Turkish Foreign Policy During Ataturk's Era

“Peace at Home, Peace in the World”

Although Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, great leader of our National War of Independence, who achieved the revolutions and reforms that founded modern Turkey appeared for the first time in the stage of history by proving his military genius, the characteristic that makes him immortal in the hearts of the Turkish people and places him in a privileged position among the most important leaders of the world is his statesmanship, the outstanding success he showed in the field of governance and his peaceful and democratic vision, which still preserves its validity today. In this framework, the foreign policy vision adopted by Ataturk, the goal specified with the words of “Peace at Home, Peace in the World” and the resolute policies he followed in this direction may constitute the most significant factors that have enabled the Republic of Turkey to reach her current position.

Following closely international developments, diplomacy and foreign policy starting from his young ages, Ataturk knew that the Republic of Turkey would attain a well-deserved position among civilized nations. This was his dream at that time. He knew that this dream could only be achieved with an effective foreign policy and foreign relations founded on a solid basis. For this reason, foreign policy and Turkey’s position in the international arena have always been a high priority for Ataturk. He thought that Turkey’s future depended on a healthy vision to be adopted in this framework. Ataturk also viewed that Turkey’s future was tied to resolute policies to be followed in this direction. These views dominated Ataturk’s opinions and thoughts.

Ataturk approached every kind of issue primarily with rationalism and realism. In this context, his foreign policy vision arose on the same principles as well. Thus, foreign policy stance adopted during the difficult National War of Independence, was first of all consistent with the main goal of establishing an independent Turkish State within national borders. This attitude, which rejected adventurous and expansionist inclinations without compromising independence, left its mark on a set of developments that secured the unconditional independence of the Republic of Turkey. One of those developments was, for instance, announcing that the provisions postulated in the Treaty of Sevres and Armistice of Mudros were unacceptable. Another one was negotiating and implementing the Treaty of Lausanne without compromising national interests.

Gaining independence was Turkish foreign policy’s first objective and when it was acquired following the struggle conducted against the enemy states of that time both in battle fields and in the area of diplomacy, our foreign policy’s fundamental principle was defined as “peace”. This objective finds its expression in our great leader’s “Peace at Home, Peace in the World” maxim and today it continues to be the basic guiding principle of our foreign policy.

“A direction of peace aiming at the security of Turkey and which is not against any nation will always be our principle.”

In line with this objective, efforts were exerted in order to create regional and international confidence and an environment of stability that would enable the realization of Turkey’s great potential in every field. Likewise, friendly relations were strengthened with countries that share the same principles with the Republic of Turkey, which was founded on modern values and making headways in order to become a secular, democratic and social state of law. While doing so, problems of the past were not allowed to enslave the present, and both a friendly and cooperative hand was offered to all countries as required by Turkey’s interests. The most concrete examples of this were Turkey’s bringing to an end the antagonism towards Western states against whom she conducted a struggle of independence, trying to benefit to the maximum extent possible from opportunities provided by peace and laying solid foundations of relations with these countries that could subsequently strengthen further.

Furthermore, in this period, the value attached to peace by the young Republic of Turkey that came out of long battle years, was also reflected in every field of foreign policy. In this framework, diplomatic solution and negotiations were sought to solve all problems by considering mutual interests. Turkey’s participation in the Kellog-Briand Pact in 1929, which stipulated that all disagreements should always be solved through peaceful means constitutes a natural reflection of this understanding. Likewise, settling issues such as Turkish-Greek problems, Mosul, Hatay and the Question of the Straits in a peaceful way through diplomacy formed the most striking examples of a realistic diplomacy applied in light of conditions of the time. These also stood for the importance Turkish foreign policy attached to peace.

Thanks to a balanced and rational foreign policy, during her weakest period in military and economic terms Turkey reinforced her sovereignty over the Turkish Straits, and the country’s geopolitical and strategic integrity was maintained; Hatay which was part of the National Pact was integrated to Turkey without a shot being fired; an improvement which was not witnessed before in Turkish-Greek relations was achieved and a period of friendship and cooperation spread throughout the Balkans. As regards the Mosul Question, the League of Nations’ arbitration was accepted instead of unilateral acts. As a result of this, although Mosul was not left to Turkey, this demonstrated very clearly her respect for international law and peace. Thus, Turkey became the only country to be invited to the League of Nations without submitting an application and she joined the organization in 1932.

As it can be seen, the most important characteristics of Turkish foreign policy carried out during Ataturk era are its peaceful nature, its non-deviation from reality, the importance it attaches to international law and legitimacy, the priority it gives to regional and international cooperation and dialogue. Furthermore, another remarkable feature of Ataturk is his capacity to monitor closely developments in the international arena and foresee accurately their evolution and take timely steps as deemed necessary in Turkey’s interests.

“Elimination of disputes should be the primary wish of civilized humankind.”

In this framework, Ataturk assessed thoroughly developments in the world and especially Europe and predicted years in advance that a new world war would break out. In his discussions and statements; he touched on this issue as early as in 1932. At a time when the Nazi Party came to power in Germany, Italy made efforts to expand to the Mediterranean and the Balkans, and European states were engaged in an arms race, Ataturk accelerated regional cooperation efforts by accurately analyzing these developments threatening world peace and the process leading to World War II. In this framework, on 9 February 1934, the Balkan Entente was signed between Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia and Romania, and on 8 July 1934, the Sadabad Pact was signed between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, Turkey took important steps to provide security and cooperation both in the east and the west at a time when the whole world was dragged into war. Furthermore, Turkey paved the way for the policy of neutrality she followed during World War II.

Foreign policy achievements obtained during the first years of the Republic are the results of Ataturk's policy who accurately analyzed the period, turned the situation in favor by waiting for conditions to mature and acted in cooperation with all countries in accordance with the country’s interests. Thus, the Republic of Turkey established an external environment that could enable comprehensive reforms and revolutions to take hold inside the country and to use her resources to realize this. In this framework, the Republic of Turkey born from the ashes of an empire could focus on her future instead of the past, determine her interests calmly and with a common sense and take the necessary steps intrepidly. Because of its characteristics and achievements, Ataturk era foreign policy served as a model for several countries. Furthermore, it became a successful model testifying that the basic warrant of independence and welfare was peace, not war.

The basic principles and tendencies of Ataturk era foreign policy provided basis for and shed light upon current Turkish foreign policy. Today, starting from her neighborhood, Turkey wants to achieve peace, stability and security to the widest extent possible. Furthermore, Turkey aspires to ensure that all countries become an indispensible part of a common prosperity area in a win-win mindset and in line with mutual interests. Pursuant to recent changes in the international environment and positive developments increasing her strength, Turkey exhibits a more active attitude in this direction and takes firm steps forward in accordance with the objectives and vision adopted by Ataturk.

Thus, our foreign policy efforts focuses on the establishment of a fair and sustainable political and social order from which all parties will benefit. Such an order could be realized by means of providing political dialogue, economic cooperation and cultural harmony in the world starting from our region. Our efforts to that effect are resolutely sustained. Actually, our policy of “zero problems with neighbors” usually referred to today in international circles, constitutes also a natural reflection of Ataturk’s “Peace at Home, Peace in the World” principle.

As a matter of fact, Turkey is a country whose friendship and cooperation are day by day sought more in the international arena, whose active efforts are needed to a greater extent in the settlement of problems and making concrete contributions to global peace through her visionary, pre-emptive and comprehensive foreign policy implemented in her region and beyond. Turkey takes pride in being able to deserve Ataturk and the fundamental principles he imposed in our foreign policy.