Has Türkiye Become a Superpower?


As part of my job, I have to keep up with Middle East and North African news, particularly that pertaining to Libya. One thing that has struck me while doing this is how, every morning when I read through a large number of articles, there isn’t a single day that Türkiye doesn’t make a headline or two. After all, in recent years, Türkiye has emerged as a key actor in the political processes of Africa, Europe, and Asia, as well as one of the most powerful voices in the international community and a major drafter of global treaties. A few weeks ago, it distinguished itself as the most proactive protagonist in the Russo-Ukrainian war by driving negotiations for the grain deal, which allows Ukraine to export basic goods without intercepting them. In a few words, to suggest Türkiye has earned a seat at the “adult table” would be an understatement. 

Türkiye has become a valued confidant of the world’s most powerful governments, including the US, Russia, China, and the European Union. It has positioned itself as one of the few countries with significant diplomatic ties to governments with polarizing viewpoints and has built the bridge between Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa. But has Türkiye accomplished enough to be regarded as a superpower in the international community? To determine the answer, it is important to examine three characteristics of the Turkish state: its military capabilities, degree of influence on a global scale, and economic prosperity.

Military Capability

Before the founding of the Republic of Türkiye, the Ottoman Empire was recognized as one of the world’s most dominant military powers. Such things considered, it is safe to say that the Turkish state was formed on solid military structures and pre-existing military knowledge. Nowadays, Türkiye possesses the second biggest military force in NATO, only behind the United States; it counts with more troops than France and Germany combined, making it the world’s 11th strongest army. The Turkish army is also known for providing training and mentoring in other nations such as Libya and Afghanistan, and it also operates a large number of overseas military bases such as those in Somalia, Qatar, and Sudan.

Global Influence

In terms of global influence, Türkiye has succeeded in positioning itself as a prominent actor in international affairs by participating in conflict resolution missions across the world. As a matter of fact, it boasts the fourth-largest diplomatic network in the world, with over 245 operational diplomatic posts. With such experience and reach, Türkiye has been successful in mediating and intervening in numerous international conflicts: it was able to resolve disputes between Somalia and Ethiopia, reform the Bangsamoro Peace Process in the Philippines, actively support the independence of North Macedonia, fund reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, and provide shelter to rebels fighting in Syria’s civil war. Moreover, as an important donor of the Official Development Assistance, the presence of Turkish influence has expanded into many developing countries. 

Beyond diplomatic activities, Türkiye has established itself as a fundamental driver of globalization and international relations. For one thing, its largest city has become one of the world’s most visited places. Over 40 million tourists visit Türkiye each year, with 35% of them traveling to Istanbul. As a result of the increased exposure, Türkiye’s tourism figures have even surpassed those of Spain, making it the regional tourism leader of the Mediterranean

The cult of personality established around Türkiye’s leader, Recep Erdogan, has also contributed to Türkiye’s image as a country with stable leadership, strengthening its global influence. Erdogan’s political behavior is so distinctive that his philosophy has been given the term Erdoganism. Often regarded as a visionary, he has developed a narrative based on charm and coercion to position himself as one of the most powerful figures in politics. Similarly, Erdogan’s exceptional ability to control and sabotage most media narratives has enabled him to exploit news sources to his advantage and influence public opinion to meet his agenda. More importantly, Erdogan has demonstrated his ability to dissuade coup attempts, such as the one in 2016, by successfully mediating with the opposition.

Since 2002, Recep Erdogan has overseen a radical transformation of Türkiye, all while strengthening the cult of personality that aspires to give him the same sense of legitimacy as a leader of a superpower country, like Biden, Putin, or Jinping. With such efforts, he has become one of the few, if not the only, political personalities capable of conversing with both Western and non-Western powerhouses all while being perceived as an equal.

Economic Prosperity

Regarding its economic stability, Türkiye has a financial picture that matches its position as a major country in the international community. Between 2002 and 2007, the country experienced an economic miracle that raised GDP by 7% while reducing poverty incidence from more than 44% to 8.1%. Consequently, Türkiye has been able to develop its market as the 17th largest economy in the world — today, it is one of the most important manufacturers of agricultural products, textiles, and automobile motors. Yet, what is most impressive about the Turkish economy is its unique sense of resilience — in fact, it was one of the few big economies that grew throughout the COVID pandemic. Nevertheless, Türkiye’s current economic condition has been experiencing a downward spiral; as a result of Erdogan’s determination to keep interest rates low, inflation has surged and the country’s GDP has decelerated to rates slower than those experienced during the lockdowns of 2020.

So, Has Türkiye Become a Superpower?

It is undeniable that Türkiye possesses attributes that qualify it for leadership; nonetheless, there are two factors to consider that call the country’s status as a superpower into question. To begin with, while Türkiye’s military and economy are strong and stable, they are not self-sufficient. For instance, the United States controls the entire nuclear arsenal in the country, with many of its weapons provided by other countries, such as Italy. While the military is large, it is also constrained, since mandatory conscription in the country increases the number of soldiers but results in a high turnover rate. Similarly, Türkiye’s economic policy has its own set of challenges; the government has chosen debt-driven development techniques, which have resulted in excessive debt accumulation, and its export-oriented corporate model has rendered it reliant on foreign demand.

However, I would argue that another reason Türkiye has not yet achieved “superpower status” is simply because it does not want to. Türkiye’s political ideology and behavior, in my opinion, hold the belief that being behind the scenes may result in greater progress. It’s as if, rather than pursuing the title of superpower, Turkey has opted to be recognized as a silent powerhouse. In the words of  Erdogan, “Türkiye has never acted with an expansionist or interventionist mentality,” instead serving as a bridge builder between the world’s major superpowers. By avoiding radical narratives and handling issues with a sense of impartiality rather than a blind commitment to a country, it has emerged as a cool-headed and calculated player entrusted as an important middle-man between international interactions.

Featured image by: Tarik Haiga / Unsplash

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