From Antalya to Osaka: Assessing Turkey’s “Globality” and Performance in the G20

By Selçuk Çolakoğlu
Professor of International Relations and Director of the Turkish Center for Asia-Pacific Studies, Ankara, Turkey

Keywords: G20, globality, middle powers, diplomacy, trade, ODA

Synopsis: The G20 constitutes a platform in which an unestablished middle power such as Turkey can potentially enjoy a rare privileged position.

Global governance is no longer the exclusive realm of the great powers, as the importance of emerging countries and middle powers continues to increase. This stems in part from necessity: developing solutions for the common problems of a globalized world necessitates greater collective action that now includes participation from emerging countries and middle powers.

How can the global reach of middle powers be better understood? Andrew F. Cooper proposes the concept of “globality” which includes the institutional/diplomatic range; trade profile; and the trajectory of official development assistance of the country in question. This article analyzes whether the global governance capacity of one such middle power, Turkey, has changed since it held the G20 Presidency in 2015.

Turkey is a pivotal middle power that has assumed growing importance since 1999, and at least until recently. With a population of 82 million, Turkey has certain obligations to ensure its own economic prosperity and domestic stability. Despite its active engagement in global governance through individual efforts, as a middle power Turkey’s global role rests on weak institutional foundations. The G20 constitutes a platform in which an unestablished middle power such as Turkey can enjoy a rare privileged position. Thus, presiding over the G20 leaders’ summit in 2015 was an important milestone for Turkey. It was an opportunity, seemingly, for Turkey to demonstrate its capability to contribute to global governance.

Institutional/ Diplomatic Range

With increasing participation in multilateral fora and a total of 242 diplomatic and consular missions, Turkey has spawned the fifth largest global diplomatic network. However, deteriorating domestic circumstances since 2015 have undermined Turkey’s institutional capacity to effectively take part in global processes. From June 2015 to June 2019, Turkey experienced three parliamentary elections, one presidential election, one referendum, one local election and the Istanbul re-run election. Uncertainty increased with the number of terrorist incidents involving the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State (IS). Moreover, Turkey faced a coup attempt in 2016 and a state of emergency was declared subsequently. Large-scale purges of civil servants have had a devastating effect on Turkey’s institutional capacity since July 15, 2019. More than 150,000 civil servants including academics, teachers, medical doctors, judges, prosecutors, police and military officers were dismissed, further limiting the country’s institutional capacity to engage globally. Turkey’s case illustrates that the success of emerging or middle powers in leading international gatherings like the G20 depends both on their level of international clout and domestic stability.

Economic Capacity & Trade Profile

Turkey’s global economic ranking has not changed significantly during last four decades (see figure 1). As a middle power with only 0.7% of world GDP in 2019, Turkey faces material limits with regard to its global engagements.

Figure 1: Ranking the largest 20 world economies (GDP) over time (Source: IMF World Economic Outlook, 2019, Knoema.

 Figure1.World GDP ranking-2018

Turkey’s GDP peaked in 2013 with $950 billion – the country’s historical record – and then gradually dropped to $766 billion in 2018 (see figure 2). The IMF is expecting that Turkey’s GDP will have a growth rate of around 0.2% in 2019. Decreasing GDP in last 5 years presents an obstacle for Turkey’s foreign trade.

Figure 2: Turkey’s GDP, 2009-2018 [$ billion] (Source: World Bank)

Figure2-Turkish GDP

Turkish foreign trade had increased tremendously, from $67.3 billion in 1999 when the G20 was formed to $403.5 billion in 2013 (See figure 3). Turkey’s foreign trade has fluctuated recently, dropping from $403.5 billion to $341 billion in last five years. If the negative GDP growth trends continues, Turkey will have less material resources to dedicate to its global engagements.

Figure 3: Turkey’s foreign trade, 1999-2018 [$ million] (Source: The Turkish Statistical Institute)

Figure3-Turkish Foreign Trade

Trajectory of Official Development Assistance

A number of state-endorsed Turkish institutions have assumed prominence in Turkey’s foreign policy repertoire, together with a large number of humanitarian Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). This substantial investment in humanitarian diplomacy is evidenced by Turkey’s rise from 19th to 3rd place among donor governments delivering international humanitarian aid. Turkish Official Development Assistance (ODA) has also increased remarkably, from $85 million in 2002 to 1.3 billion in 2011 (see Figure 4). This ODA increase follows Turkey’s GDP growth from 2002 to 2011. However, the increase in Turkey’s ODA outstrips its GDP growth. Turkey’s ODA doubled from $1.3 billion in 2011 to $2.5 billion in 2012. The increase in Turkish ODA had continued until 2017 and reached $ 8.1 billion. However, $7.3 billion of its total ODA in 2017 went to only one country: Syria. This includes covering expenditures for the four million Syrian refugees living in Turkey. Thus, it is difficult to calculate Turkey’s real ODA after 2012 as a global engagement activity more broadly.

Figure 4: Turkey’s Official Development Assistance-ODA, 2002-2017 [$ Million] (Source: The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency)

Figure4-Turkish ODA


Cooper’s “globality” concept is useful to frame Turkey’s increasing role and capacity in global governance, particularly within the context of the G20. The developments from the 2015 Antalya Summit to the 2019 Osaka Summit have not supported Turkey’s strong commitments to global governance within the G20. The Turkish G20 Presidency in 2015 aimed to take steps towards creating “inclusive economic growth” across the world. To this end, G20 Leaders adopted a framework in Antalya to strengthen the dialogue between the G20 and low-income developing countries. G20 Leaders also discussed the “fight against terrorism” and “migration” in Antalya, issues pertinent to Turkey both domestically and internationally. However, Turkey’s agenda setting capacity in the G20 has diminished remarkably after its G20 Presidency. Since then, Turkish leaders have mostly focused on bilateral meetings with other leaders rather than global agenda itself. Focusing on bilateralism has become an easier pathway for success at both global and domestic levels, particularly for leaders from middle powers like Turkey. Diminishing economic capacity has also affected Turkey’s role in global governance particularly with regard to its “inclusiveness” initiatives in the Global South. If there is no significant change in Turkey’s economic, institutional, and human capacity, it will be unlikely that Turkey will be a more influential player within the G20 moving forward.

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