERI’s main objectives include promoting and developing human rights, good governance, the rule of law and social and economic prosperity. MERI conduct high impact, high quality research (including purpose-based field work) and has published extensively in areas of: human rights, government reform, international politics, national security, ISIS, refugees, IDPs, minority rights (Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabi mandeans), Baghdad-Erbil relations, Hashd Al-Shabi, Peshmarga, violence against women, civil society. MERI engages policy- and decision-makers, the civil society and general public via publication, focused group discussions and conferences (MERI Forum).

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