When contemplating Atatürk’s foreign policy, one adage comes to mind; “peace at home, peace in the world.” Having liberated Turkish lands from foreign occupation, Atatürk was not interested in aggrandizement or territorial expansion. He knew that in order to reach the goals he envisioned for his country, modernity, economic success, independence, and secularism, he had to concentrate on developments within the country.
Atatürk pursued realistic policies. While adamant about the necessity to strengthen and modernize the Turkish state, Atatürk never aimed to unite the Turks living outside of Turkey, which he thought was adventurism. “We know our limitations. We are not worldly minded. There are many of our co-religionists who are groaning under the afflictions of slavery. It is one of our greatest wishes that they too will acquire independence and will attempt to achieve prosperity and progress for their countries through complete independence.”
Mustafa Kemal’s main goal was the establishment of a completely independent Turkey, free of all foreign intervention and interferences. He rejected all suggestions of the protection of a great state or being under the mandate of a great state, and was very mindful of the dangers of imperialism.
While the Bolsheviks were very helpful to Atatürk during the War of Independence, he did not embrace communism. He opined “Communism is a social matter. The current situation of our country, its social conditions, and the strength of its religious and national traditions confirm the opinion that Communism, as practiced in Russia, could not be put into practice in our country.”
Turkey’s western-inclined foreign policy went hand in hand with its attempts to modernize itself. Atatürk equated modernization with westernization. At the end of the War of liberation in 1923 he stated: “All of our efforts are directed toward the establishment of a modern, therefore western, government. Has there been a nation which has desired to be civilized, but which has not turned towards the west.?” He added “In keeping with our policies, our traditions, and our interests, we are inclined to the establishment of a European Turkey, or to be more precise, a Turkey inclined toward the West.”
Turkey established normal political relations with the west in the 1930s. This normalization of relations formed the basis of the military and political cooperation following World War II, such as the Council of Europe, the OECD, and NATO. Having fought a brutal war of independence, Atatürk sympathized with colonized countries, and wanted Turkey to serve as a role model. Indeed, Mohammed Ali Jinnah of Pakistan, Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, and sir Abdurrahim, President of the Indian Parliament all cited Atatürk’s character and accomplishments as an inspiration for their own national struggles.
An avid reader, Atatürk was keenly aware of international developments, and kept in mind national and international realities, which helped to preserve the country’s independence. After independence, Turkey found itself to be surrounded by powerful countries such as the Soviet Union, England (because of its mandate in Iraq), France (because of its mandate in Syria),and Italy (which occupied the Dodecanese.) In addition, modern Turkey bordered Bulgaria and Greece. While developing friendly relations with its powerful neighbors, and previous enemies, Turkey joined the League of Nations to benefit from a system of mutual defense, and sign agreements with its neighbors, rejecting all forms of adventurism.
US Ambassador to Turkey, Charles H Sherrill, who knew the President well, remarked “Mustafa Kemal has no superior in the field of statesmanship anywhere.” He called Atatürk a “liberator, a regenerator, a national hero, and world’s statesman.” Even Prime Minister Venizelos of Greece, shortly after meeting with Mustafa Kemal, stated “He is a very great man. I have never encountered a general who was so broad-minded or had such knowledge of government.”
Turkey demonstrated allegiance to the rule of law. On August 27.1928, Turkey signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact which renounced the use of war as an instrument of foreign policy. Turkey was the first country after the United States to ratify this pact.
Atatürk believed in the importance of relations based on equality with the Balkan and Near Eastern states which once were in the Ottoman Empire. Atatürk stated that the formation of a federation among the Balkan states should be one of Turkish foreign policy’s main aims.
Turkey’s relations with Arab states and other Muslim states suffered given Atatürk’s abolition of the Caliphate, emphasis on secularism, and emphasis on westernization. In addition to friendship pacts signed with Afghanistan during the War of Liberation, similar pacts were signed with Iran and Afghanistan in 1926 and 1928. Shah Reza Pahlavi’s visit to Turkey in 1934 began a new phase in Turco-Iranian relations. However, there were no concrete disputes such as disputed borders, conflicts, or economic and political interest differences. Atatürk attempted to establish relations with these countries, just like he did with the West.
After the Mosul territorial dispute was resolved, there remained no issues between Turkey and Iraq. Thus on July 8, 1937, the Saadabad Pact was signed between Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq. This was a pact of friendship and solidarity, not a military alliance which called for non-interference in internal affairs of participating states, respect for common boundaries, and mutual guarantees of non-aggression.
Thus with good relations with Western nations through the Balkan Pact, and Eastern neighbors through the Saadabad Pact, Turkey sent a clear message that she had no interest in claiming former Ottoman territories. This decision to be content with established borders allowed Turkey to live the longest period of peace in her history. For over 80 years Turkey had been one of the few countries in the world which has not been involved in a major war. Given Turkey’s strategic location and neighbors, this accomplishment is even more meaningful; and possible only because of the peaceful foreign policy initiated by Atatürk and continued by his successors.
A further gift to his nation was Atatürk’s geopolitical vision which far saw a new war in Europe as shared with Douglas MacArthur when the General visited him on 1932. Atatürk indicated during this visit that the war would be incredibly destructive and at its end Germany would lose. With his unparalleled appreciation for the dynamics of the relationships of countries in Europa and the middle east he wisely guided Turkey toward a neutral stance in the tradition of Switzerland which was adhered to even after his death. Thus, Turkey avoided the great upheavals of World War II through Atatürk’s wise policies which prevented a possible reversal of his revolutionary changes in Turkish politics and society
Upon his death, Donald Webster, an American who studied Turkey and the Atatürk period first hand, concluded:
“The greatest Turk of recent centuries, if not of all time-possibly the most dynamic leader of the contemporary world died November 10, 1938. Although his years did not number three score, he expended as much energy as three men. Every year during the last two decades, he gained in prestige and esteem both at home and abroad. He was respected as much as some of his notable contemporaries are feared.”