ISTANBUL – It was good while it lasted. Designed by Turkey’s newly elected government in 2002, the country’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy helped it to climb into the league of influential regional powers. The policy’s goal – to build strong economic, political, and social ties with the country’s immediate neighbors while decreasing its dependency on the United States – seemed to be within sight. But the Arab Spring exposed the policy’s vulnerabilities, and Turkey must now seek a new guiding principle for regional engagement.
Until the onset of the Arab uprisings, “zero problems with neighbors” meant zero problems with the Middle East’s established autocratic regimes. But, when Arab political opposition began to gain traction this year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government faced an unavoidable choice: whether to maintain its policy of engagement with authoritarian Arab leaders, or acknowledge that their countries’ citizens were not having “zero problems.”