The future of Turkish foreign policy in the framework of the theory of offensive realism

Abstract: States’ foreign policy is greatly influenced by the world system. The world system is expressed with various structural orders in successive cycles that start with multipolar, progress towards bipolar shape, and result in conflict with hegemonic tendencies. Therefore, the future of foreign policy depends on the shape and structure of the world system. Considering the scope and nature of the future of Turkey’s foreign policy, we need to make it more research-oriented. Therefore, in this article, we will examine the future of Turkish foreign policy in the era of the AKP based on John Mearsheimer’s “Offensive Realism” theory. In this article, I will try to fill the research gap in this area. Because so far very few articles have extensively and in-depth examined the future of Turkish foreign policy in the era of the AKP based on the theory of the realism of aggression. Our hypothesis in this article is to prove and examine the claim that the future of Turkish foreign policy in the AKP era will be critical in a multipolar world.


The central and hegemonic governments seek to maximize their share of world power. (1) John Mearsheimer’s main argument is that in contemporary history, the world order has undergone many changes, and one of the most important of these issues has been the management of the international system in multipolar, bipolar, and hegemonic forms. He claims that in a multipolar system, the world order is subject to crises and conflicts between powerful governments, and this situation also affects peripheral and developing countries. Unlike many contemporary political thinkers, he considers the bipolar system of the Cold War to be one of the most peaceful and stable in the world. That is why his book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, tries to show the positive characteristics of a bipolar system.

In one of the critiques of the theory of offensive realism, the author tries to show the logical and explanatory problems hidden in the theory itself. The critic of this theory states that the cruel world that forms the basis of the hypothesis does not show itself in practice and has fundamental shortcomings in explaining its intended model. This critic claims that if we measure the correctness of the theory of offensive realism with its own parameters, there will still be problems. In his critical essay, he outlines the five basic principles of the theory of offensive realism which includes the anarchic nature of the international system, the emphasis on the aggressive power of states that can potentially destroy each other; the prevalence of mistrust and uncertainty in international relations, highlighting the principle of survival of governments, which is a prerequisite for achieving their goals, and paying attention to the rationality of behavior and acting of governments which is to pursue their survival strategies. According to this critic, although these principles are interesting, by assuming these five principles, the international system considered by Mearsheimer, which is also very hostile, will not be created because the predatory goals of governments, which is one of the realities of international politics, are not considered in the hypotheses of this theory. His critic also argues that although Mersheimer names a hierarchy of government goals that also includes revisionist intentions and goals, he outlines non-security goals. But none of them are among his five hypotheses that the world is prone to a conflict of offensive realism. (2)

Another critic, in an article examining China’s emergence as a new international power and the US approach to it, makes it clear that John Mearsheimer is trying to call on the United States to use all possible means to slow China’s rise to power. Emphasizing the use of classical realism in the study of China’s rise to power, he describes John Mearsheimer’s offensive realism as dangerous. According to this critic, the root of problems and errors is structuralism. In his view, the classical realist approach, influenced by history and politics, has a more analytical and wise view of issues than offensive realism. The author of this critical article states that John Mearsheimer claims that China cannot become a world power for peace. Since from the point of view of offensive realism, China will become an aggressive and hegemonic country by increasing its capabilities. On this account, according to Mearsheimer, the current US policy will not be able to stop China’s unbridled growth. For this reason, he suggests that the United States should use all possible means to stop China. Another criticism that the author makes of the theory of offensive realism is that it emphasizes the way governments act according to this theory. As the theorist of this theory says, “If governments want to survive, they must act according to these principles of the theory.” (3)

Another researcher in the field of international politics claims that Turkey is trying to become a key power in the Middle East with its step-by-step policy. However, Turkey’s first move will be to become a power in the periphery. This analyst claims that according to the theory of offensive realism, every state wants to increase its power and become a central government. Therefore, from this researcher’s point of view, if Turkey succeeds in changing its position in the international system, it will no longer play the role of an obedient country in the Middle East. (4)

According to another researcher, the main function of aggressive realism is to explain the problems and obstacles of regional powers before taking over the leadership of the region. Accordingly, the anarchic atmosphere of the international system, which has been formed in the direction of lack of confidence in the goals and objectives of international actors, has become one of the main reasons for the need to pay attention to the issue of the survival of governments. In his view, Ankara must act within the framework of common interests with the central countries in order to overcome the systematic pressures and regimes of the central powers, as well as the problems and strategic mistakes of the past. In 2015, he stated that Turkey had reached a strategic impasse. Hence this country must use foreign resources to advance its economic, military, industrial, agricultural, and planning goals. For this reason, the strained relations between Turkey and the central countries, which have great potential for creating a crisis in the Middle East, could make the future of its relations with the Western world difficult because from the neorealist point of view, the principle is the capabilities of a government, not the goals. (5)

Each state’s foreign policy has a long-term vision, medium-term goals, and planned implementation strategies to determine its future regional and international position. Governments try to determine the future of their domestic and foreign policies by evaluating the situational perceptions they face, problems and threats, within the framework of the overall possibilities and capabilities. In this respect, an important group of main resources that play a role in the preparation and formation of foreign policies of governments is linked to internal factors. However, despite the importance of internal factors, these indicators alone cannot give sufficient efficiency to foreign policy because especially the foreign policies of developing or third world countries are largely affected by the economic and military policies of the hegemonic or centralized governments, and these countries do not have the opportunity to take an active and balancing political position during this period of influence. In today’s world, where all countries are part of the global system in different ways, this situation forms the basis for determining the power centers.

Andre Gunder Frank, states that socialist countries (now third world countries) are rapidly integrating into the system of division of labor of capitalism because socialist countries have not been able to create a strong division of labor and market system for themselves or for the third world as an alternative to the system of division of labor of global capitalism. (6) Obviously, we must keep in mind that at the time Frank expressed these ideas, China did not yet pose a serious economic threat to American economic power. Third world countries have remained in a position of constant dependence on hegemonic and central powers in economic, scientific, technological, and military terms due to the conditions imposed by the trade process in the free market system this is the reason why the issue of government dependence on great powers has always been a serious issue for international relations theorists. Some political scientists write about a world organized around Europe, Japan, and the United States. Others divide the world into six regional blocks or two. Some international policy analysts say the bipolar international system has become a five-way star, with China on one side and India on the other. There are differing views on whether or not present-day Europe extends beyond the Atlantic to the Soviet frontier. (7) Also, according to John Mearsheimer, hegemonic and central governments seek to increase their share of global power and influence. (1)

The search for power by central governments, especially the United States, greatly limits the foreign policy movements and maneuvers of developing and Third World countries. Because the dominant positions of certain powers in the world order, which is increasingly globalized today, are the main drivers in the field of foreign policy. Throughout the contemporary history of world politics, the world order has been governed in various forms and methods such as multipolar, bipolar, and hegemonic. In John Mearsheimer’s view, reshaping the foreign and domestic policies of governments within the various structures of the world system is inevitable. We refer to John Mearsheimer’s theory of offensive realism to explain the behavior of governments in multipolar, bipolar, and hegemonic systems.

He expresses his theory in the following words; By presenting several arguments about the manner and principles of central governments’ actions against each other, I try to show that hegemonic and central governments seek the right opportunity to gain more power through mutual assistance and influence. I also seek to explain a situation that makes the possibility of conflict more or less. For example, one of my main hypotheses is that multipolar systems are more at risk of war than bipolar systems, and especially multipolar systems with powerful states (potential hegemons) are the most dangerous and they are the most challenging systems. (1)

In this respect, when we look at the political history of the Ottoman and Republic periods, it will be seen that the most critical issues emerged at the height of the conflict between regional and global powers. This example shows that the theory is based on the undeniable influence of the great powers on the policies of other countries. Thus, as this theorist shows, at that time world politics in almost every region was largely affected by the conflict and rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States between 1945 and 1990. Considering the World Wars I and II that took place before the Cold War, a similar impact can be seen in regional policies around the world. Each of these conflicts represents a major issue and systemic issue, affecting global stability in every way. (1) Both of these processes in Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy have led to major crises.

The multipolar political situation faced by the troubles of the world system in Turkey, the period of the bipolar and hegemonic framework should look at this in terms of the features.

Turkey’s position in the multipolar system

Using the terms unipolar, bipolar, and multipolar systems to describe the power structures of international relations, the difference in nuance is that in a unipolar system, one pole or superpower has the power to dominate other states, and in a bipolar system, the existence of such two powers and other states generally we can state that they are in a position to connect to either of the two poles. In a multipolar system, there will be three or more powers capable of dominating other states.

Since World War II, the world system has gone through bipolar and unipolar periods. Farid Zakaria argues that the world order is now facing the third major power change of the new age and that we are living in a multipolar world as we enter this age. (8) Given the circumstances of World War I and the emergence of major world powers such as Russia, Germany, Britain, Austria-Hungary, the United States and the Ottoman Empire, the struggle between these powers seems logical.

Between the early 1890s and 1914, political relations between the great powers of Central Europe began as a pattern of close competition and conflict, with the emergence of two major alliances between the German and Austro-Hungarian governments on the one hand and Russia and France on the other Britain joined the alliance, and the catastrophe of the great war of the nineteenth century destroyed the balance and stability of the power system and the assumptions that were thought to underlie it. (9) The war did not remain within its own geographic boundaries and affected all world powers and the most important regional powers. In this environment, the Ottoman state lost all its lands in Europe. The occupation of the Ottoman Empire was not limited to Europe. The Caucasus and the Arab regions backfired on the iron power of Ottoman rule. For this reason, from Feroz Ahmad’s point of view, the declaration of Bulgarian independence, the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Vienna, the declaration of the alliance between Crete and Greece (all in September 1908) in Libya on 11-1912, and the Turkish-Italian war in 1912-13. As a result, it led to the loss of legitimacy of the Ottoman government to the public. As a result, the Istanbul government found itself completely isolated and powerless, while the great powers found diplomatic solutions at the expense of the Ottoman-acquired lands. (10)

On the other hand, during World War I, one of the most important and influential results of the multipolar system that brought the Ottoman Empire to an end and led to change in the Middle East to this day was the signing of the Sykes-Picot Agreement in May 1916. The agreement, which was later ratified by the Russian government, provided for the establishment of an international regime in Palestine with the support of Western governments. The interior of Syria, with its vast sphere of influence, was to be annexed to France, and Lower Mesopotamia was to be ceded to Britain. (11) Given John Mearsheimer’s ideas about the problems and dangers of a multipolar system, we know that the sparks of World War I later spread in the form of war and brutal conflict from the Far East to the Middle East to the United States itself.

I will briefly explain the Libyan crisis to illustrate the point and illustrate an example of conflict in a multipolar world.

Huge oil and gas resources are one of the causes of political-military crises and international conflicts over the acquisition and control of these very valuable energy resources. In the contemporary multipolar world, the dispute over the seizure of energy resources is one of the main causes of political crises. Libya, as one of the main and strategic energy producers, is important for most of the countries of Southern Europe. France and Italy are the largest buyers and importers of oil resources from the country’s southern coast. Libya has the largest crude oil reserves in Africa, with huge oil reserves of about 48.4 billion barrels. A study conducted before the fall of Gaddafi’s regime showed that Libya produced 1.6 million barrels of oil per day. The audit center, which conducted a study on the amount of fuel smuggled from Libya, estimated the total value of smuggled fuel abroad in 2017 at $ 5 billion a year, according to figures released. Some observers say that the French government has played a very cynical and silent role, at least since 2015, in supporting General Benghazi as a very powerful figure. The French government, as a central country, is trying to control Libya’s oil and gas resources through its policies, and this is one of the reasons for the escalation of conflict and war in the contemporary multipolar world. This Paris policy is in the context of supporting the oil producer in North Africa, where we are facing a relatively small population and more and more Islamist groups. It is natural that regional and supra-regional powers will not remain silent in the face of this French policy, and this is the beginning of a global crisis in a multipolar system. (12)

On the other hand, according to the maneuvers and movements of the United Arab Emirates with the aim of full control and domination over the southern parts of Yemen and the port areas there, especially the cities of Aden and Socotra, which is based on a plan to increase maritime trade and expand influence in the Red Sea region. In addition, the UAE government is also working to increase its political and economic investments in oil-rich Libya and its strategic position on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, with appropriate solutions. The UAE government is also in fierce competition with the Government of National Accord of Fayez Sarraj and its ally, the Turkish government. As one of the most powerful governments in the Middle East, Turkey provides military, technological and strategic assistance to the military forces of the Tripoli government. With military, technological, and strategic assistance from the Turkish government in early May 2020, armed conflict in western Libya prevented General Khalifa Haftar’s forces from advancing and thwarted their actions in some strategic areas. (13)

With the continuation of the Libyan civil war, the crisis of political instability in the country, and the competition for energy resources in the Mediterranean Sea, regional and supra-regional powers such as Russia, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Greece entered the boiling pot. Each of these key actors, each of which is a kind of regional and trans-regional power, allied with the Libyan National Army (LNA), a group of former Libyan soldiers led by the government of the National Accord, or Genera Khalifa Haftar. Each of the foreign governments at the boiling point of the Libyan crisis has their own reasons, strategies and views. Based on these priorities, they decide to intervene and use the full support of government allies trying to control access to energy resources and routes. (14)

Turkey’s position in the bipolar system

In international relations theories, the bipolar system refers to the period from the end of World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union. During that historic conflict, the United States and the Soviet Union clashed over diplomacy, competed in arms, and formed NATO and Warsaw Pact. The period that we refer to as the Cold War period has arisen as a result of the conflicts and disputes of the bipolar system of the world system. During this period of the Cold War, the politics of the world system became a bipolar system and the world was divided into three opposing poles. (15)

At a time when a bipolar system dominated international politics, Turkey pursued a policy of balance to protect its national interests. Turkey did not lose its national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence during the Cold War when the world of politics was embroiled in a bipolar war. But in the multipolar system, the Ottoman government experienced deep crises and even lost its lands. These were the most positive points between a multipolar system and a bipolar system for Turkey. On the other hand, this stability of the world order was endorsed not only from the point of view of Turkey but also from the point of view of the great nuclear strategist Herman Kahn and the great strategist Henry Kissinger. According to Hermann’s observations and analysis, the bipolar world order of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1960s is very remarkable in terms of stability in the 1960s. (16) In addition, Henry Kissinger compares the Cold War period, which was the culmination of the bipolar era, to a multipolar system, stating that in the relatively simple bipolar world of the Cold War, in Berlin, in South Korea, and again in Berlin, and finally in The Cuban Missile Crisis was a quick response to pressure or ransom. (17)

But the bipolar world has created a system of stability relative to exploiting this feature of diplomacy and foreign policy maneuvers in an unstable region like the Middle East would require effective implementation by governments such as Turkey. Moreover, although the stability and balance between the superpowers have not been unstable, they have also not been flexible. With the expansion and growth of the bipolar system, the world lost its perspective on the subtle differences between governments. On the other hand, the profit of one government was considered an absolute loss for the other party. Everything seemed to rest on the state’s survival issue. (17)

Of course, during the Cold War, the Turkish government was ideologically incapable of maintaining a policy of balance (1945-63), and the government was forced to choose between the ideology of communism and liberalism. In fact, Turkey did not enter the Western camp because it was directly threatened by the Soviet Union, because it stemmed from the Turkish government’s view of the world of liberalism and its commitment to liberal democracy. (9) It can be said that the entry of the Turkish government into the liberal bloc was a kind of preference of political leaders because the delay in the election of one of these two blocs of world power had a negative impact on Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies, as well as a negative impact on the integration of the ruling class in the world system. In the field of geopolitics, the struggles of world powers took place mainly on the margins of Eurasia. The Chinese and Soviet bloc dominated most of Eurasia, but could not control its margins. (16) Turkey’s government joined the US-based Foreign Policy blog and follow liberalism distanced itself from Soviet influence.

Turkey’s internal security also increased during the Cold War and the bipolar system. The Truman Doctrine Declaration (1947) marked a turning point in the post-Cold War history for the Turkish government in its quest for national security. In Greece, the domestic political and economic situation was much more dangerous than in Turkey, which is why Truman, in his speech to Congress, attached great importance to this issue (thus, $ 300 million will be allocated to Greece, $ 100 million to Turkey) (9)

In the following decades, US military aid increased to $ 715 million in 1984 and to $ 526 million at the end of the Cold War in 1988. Nevertheless, Turkey was still the third-largest recipient of US military aid after Egypt and Israel. (9) The US government has provided for Turkey’s domestic security and military forces and give it financial support, the future of the Turkish government has made in a conventional manner dependent on US military and security policy.

Turkey’s position in the American hegemony system

Throughout recent history, countries such as Portugal, Germany, France, Spain, and England, which have been the central and powerful states of the world, have carried out the military occupation of Asian, African, and even European countries, but none of these countries, except Britain, has been able to influence and change the world’s global, economic, cultural, ideological, and governmental systems as much as the Soviet Union and the USA.

To describe American hegemony in the international system, we must first explain the concept and meaning of hegemony. The term hegemony was first used by the Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci as a form of “Caesarism” to develop a completely new theory of fascism. (18) From Gramsci’s point of view, hegemony is a situation in which an economic class as a political, intellectual, and moral actor assumes the role of leadership within a hegemonic system. This form of system is constructed by a shared worldview with organic ideology. (19) Among the thinkers of political science, even ancient Rome, Portugal, France, and Spain were considered as hegemonic states, because there were no exactly the same views among the thinkers in this regard. Nevertheless, there is general agreement among hegemonic theorists after World War II that the United States was a hegemonic power and that Britain was in that position in the mid-nineteenth century. (20) In addition, the reason for the importance of the concept of hegemony from the perspective of the theory of aggressive realism is that the structure of the international system encourages countries to become hegemonic. (1)

In this article, the US and Turkey’s foreign political Republican era when dealing at a general level, the foreign policy of the ruling Justice and Development Party should be briefly and succinctly touched upon. After the Justice and Development Party came to power, it was felt that the new government avoided the intellectual and political values of Kemalism. On the other hand, we witnessed the prioritization of Ottoman intellectual, cultural and ideological values. As the party grew, so did a kind of liberal-conservative Islam. US full support to the Justice and Development Party policy, it’s totally a secular state with a Muslim Turkey for the purpose in the Middle East, which have no enmity-American and West, shows that convert to a Western liberal model.

A book published by US government officials discusses the US government’s official support for the Liberal Islamist Justice and Development Party, which emphasizes the long-standing ally of the Turkish government and its NATO membership since 1952. Until recently, Turkey had been only semi-democratic. A powerful and ambitious army and a group political elite tried to impose the principles of Mustafa Kemal’s secularism on the people, sometimes very violently. The principles of Kemalism were the so-called doctrine and method of the secularist policies of the government, which to some extent allowed Turkey to modernize, but democratic political development has not yet been fully reflected. With the rise of the AKP, Islamic leaders seized political power. The new Turkish government insisted that its goal was not to become a theocracy. Their only goal is to try to balance society. They say they want the freedom of expression and action in the public sphere for religious and traditional groups in society. Debates between the old Kemalist elites and the new leaders about the future course of the country led to increasing tensions and conflicts. The fact that the wives of AKP officials usually wear headscarves and hijabs has raised concerns among Turks who fear the Islamization of their country and government.

In her book, Condoleezza Rice writes that she saw Turkey as a government on the front lines of the war trying to reconcile the demands of Islam and the principles of individual freedom. (21) Condoleezza Rice, President of the US National Security Council from 2001 to 2005 and Secretary of State from 2005 to 2009, created the AKP government as a front-line state in the historical struggle to combine Islamic values (Islamism and Ottomanism) and individual freedoms (liberalism and US-centered politics) positioning it is one of the indicators on which axis the foreign and domestic policy of the AKP government will advance.

On the other hand, Ahmet Davutoğlu, former prime minister of the Justice and Development Government (2014-2016), foreign policy strategist and Minister of Foreign Affairs (2009-2014), in his article on Principles of Turkish Foreign Policy and Regional Political Structuring: In this way, we think that specific causes and issues help us to cope with these challenges and conflicts: our holistic approach to historical trends and crises and our awareness of active activity, the internal stability of the country based on a balance of freedoms and security has been established and will help in the process of our reunification with our neighbors. On the other hand, we will continue to defend our foreign policy principles that combine our local, national, and global values. We will also take an active foreign policy approach based on these strengths. (22) Until this day, possessing the positive and negative traces left by Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign policy, US-based policy ideas, as Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies of the main perspective is introduced directly. Kissinger’s view on US-Turkey relations is becoming the foreign policy of the United States forced dependency of Turkish foreign policy more open mechanism.

Kissinger says Turkey and Greece must remain members of NATO and our allies. Can the United States be present in the Eastern Mediterranean without military bases without allies such as Turkey and Greece in the face of possible future crises in the eastern Mediterranean? (23)

In the clear and concise view of Kissinger, written in 1999, we can find permission for Rice and Davutoğlu’s foreign policy basis.


Libya, after the start of Iraq and civil war in Syria, Davutoglu’s neo-Ottomanism, the conservative-liberal Islam-centric foreign policy, which he claims to be the leader of the Islamic world and the sample was seemed clearly the failure of the plan to create a model of Turkey.

As John Mearsheimer argues, instability, lack of peace, and war conditions are increasing in the global multipolar system. He also said in an article that we would aspire to peace during the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition from the Cold War. (24) As can be seen from the writings of political scientists like Kissinger, Fukuyama, Farid Zakaria, and Huntington, we have entered a multipolar world. However, the United States is the world’s largest military and political power capable of promoting liberal democracy. With the rise of China, India, Brazil, and Japan, we can talk about a multi-polar global system in the international economy.

Among these economic powers, China will definitely transform its economic strength into military power. With its anti-US nature, Russia has strengthened its presence in the Middle East, Caucasus, and Europe with its military front power. Iran has also been transformed into a regional power that challenges American hegemony in the Middle East with its Shia Islamic ideology and military power.

So it can be estimated that Turkey’s economic and military field, enter the global multipolar system because China, India, Brazil, and Japan are in a position to challenge the US economic hegemony and China, Russia, and Iran to challenge the US military hegemony. An increase in military tension and instability appears in the global multipolar system. Therefore we know based on a multipolar trend in Turkey’s economic and military policies. This trend will also boost Turkey’s regional and international tensions. Turkey, due to its geopolitical position of the United States, can establish some kind of balance of power between China and Russia. It can also balance its foreign policy by refusing to play a global power role.

Biography of the author of the article: Elshan Bioukvand Ghojehbiglou is a graduate student of Political Science and International Relations at Yeditepe University in Istanbul. His research interests include issues of nationalism, identity and separatism in the Middle East, Caucasus studies, and Turkish foreign policy issues. From 2011 to 2017 he worked as a writer in the Republic of Azerbaijan section of Radio Liberty Europe (The author’s name is written in Azerbaijani Turkish as follows: Elşən Böyükvənd)


The author, from Prof. Dr. Emin Gürses, who provided the necessary guidance in the classroom, and from the efforts of  Prof. Dr. Cengiz Okman, who assisted me in editing the article and providing constructive suggestions, as well as the valuable comments from Prof. Dr. Seda Ünsar and Dr. Murat Arslan, which contain tips. It was important, thank you very much.


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Elshan Bioukvand Ghojehbiglou
Elshan Bioukvand Ghojehbiglou
Elshan Bioukvand Ghojehbiglou was born in 1988 in the Iranian city of Mugan. After completing his primary and secondary education at local schools, he received a bachelor's degree in political science from Payame Noor University. He is currently studying for a Master's degree in Political Science and International Relations at Yeditepe University in Turkey. Essays, articles, and interviews were published on RFE/RL from 2011 to 2017. He is also a member of the creative team of the Baku-based Yazi (Writing) magazine. His articles have been published on the literary sites of the Republic of Azerbaijan, such as Kult, Kulis, Avangard, Yarpaq, Literaz, and Radio Liberty, as well as in the magazines Kimlik (Identity), Yazı (Writing) and Kitabçı (Librarian), published in Baku. His research interests include nationalism and ethnic issues in the Middle East, the foreign policy of the Republic of Turkey and the Republic of Azerbaijan, and the modern political and social history of Iran. He is currently studying for a master's thesis in political science and international relations at Yeditepe University in Turkey. Elshan Bioukvand Ghojehbiglou is fluent in English, Turkish, Azerbaijani, Persian, and Ottoman.