Today's date:
Winter 2011

The Language of Diplomacy

Abdullah Gul is the president of Turkey. His comments here are adapted from an interview that will appear in NPQ-Turkiye, conducted by Ali Murat Vural, as well as a talk at Columbia University in September prompted by the NPQ dialogue.

Istanbul—Foucault said that it was language that determined the limits of power. Today we need to redefine those limits, and we can do that through changing our language.

The drastic changes that have taken place in the last couple of decades have altered basic sociological definitions and categories. More than anything, the meaning of the “state” is changing. Today, what we have called the “state” is in a position to redefine, reposition and rebrand itself.

And, of course, this change in the notion of the state influences what we have understood as “international relations,” altering its main definitions and understandings. Since the very architecture of global policy is changing, so must the language.

The old balances, alliances and philosophies are giving way to new ones. Old memberships and clubs are losing meaning. That’s why there is a continuous talk of “countries shifting axis.” When the very meaning of the word “axis” continuously changes, “shifting axis” becomes a mere polemic.

The former dichotomies of “East vs. West” as well as “South vs. North” have long lost their applicabilty. So, too, the categories of First, Second and Third World.

The revolution of the Internet and globally available information has dramatically influenced the capacities of former power brokers. The power of media is more heterogeneous than ever. It is less subject to monopoly and control. The most recent example is that of Wikileaks.

In such a setting, Turkey believes that we need to establish a new language for the global context. This new language is much needed, as the old one is no cure to the problems we are facing today. In short, we need a “new language of diplomacy.”

This “new language of diplomacy” should be established not on the basis of “confrontation” or “domination” by blocs, but rather on the concept of “coming together” and “sharing power.” Furthermore, it should create global platforms where different understandings and ways of doing can come together.

This new language should be constructed not on hierarchical symbols, such as First, Second and Third World, but on qualities and competencies.

The new language should be multicultural, multidimensional and heterogeneous. Unlike the former language, which was established within a Euro-centric perspective, this new language must be established on universal values.

The new language must be written on principles and deeds, such as democracy, free speech and the rule of law. In other words, it must take into consideration actions rather than subjects of the actions.

The new language should not award winners and punish losers. It should not prioritize among identities such as “Islamic or Western” and must understand that identities are plural and subject to change.

It is only when we are able to establish this new language that we can construct a new future. Otherwise, the energy we spend on today’s complex issues will be lost.

One concrete example of this from the realm of the political economy is the phrase “Third Way” coined by Anthony Giddens, the sociologist who headed the London School of Economics during Tony Blair’s time as prime minister. This phrase opened the imagination to consider a new alternative—liberal-tilted economics married to social policies as the best way to benefit from globalization—outside the old Thatcherite and Labour categories of the past.

In Turkey we are ready for and enthusiastic about such a process of renewal. We have the energy and resources to participate in such a vision. That is why we continuously and tirelessly talk about a “new Turkish foreign policy.”

No single factor alone makes Turkish foreign policy today but a multitude of factors. We don’t define ourselves with the boundaries of a single region, club, identity or issue. We strive to be active in the areas where we feel a responsibility as a result of our historical heritage and universal belonging. We aim to be policymakers rather than appliers of policies authored elsewhere. These three principles come together to make what we call an “active, constructive foreign policy.”

During meetings at the United Nations General Assembly last September, I could see that the footprint of this active and constructive foreign policy is appreciated widely. The leaders I met, the delegations received and the meetings I attended all confirmed one thing: the world today is impatient for the construction of a new international architecture.

As I have suggested here, this architecture should be established on an entirely new language. Otherwise, we will continue to live the endless cycles of problems that we are living today, fruitlessly tracing a narrative of times already gone by.