Former Spymaster Hakan Fidan Assumes Leadership Of Turkey’s Foreign Ministry

Hakan Fidan, the former head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT), has been appointed as the country’s new foreign minister. This shift isn’t merely a bureaucratic reshuffle; it’s a clarion call to every external stakeholder, from the U.S. to the European Union, from Russia to the labyrinthine politics of the Middle East. For years, his intelligence portfolio dictated his involvement in international affairs, shaping him as a significant figure in the nation’s political landscape. However, the change in office is not just a transition from a follower of established procedures to a pioneer of original ideas. Fidan was already one of the most significant foreign policy actors in Turkey.

Now, the seat of the Foreign Minister lies before him, presenting a pivotal opportunity to leave an indelible mark on the global stage. Fidan will now affix his name to the papers, endorsing the very processes he set in motion, bridging the gap between intelligence gathering and policymaking. In a previous article, I explained the strategic determinants of Turkish foreign policy, which bear Fidan’s extensive influence.

Fidan’s International Perception

During my tenure as a BBC journalist, former Specialist Adviser to the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and think-tank analyst, I had the privilege of interacting with an array of influential figures – heads of states, senior intelligence officers, ministers, politicians – from across the globe. Many of these individuals had worked or engaged directly with Fidan, their paths crossing in various locales from Pakistan to the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. The conversations inevitably veered towards Turkish foreign policy and the country’s actions beyond its borders.

In these discussions, the significance of the MIT, the proverbial puppet master orchestrating Turkey’s international maneuvers, was invariably highlighted. At the apex of this intricate structure was the intellectually formidable figure of Dr. Fidan – a title bestowed due to his doctoral accomplishments. Acknowledged universally as a deep thinker and a strategic mastermind, Fidan, with his strong network of contacts in the international community, emerged as the key architect charting Turkey’s course on the complex global chessboard. His recent elevation, thus, won’t be a surprise but a testament to his capabilities, recognized by those who have had the opportunity to engage with him.

Fidan’s appointment as foreign minister indicates that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants a more seasoned operative to lead Turkey’s foreign policy amid the escalating Russian-Ukraine War and the complex rapprochements in the Middle East, including Turkey’s own with Syria.

Fidan’s ascension could also have domestic political implications. A month before the elections, I wrote an analysis of how the Kurdish issue would affect the elections. I argued that Fidan’s potential elevation to a senior political role in the new government could enhance the government’s prospects of dealing with the PKK.

The previous foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, was a close ally of Erdogan but was not seen as a particularly strong or independent figure. Despite having previously interviewed him, he was not regarded as one of the main decision-makers of crucial foreign policy files.

Intel Officers in Political Roles Elsewhere

Fidan is hardly the first spymaster to tread the well-worn path to political office. We need only recall the career trajectories of the current Russian President Vladimir Putin, who worked as KGB foreign intelligence officer, or the former U.S. President George W Bush, who served as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (DCI). More recently, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, himself a former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, navigated the clandestine corridors of intelligence to the open stage of political leadership. Historical figures such as former Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden, is known for his use of secrete intelligence reports to shape Britain’s policy towards Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. In Iraq, former director of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, assumed the role of Prime Minister from 2020 to 2022, while Masrour Barzani, the Prime Minister of Kurdistan Regional Government, also boasts an intelligence background.

The MIT’s Multifaceted Role in Turkish Security Establishment

Despite the myriad of examples from around the globe, the leap from intelligence to politics isn’t always guaranteed a soft landing. Some thrive, some falter, and the variance can often be traced to the uniqueness of the institutions from which they emerge. In Turkey, MIT’s authority is unparalleled, its scope vast and its remit wide-ranging. Comparing it to the Central Intelligence Agency or the 19 intelligence agencies in the U.S, or to MI5, MI6, or the GHCQ in the UK would be doing it a disservice. MIT overlaps with these organizations in its multifaceted role. Its resilience in the face of institutional collapse elsewhere in Turkey is a testament to its strength, personified in Fidan.

Under Fidan and with support from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, MIT increased its intelligence gathering and analysis capabilities as well as its operational capabilities and grew more than four times in size.

Fidan’s Strategic Impact on Turkish Foreign Policy

In the world of military diplomacy, Turkey has often found recognition through the lens of its drone technology. Yet, the heart of this success beats with the rhythm of intelligence. It is the intel, diligently gathered and strategically deployed by the likes of Fidan, that fuels this military might. Without the rich vein of intel provided by MIT, the efficacy of its military ventures would be greatly diminished. As the former intel chief, Fidan has left his footprints on diverse terrains, from the Middle East to Europe, Africa to Russia, gathering insights and expanding his influence. His rise to Foreign Minister, though not without previous challenges, marks a significant inflection point in Turkish foreign policy.

As the intelligence chief, Fidan traveled extensively across the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Russia, broadening his perspective and expanding his influence. Although this is not his first bid for the Foreign Minister’s office, his previous attempt was thwarted. But now, as Foreign Minister, his proven track record and wealth of experience could be fully realized, with implications for all aspects of Turkish foreign policy, from the Russia-Ukraine conflict to the ongoing problems between the U.S. and China.

Amalgamation of diplomatic, political, and military experience

With Hakan Fidan at the helm, there is a possibility that the Foreign Ministry of Turkey may regain its pivotal role in steering the country’s foreign policy, a function that was previously predominantly exercised by the presidency and security agencies. The synergy between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hakan Fidan presents an impressive portfolio of foreign policy expertise in Turkey, spanning diplomatic, political, and military realms. This wealth of experience not only gives them a competitive advantage over the West, but also illuminates the apparent deficiencies in Western countries, where a coherent approach to foreign policy seems to be concentrated largely within the sphere of intelligence agencies, which combine information from foreign and defense ministries.

In the end, Fidan’s success as foreign minister will depend on his ability to balance Turkey’s interests with the interests of its neighbors and allies. He will also need to manage the country’s complex domestic politics. The fusion of intelligence and political leadership in Turkey under Fidan presents a new chapter in the nation’s evolving foreign policy, potentially challenging for friends and foes.

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