Following his re-election, Erdogan reshuffled his cabinet, resulting in foreign and economic policy leadership changes. The new cabinet members are expected to strengthen Turkey’s international standing and address the country’s economic difficulties.
Hakan Fidan, the newly appointed foreign minister of Turkey, is a highly influential former spymaster who has played a crucial role in restructuring the country’s intelligence, security, and foreign policy systems.
He is known for his close relationship with President Erdogan and his tough stance on national security issues. Fidan’s appointment as foreign minister has been seen as a signal of Turkey’s intent to take a more assertive role in regional and global affairs.
“Fidan has been involved in foreign policy for the past two decades. Since President Erdogan became Prime Minister in 2003, he has held various important positions,” Selçuk Aydın, assistant professor at Bogazici University, told The New Arab.
“Hakan Fidan, the newly appointed foreign minister of Turkey, is a highly influential former spymaster who has played a crucial role in restructuring the country’s intelligence, security, and foreign policy systems”
“In 2003, he became the head of TIKA. TİKA has played an instrumental role in the increase of Turkey’s soft power. By implementing various development projects in different parts of the world, TİKA has helped to promote Turkey’s image as a humanitarian and responsible global actor.”
Undoubtedly, the endeavours of TİKA have played a significant role in enhancing Turkey’s diplomatic ties with diverse nations in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans.
Fidan is also no stranger to the diplomatic world. In 2007, he was appointed as the deputy undersecretary of the Prime Minister with responsibility for foreign policy and international security.
In 2010, he represented Turkey at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) while serving as a “sherpa” or pre-diplomacy envoy in the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Hakan Fidan, 42 years old at the time, then became the youngest state official to lead Turkish intelligence.
He was appointed as the director of Turkey’s National Intelligence Service (MIT) between 2010 and 2023. Due to the geopolitical changes that began with the mass upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Libya, this period arguably witnessed the most vibrant Turkish foreign policy strategies due to the significance of these countries for security or economic reasons.
Turkey is an important commercial power but its economic well-being mainly depends on exports, and Ankara must consider these commercial interests and investments when formulating its foreign policy.
Unsurprisingly, the situation in the region, specifically in Syria and Libya, has presented Turkey with formidable obstacles. For instance, in 2011, the Arab uprisings significantly impacted Turkish interests in the region, particularly in Libya, where Turkey had contracts valued between $19 and $25 billion.
This emphasises the significance of maintaining a balance between political and economic factors while making decisions related to foreign policy. Considering Fidan’s extensive engagement in diverse negotiations and high-level meetings, it appears that he is well-placed to navigate such challenging circumstances.
|Hakan Fidan was formerly the head of Turkey’s intelligence service. [Getty]
“Hakan Fidan assuming the Minister of Foreign Affairs position signifies not a rupture but a continuation of the new phase of Turkish foreign policy,” Burak Elmalı, a Researcher at TRT World Research Centre, told The New Arab.
“It stems from the prioritisation of themes that have formed the tenets of Turkish diplomacy in the past two decades, such as counterterrorism, balancing acts, and including state and business groups in a multi-layered diplomatic framework.”
Bilgehan Öztürk, a Researcher at SETA, told The New Arab that he expects to see continuity in Turkey’s current foreign policy vision and approach.
“Additionally, as the head of intelligence, Fidan has extensive expertise, particularly in areas such as Syria. This will give him a considerable edge in upcoming discussions with foreign ministers from other countries,” he said.
“His diplomacy behind the scenes contributed to Turkey’s reconciliation with Gulf states, Egypt, Israel, and Syria”
“Fidan is well-versed in the most critical Turkish foreign policy issues and possesses a detailed understanding of them. This knowledge will become his strength and advantage.”
It appears that Erdogan intends to maintain Turkey’s current foreign policy, which follows a pragmatic approach that prioritises the pursuit of security, economic, and energy interests.
Turkey will maintain its strategy of balancing its geopolitical interests between Russia and Western countries. In this context, Turkey has good relations with Ukraine and the Kremlin, but it also sees Russia as a party with which it can engage constructively.
Ankara and Moscow collaborate on infrastructure initiatives such as the TurkStream natural gas pipeline and Turkey’s first nuclear power plant. Turkey seems to be becoming a gas hub in Europe, with the Turk-Stream pipeline connecting Russia to Europe through Turkey. This collaboration has also led to increased economic ties between the two countries.
The trade turnover between Russia and Turkey doubled, from $34.73 billion to $68.19 billion in 2022. Therefore, Fidan is likely to maintain the current balancing act. Also, Fidan is said to have been a critical actor in discussions with Moscow in efforts to improve ties.
During his tenure as intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan accomplished a number of significant intelligence and diplomatic achievements. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Intelligence Organisation collaborate closely in Turkey. His diplomacy behind the scenes, for example, contributed to Turkey’s reconciliation with Gulf states, Egypt, Israel, and Syria.
Thanks to his efforts, Ankara has resolved several disputes with these nations, and his diplomatic success has earned him international recognition for his ability to navigate complex geopolitical issues.
Fidan’s appointment signals President Erdogan’s continued focus on expanding Turkey’s influence in the region and beyond. During his time as the former head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Service, Fidan attended high-level meetings with various countries, including the Gulf countries, Egypt, Syria, and Israel to discuss bilateral ties and regional issues, and played a critical role in mending ties with Egypt and consolidating the Turkish presence in Libya.
|Fidan’s appointment signals Erdogan’s continued focus on expanding Turkey’s influence in the region and beyond. [Getty]
“Hakan Fidan, will prioritise three key objectives, particularly within the region: fortifying economic ties, accomplishing the process of normalisation, and resolving issues with the Syrian regime and refugees in a manner that ensures Turkey’s security in northern Syria,” Dr Omar Munassar, a Middle East researcher and analyst of Turkish foreign policy, told The New Arab.
Undoubtedly, the new foreign minister is familiar with the issue of Syria, a key issue in Turkish foreign policy. He might therefore establish a favourable environment for normalising relations with the Assad regime in his new role.
Fidan had several meetings with the Syrian intelligence chief prior to the 2022 political talks between Ankara and Damascus, which Russia mediated. He has a strong grasp of the internal dynamics and has established a reliable network of contacts. He is expected to enhance security along the Syrian border, assist in returning Syrian refugees, and weaken the PKK, and its offshoot the YPG in Syria.
“Appointing Hakan Fidan as Minister of Foreign Affairs amidst these circumstances is remarkable, given his long-term tenure as the chief of national intelligence and profound understanding of intricate and delicate security matters, particularly pertaining to Syria,” Dr Munassar said.
“Fidan could be a good interlocutor with Turkey’s Western partners. As the head of Turkey’s intelligence agency, he has extensive knowledge and experience in dealing with security and foreign policy issues”
“His instrumental involvement in back-channel negotiations during the past years shall serve as a bridge toward direct dialogues with Egypt, Syria, and Israel”.
Ali Bakir, a professor at Qatar University and non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said Fidan’s experience would allow him to have a significant influence on Turkey’s foreign policy.
“Given that Fidan was the head of the MIT for a long time, this means he had access to reliable information on critical topics and issues related to domestic, regional, and international developments, which will put him in a unique position to advance Turkey’s interests while being a foreign minister,” Bakir told TNA.
“His involvement in backdoor diplomacy to achieve rapprochement and normalisation with several regional countries means that he will build on his legacy and advance Turkey’s ties with regional and international players. Whether it’s soft or hard diplomacy that is required in some regional or international issues, he is well positioned to play that role”.
Hakan Fidan could be a good interlocutor with Turkey’s Western partners. As the head of Turkey’s intelligence agency, he has extensive knowledge and experience in dealing with security and foreign policy issues.
Additionally, Fidan has a reputation for being a skilled negotiator and could help to resolve ongoing tensions, as both sides have shared interests regarding terrorism, regional issues, and finding a solution to the conflict in Ukraine.
Therefore, there is potential for further positive developments between the West and Turkey, such as Sweden’s accession to NATO, with members possibly offering concessions to Ankara in return, perhaps including F-16s from the United States as a viable option.
In the near future, Turkish foreign policy will likely prioritise the economy. As a result, it can be inferred that Hakan Fidan may have to operate within the limitations imposed by these circumstances when executing foreign policy.
Consequently, Ankara may strive to maintain robust relations with NATO and the European Union, aiming to achieve an equilibrium between independence and collaboration in its global engagements.
Source: The News Arab