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Dilek Barlas, PhD

Associate Professor of History

Koc University, İstanbul, Turkey


Serhat Guvenc, PhD

Assistant Professor of International Relations

İstanbul Bilgi University, İstanbul, Turkey

Rev: 25 August 2008


List of Abbreviations 2


Middle Powers and Regional Great Powers 12

Interwar Conditions for Middle Power Activism 19

Turkey as a Middle Power 25


Political Rivalry 39

Inter-service Rivalry 45


Naval Instructors: Revival of German Influence? 54

Turkish Naval Building and International Disarmament 60


Italy as a Potential Menace in the Mediterranean 74

Italian Overtures to Turkey 85


Italian-Turkish Naval Arms Trade 95

Italy as Turkey’s Sponsor in International Organizations 108



The Balkan Predicaments 131

Turkish Diplomatic Activism 137


The Italian “Menace” Renewed 148






ADM Admiralty

ASMAE Archivio Storico del Ministero degli Affari Esteri

BCA T. C. Başbakanlık Cumhuriyet Arşivi

BOA T.C. Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi

FO Foreign Office

MEA Ministère des Affaires Etrangères

NARA National Archives and Records Administration

RG Record Group

PRO Public Records Office

SHM Service Historique de la Marine

SMS Seiner Majestat Schiff

TBMM Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly of Turkey)

TCG Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Gemisi

UN United Nations

USS United States Ship

The present work is a product of more than a decade of research undertaken individually or collectively by its authors in various diplomatic and military/naval archives in Turkey, Britain, France, Italy and the United States. Drawing on the same research, the authors have already published co-authored or single-author articles in various international and Turkish journals on various aspects of Turkish foreign policy in the interwar period. Such works have, in principle, focused on lesser known and understudied aspects of the Turkish foreign policy of the period, including relations with Italy, naval policy and the arms trade, and diplomatic activism in the Balkans and the Mediterranean.

The interwar period is the time-frame for the present work, while the Mediterranean, including the Balkans, provides the geographical background against which we try to analyze Turkish diplomatic and naval activism. There is a wealth of publications on interwar Turkish foreign policy. However, most of these works deal with bilateral relations with the great powers and/or neighbours,1 or specific issues such as the Montreaux Convention or the Sanjak of Alexandretta.2 As most of these works have a relatively narrow focus, they usually stop short of providing a coherent understanding or general conception of Turkish foreign policy in the interwar period.3 It has to be granted that a number of factors make such a venture remarkably difficult for students and scholars of Turkish foreign policy. First, the interwar period was a period of international transition. By definition, international transitions tend to be periods of uncertainty which do not lend themselves to clear-cut explanations.

Another factor that renders a coherent understanding difficult is Turkish attempt for transformation. During the period under examination, a far-reaching and transformative reform process was underway in Turkey. The pursuit of a fresh start with the advent of the Republic represented the deliberate choice of a clean break with the Ottoman past or heritage which Republican decision-makers considered a burden on their new country. The Turkish transformation and its attendant domestic and international challenges caused ups and downs or inconsistencies in the country’s foreign policy. The reforms may be regarded as having eventually paid off externally in the 1930s with the recognition of Turkey as a power interested in preserving the status quo. Finally, inaccessibility of Turkish diplomatic and military/naval archives of the time explains in part why diplomatic historians have shied away from attempting to offer a general conception of Turkish foreign and naval policy in the interwar period.4

Based on primary sources available in a number of foreign diplomatic and military/naval archives, the main purpose of the book is to explore the links and interaction between Turkey’s diplomatic efforts for political cooperation in the Mediterranean and its efforts to build a navy, in other words, the link between its diplomatic and naval activism. Despite the inherent uncertainties of the period and inconsistencies in Turkish policies, Turkey exhibited some attributes of a “middle power” in its diplomacy between the two world wars, particularly in the 1930s. It should be noted that there is as yet no evidence to show that Turkish statesmen or diplomats ever defined their country as a “middle power.”5 On the contrary, they were committed to the principle of equality of all states in the international system, hence, avoided representations that might imply a hierarchy of states. More often than not, they defined their international status in behavioural terms. For instance, Foreign Minister Tevfik Rüştü Aras talked of a “new class of states” that was trying new methods in the conduct of their foreign policies in 1930. Aras’ “new class of states” definition sounds very similar to the “middle powers” concept, particularly where there is an emphasis on behavioural aspects.

Therefore, the present study begins with a discussion of the concept of middle power, its alternative definitions, and various cases of middle power diplomacy. Since the bulk of academic works draws on the analysis of Canadian and Australian foreign policies in the Cold War and beyond, interwar Turkey will be compared to and contrasted with the experiences of these two countries. Moreover, an alternative or complementary definition, “regional great power,” will also be taken into consideration in judging Turkish policy. At this point, Turkey will be compared to one of its contemporaries, Poland, which occupied a similar position in international power hierarchy at the time, in terms of the style and substance of its foreign policy.

We will look at works which define Turkey as a “middle power” at different periods in time. As these works usually employ completely different measures for establishing what constitutes a middle power, The challenge ahead is not only that it requires one to provide a coherent view of Turkish foreign policy in the interwar period, but also to bridge all these conceptions of middle power status in the context of the interwar Turkey.

We argue that the Balkans and the Black Sea constitute integral parts of the Mediterranean geographical sphere and have considered as such in Turkish diplomacy and naval policy during the period under review here.6 In sum, we treat the Balkan Peninsula and the Black Sea as sub-regions of the Mediterranean. Turkish diplomatic and naval activism, though largely concentrated on and relatively more effective in the two sub-regions, featured a profound and wider Mediterranean dimension, particularly from the mid-1930s onwards. Moreover, primacy of the Mediterranean in Turkey’s international relations owed to a great deal to normalization of its foreign relations with two Mediterranean countries first, namely Italy and Greece. It should also be borne in mind that it was the relative success of Turkish diplomatic and naval activism in the early 1930s in the Balkans and the Black Sea that paved the way for Turkey acting as a middle power in the second half of the 1930s. Only after that phase did Turkey seek to project its enhanced status onto the Mediterranean scene in order to promote multilateral arrangements to preserve peace and stability there.

In the process of carrying out our intentions, we also focus on key features of the early post-war world order as well as its attendant uncertainties. We, thus, attempt to understand analytically the new international power hierarchy and emerging international institutions so that we can locate within this new international context a Turkey which, being itself a power- in-transition, was gradually evolving from a dismembered empire into a new Republic.

Having inherited the geographical core of the Empire, the leaders and institutions of the Republic had to tackle the old security problems of a territory now under-populated by the European standards of the time in the 1920s and 1930s. Obviously, the loss of population had a greater impact on the security of the new state than the loss of territory. Hence, Turkey had to come to terms with its new international status as a power of lesser degree rather than a (nominal) Great Power.

Therefore, Chapter 1, which is the analytical chapter, attempts to conceptualize interwar Turkey as a middle power. It begins with a survey of different interpretations of middle power status in international relations theory, from Martin Wright’s and Carlsted Holbraad’s more conventional, power-centered approach to behavioural interpretations of middle power foreign policy as in the works of Andrew F. Cooper, Richard A. Higgot and Kim Nossal. This chapter then focuses on interwar period to assess if or to what extent the conditions that normally favour middle power activism existed. It points to the absence of leadership from more traditional resources which create room for initiatives and activism by middle powers. This chapter concludes with a discussion of interwar Turkey’s middle power credentials both in conventional and behavioural terms. The case of Poland is introduced to the discussion for contrasting foreign policy choices of two comparably placed actors. The difference in two states’ behaviour is linked to their differing paths to middle power status.

Chapter 2 analyzes the roles ascribed to force in securing the survival of the new state and its ramifications on domestic politics. Although it inherited the geographical core of the Empire, the Republic had to come to terms with its new international status as a power of lesser degree. Moreover, the Ottoman diplomatic experience suggested to the new rulers that conventional self-help strategies compromised the Ottoman sovereignty and independence. The Turkish attempt to unburden itself of the Ottoman past, thus, featured a new thinking to avoid diplomatic trappings of the Empire. The perceived fragility of the new regime was yet another source of insecurity. In creating means of defence, the institutions were carefully re-crafted to prevent their use by domestic opposition. This chapter takes naval restructuring as a case in point and argues that the new Ministry of Marine instituted in 1924 reflected a desire on the part of the new rulers to transform the Navy into an institution loyal to the Republic.

Chapter 3 focuses on the international implications of Turkish naval rejuvenation in the 1920s for a number of reasons. First, the self-help strategy Turkey initially adopted required accumulation of naval power. Therefore, Turkey seemed to defy the international naval disarmament which in turn accentuated its outcast status, indicating a security dilemma of a different sort and order. The naval rejuvenation included re-commissioning of the notorious SMS Goeben (later Yavuz), a battlecruiser that was regarded as “the curse over the Orient” 7 for its association with the Ottoman Empire’s entry to the First World War. Moreover, the recruitment of former German naval officers as advisors for the rejuvenation of the navy set the seal on Turkey’s international image as a power poised to challenge the new European order. Finally, since the Mediterranean would soon become the key geographical focus of Turkish diplomacy, its naval power would count in regional issues as a functional lever.

The next chapter discusses gradual normalization of Turkey’s relations with Italy as a result of their shared frustration with the existing international system in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It begins with an account of how Fascist Italy’s policies initially heightened Turkish sense of insecurity. Then, it identifies lack of international recognition and French policies as factors that brought these two countries closer. In the process, Turkey’s image in Italy changed from a non-viable political entity to a potential proxy in the Mediterranean. This last point suggests a potential for tension in their relations, as Turkey did not seek a Great Power patron.

Chapter 5 argues how Rome’s expectation to create an Italian-led regional alliance paradoxically facilitated Turkey’s international normalization. Failing to grasp that Turkey’s resentment of the existing international system did not necessarily entail a revisionist stand, Italy attempted to lure Turkey into its orbit by exploiting the latter’s international isolation. However, Italian policy was counter-productive, as Italian-supported Turkish-Greek rapprochement took a life of its own and formed the cornerstone of a larger Balkan cooperation. In addition, Italian sponsorship of Turkey in international and European settings to undermine French initiatives and influence helped Turkey return to the international fold.

The processes through which Turkey acquired qualifications of a middle power in functional and identity terms are examined in Chapter 6. Functionally, Turkey succeeded in building a modest, but modern and credible navy. Also functionally, its diplomacy adapted to new circumstances and turned the Ottoman heritage into an advantage to promote regional cooperation. Finally, Turkey’s diplomatic pursuit of admission to European states system included a bid for “European” identity. In this last respect, another Mediterranean state, Greece, merits particular attention for its support to Turkey’s inclusion into the two ill-fated European union proposals of the interwar era. Although the proposals did not lead to tangible results, they helped Turkey gain half-hearted yet formal recognition of its European identity. This, in turn, cleared its way into the European state system and eventually into the League of Nations, a development which marked the end of Turkey’s “outcast” status.

Chapter 7 is an operational chapter which focuses on the Balkans where Turkey stepped in to fill the leadership vacuum particularly after the 1929 World Economic Crisis. Futility of proposals for Balkan economic cooperation prompted Ankara to switch to political cooperation with continued Greek support. Turkish diplomatic activism was at its peak after Turkey’s admission to the League of Nations in 1932. Turkish diplomats made frequent visits to Balkan capitals in pursuit of “other-help” strategies. They made extensive use of Turkish naval ships, including the battlecruiser Yavuz, as their preferred means of transportation for their visits. In the end, the Balkans proved to be amenable to middle power activism as it consisted of like-minded (pro-status quo) states of more or less comparable strength. As a result, the Balkan Entente was concluded by Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia and Romania in 1934. The major success of Turkish diplomacy lay in that it secured a managerial role for Turkey in a region where alliances had previously been formed against the Ottoman Empire. This can also be regarded as the phase when Turkey consolidated its pre-eminence as a regional power or regional great power.

Chapter 8 brings Italy back into the discussion in line with Mussolini’s increasingly vocal demands for territorial expansion towards Asia and Africa. It discusses various Mediterranean pact proposals which were picked up by Turkish diplomacy in search of security. Ankara pursued bridging rather than balancing or bandwagoning strategies. For instance, it contemplated an arrangement that would link the Balkan Entente and the proposed Mediterranean pact, including Britain and France. Its motivation was to complement collective security under the League of Nations. Turkish diplomatic activism was supplemented by endeavors to strengthen the navy in response to an increasingly revisionist Italian policy. Turkish appeals on both diplomatic and naval accounts did not strike a chord with Britain at this stage.

Chapter 9 addresses the Mediterranean as a target for Turkish diplomatic and, to a lesser extent, naval activism from the mid- to late-1930s. An account of Turkish efforts is provided here to show structural constraints on middle powers around the case of the Abyssinian Crisis. The Crisis itself reaffirmed the weaknesses of the whole League system. In addition to Turkey’s limited resources, the absence of like-minded and comparably-ranked actors was a major impediment to achieving results by diplomatic activism. In this respect, the Mediterranean stood in stark contrast to the Balkans. While the former was marked by an absence of leadership from traditional sources, the latter had witnessed contenting claims for leadership by France, Italy and Britain who preferred to deal with each other on balance of power terms. Therefore, Turkey failed to use its regional pre-eminence in the Balkans to claim a managerial role on a larger scale in the Mediterranean. This period of attempted middle power activism drew to a close with the Turkish demand for revision in the demilitarized status of the Straits in 1936. It was followed by shift to a more conventional diplomatic strategy of balancing against Italy.

The final chapter discusses the reasons for the change in Turkish foreign policy and strategy on the eve of the Second World War. While Turkey came to terms with structural constraints on its diplomacy and navy in the Mediterranean, it began to lose its Balkan partners one by one to great powers. Their return to self-help strategies forced Ankara to reconsider its policy of avoiding alliance relationships with great powers as well. As a middle power committed to the status quo, Turkey was prone to side with Britain and France. Only one issue stood before such rapprochement. That was the future status of Alexandretta. After this stumbling bloc was removed, Britain, France and Turkey concluded a Treaty for security against Italian threat. This treaty closed the middle power diplomacy era for Turkey.

We should note that some of the chapters above are built on our previous publications. However, this book is not a collection or compilation of them. On the contrary, it is a substantially modified text and therefore is coherent whole. In terms of sources used, as stated above, the present work draws on diplomatic and naval documents mostly from Italy, Britain, France and the United States. Our request to have access to Turkish foreign ministry archives for the period under study was not granted, as they were not yet made available for private research. Nevertheless, we have also attempted to take advantage of Turkey’s increasingly liberalized archive-access policies for the Presidential Archives and Prime Ministry Archives in Ankara. Both proved very valuable sources in verifying information from foreign archives. Archive documents are supplemented by official publications and the published memoirs of statesmen, diplomats, intellectuals, military and naval officers from Turkey.

Middle Powers and Regional Great Powers
The concept of middle power has regained currency in international relations since the end of the Cold War. One explanation for the recent popularity of this concept may possibly be related to the absence of a sufficient number of great powers or superpowers, the traditional subjects of study in international relations. In contrast, there is a growing number of important powers of lesser degrees. The tendency is to label those powers as “middle powers” in an attempt to recognize their significance at both regional and global levels but at the same time to underline their status as secondary or inferior to great powers or superpowers8 or hyperpowers.9

Although the label has been quite liberally used to describe a plethora of countries which, one way or another, have mattered regionally and globally, there is as yet no consensus on the definition of middle powers. From a rather conventional power politics perspective, Wright offers the following definition:

“... a middle power is a power with such military strength, resources and strategic position that in peacetime the great powers bid for its support, and in wartime, while it has no hope of winning a war against a great power, it can hope to inflict costs on a great power out of proportion to what the great power can hope to gain by attacking it.”10

It is possible to talk about a number of different approaches in situating middle powers within a context. The first approach defines middle powers in terms of their position in the international power hierarchy. This rather conventional approach takes into consideration quantifiable factors such as area, population, geographic area, military capability or capacity, economic size and rate of economic growth.11 According to Holbraad, for instance, middle powers are “states that are weaker than the great powers in the system but significantly stronger than minor powers and small states with which normally interact.”12 This approach may also be called statistical approach.13

The second, yet less employed, approach tends to view middle power status as a function of a state’s geographic position. As such, a middle power is one that is located “in the middle” of the great powers in the system. A Cold War derivative of the idea focuses on a position between the two superpowers that is ideological rather than geographical.

The third approach identifies middle powers on a normative basis and argues that middle powers are “potentially more trustworthy as they can exert diplomatic influence without likelihood of recourse to force”.14 In addition, due to their past roles in major conflicts (on the side of the “right” or “good”), they regard themselves as having earned certain rights and proved that they do not shy away from their responsibilities in the establishment and preservation of global order. Hence they stake a claim to moral high ground in international relations. Such claims have been aired in the past particularly as justifications for representation of middle powers, such as Australia and Canada, on the UN Security Council. At this point, the normative stand blends with a functional definition of middle power which rests on “capacity to use [power] for the maintenance of peace.” In a similar frame of mind, the term “security powers” was coined to emphasize the link between the use of force and the preservation of peace. In this definition, not only the capacity but also the will to use force to resist aggressors is taken into account.15 However, the evidence to support the middle powers’ claim to moral high ground as guardians of international order is weak at best. Historically, middle powers have not made reliable guardians and have even occasionally played destabilizing roles when their weight was sufficient to affect the balance of power.16

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