This essay is part of the series “Turkey Faces Asia,” which explores the development of cultural, political, and economic links between Turkey and the Asia Pacific region. See more ...

Middle power is an opaque term that involves multiple concepts. Through different conceptualizations of the term, Turkey and Japan are both middle powers. Indeed, widely read textbooks about Turkish foreign policy published around 2000 regard Turkey as a middle power.[1] In the Japanese context, several scholars, including Yonosuke Nagai, Yoshikazu Sakamoto, Nobuya Banba, and Mitsuru Yamamoto, have evaluated the foreign policy of their own country as middle power diplomacy since the late 1970s. Recently, Yoshihide Soeya comprehensively summed up Japanese middle power diplomacy after the 1970s.

Some scholars, such as Bernard Wood, define a middle power as quantitatively middle ranked in terms of GDP and military expenditures, ranging from 6th to 36th out of all countries worldwide.[2] While Turkey falls into this category, Japan does not fulfill the conditions due to its large economy. The type of middle power conceived of by Japanese academics refers more to the quality of diplomacy pursued and is behavior-based. From the beginning of the 2000s, Turkish decision makers have also paid attention to the nature of Turkey’s behavior in world politics.

Decision makers in Turkey and Japan have incorporated middle power policy as an effective diplomatic tool. Both countries shifted their middle power policy from a realist to a liberal approach. These policies based on a liberal approach have contributed to international society and have increased Turkey’s and Japan’s global soft power, especially during the post-Cold War period. Hence, this essay examines Turkish and Japanese foreign policies from the perspective of middle power concepts. It first discusses and defines various understandings of middle powers, and then explores the foreign policies of Turkey and Japan as illustrations of their middle power status.[3]

Classifications of Middle Power

The realist understanding of a middle power ranks states according to middling capabilities (generally in terms of GDP ranking and military power) in the hierarchy of world politics. Such middle power states hold the deciding votes in the balance of power system, especially the bipolar system.

Liberal theory provides the second approach. This group of middle power concepts has been principally developed in Canada and Australia and considers the behaviors of states rather than GDP or military influence. John Wendell Holmes, who laid the foundation for a liberal understanding of middle powers, wrote that considering “the designation of middle powers by performance beyond mere existence with intermediate-class statistics, one realizes how fleeting and intangible the status is.”[4] Behaving as a “good citizen” in neighboring regions and on the stage of world politics increases the prestige of a state and may help to expand its influence. Put simply, the (less tangible) quality or nature of diplomacy is at the core of this analysis.

After the collapse of the Cold War power structure, the liberal approach to middle powers has held some primacy, and a number of scholars have focused on state behavior. For example, John Ravenhill categorizes middle powers using the rule of 5 Cs: (diplomatic) capacity, concentration, creativity, coalition building, and credibility.[5] Diplomatic capacity does not mean GDP rankings or military expenditure, but is rather a fuller assessment, including numbers of embassies and high-quality think tanks. Concentration refers to the tailoring of diplomatic agendas and the selection of priority regions suitable to the state’s capabilities. Creativity represents diplomatic visions and leaders who can achieve these visions. Coalition building refers to making and preserving good relationships with other countries, especially neighboring states. Credibility is constructed according to the level of democracy and consistency of diplomacy.

Japan as a Middle Power

Yonosuke Nagai identifies Japan as a middle power in the realist sense in an essay published in 1973.[6] He clarified the sources of the Japanese middle power mentality as the country’s historical effort to stand among developed countries after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, its status as an immature state under U.S. protection, and its economic situation as one between developing and developed countries from the 1960s to the early 1970s.[7] In 1977, then-Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda announced the “Fukuda Doctrine,” which aimed to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world and various regions, revoked the idea of military power, and was grounded in building confident and equal partnerships with Southeast Asian countries.[8] This was the first turning point in Japan’s middle power diplomacy. After the announcement of the doctrine, many scholars began to adopt the liberal approach to the middle power concept to explain Japanese foreign policy.[9] The Fukuda Doctrine was acclaimed in terms of creativity, coalition building, and credibility. Yet the beginning of the Second Cold War after 1979 diminished space for Japan’s independent diplomacy apart from Western alliances.

In the 1980s, then-Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone declared the “nuclear-free middle power” goal. However, after the dissolution of the Soviet threat, Japanese diplomacy was forced to reinvent itself. During the Gulf crisis (1990-91), Japan was harshly criticized because it did not deploy its Self Defense Force against Iraq. The Gulf crisis was the second turning point in Japan’s middle power diplomacy, in which the Japanese government avoided great power conflicts as much as possible and contributed to so-called “non-great power commitment areas” or “minor areas” in world politics. Since then, Japan has deeply committed to three realms: UN peacekeeping operations, human security, and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).[10]

Having participated in the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia in 1989, Japan has since expanded its contributions to UN peacekeeping to include not only its civilian personnel but also its Self Defense Force after passing the International Peace Cooperation Law in June 1992.[11] The Japanese government has supported UN peacekeeping operations in Angola, Cambodia, Mozambique, El Salvador, Timor-Leste, Nepal, Sudan, Haiti, and the Republic of South Sudan.[12]

The Japanese government has placed human security at the center of its foreign policy since the Keizo Obuchi administration.[13] Then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori announced the importance of human security at the UN Millennium Summit held in September 2000 and made efforts to establish a Commission on Human Security. The commission was realized in January 2001, and Sadako Ogata, who held the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Amartya Sen were appointed as co-chairs. Following the Commission on Human Security, the Advisory Board on Human Security was established in 2003. Specifically, the Japanese government has worked to promote the human security concept, supporting the commission and advisory board and investing official development assistance (ODA) to realize human security.[14]

The Japanese commitment to the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1993 was evidence of the continuity of its Fukuda Doctrine. For Japan, Southeast Asia is a region that affords it the opportunity to promote multilateralism without harsh criticism of its past imperialist expansion as well as consideration for the United States’ prioritized security relationships, such as those in East Asia. The objectives of the ARF—to promote constructive dialogue and consultation on political and security issues and to forge confidence building and preventive diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region—are also a good fit with Japanese soft security tendencies.[15] Hence the Japanese government has actively put forward policies based on the liberal understanding of middle power in the post-Cold War period.

Turkey as a Middle Power

William Hale and Baskın Oran regard Turkey as a middle power from the realist perspective. They bear in mind that the middle power definition “depends on a mixture of the country’s military strength and its economic resources and level of development.”[16] Turkey’s Cold War policy typifies its status as a middle-ranking power. However, since 2001 Turkey’s middle power behavior has gradually shifted from realist to liberal.

The watershed event that prompted the shift was the terror attack against the United States on September 11, 2001. In February 2002, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)–European Union (EU) joint forum was held in Istanbul. Representatives from 76 countries, including 51 foreign ministers, attended and spoke about a solution to the perceived clash of civilizations between Western states and the Muslim world. Turkey not only served as the host country, but then-Foreign Minister Ismail Cem Ipekçi actively participated in the forum. According to Cem’s opening speech, the forum was a place where participants from multiple cultures could cooperate with each other and where all countries would follow a more universal standard of respect for human rights, diversity, and the prevention of terrorism.[17] He aimed to create a positive image of Turkey as a bastion against the clash of civilizations. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been the single ruling party in Turkey since 2002, has since taken over and developed Cem’s policy of tolerance and cooperation. The fact that Turkey was elected co-chair (with Spain) of the Alliance of Civilizations, established on July 14, 2005 as a new institution of the United Nations, stands as a major example of its success as a middle power from the perspective of the liberal approach.[18] According to the Alliance’s implementation plan, the function of the organization is to be a bridge-builder and convener, a catalyst and facilitator, an advocator, a platform, and a resource center for promoting understanding and trust.[19] Turkey’s decision makers conceive of the Alliance as a means of exerting the country’s national influence on international society.

Turkey has also made other contributions. Istanbul hosted the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) in May of 2011. Participation of the 192 UN member countries was high at the LDC-IV, especially in terms of actors from LDC business sectors. President Abdullah Gül emphasized that Turkey has been a strong supporter of LDCs and has provided the opportunity of “aid for investment” across a number of business areas.[20] Also, in the post-Cold War period, Turkey has stressed its aid policy toward Central Asia and the Balkan countries through the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA), established in 1992. Under the AKP government, Turkey has coordinated with TİKA and several business organizations, such as the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), the Union of Chamber and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB), and the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK), and has expanded donations to Middle Eastern and African countries. LDC-IV represented an excellent opportunity for the Turkish government and Turkey’s business organizations to showcase their international contributions.

Like the Japanese Fukuda Doctrine, Turkey’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has fronted the so-called “Davutoğlu Doctrine,” which envisions Turkey contributing to international and regional peace and stability.[21] Recently, Davutoğlu has underlined the importance of this doctrine. For example, the theme of the Fifth Annual Ambassadors Conference held in January 2013 was “humanitarian diplomacy.” In his opening speech, Davutoğlu announced three aspects of such diplomacy: to provide better services to Turkish citizens, to pay attention to crisis areas, and to participate in the humanitarian activities of the UN system.[22] In this way, Turkey has actively adopted the liberal understanding of middle power under the AKP government.


Japan and Turkey have both gradually shifted from a more realist to a more liberal approach in their middle power diplomacy, on both a policy and academic level. For Japan, the Fukuda Doctrine and the Gulf crisis were turning points in the pursuit of “good citizen” policies vis-à-vis neighboring regions and international society. For Turkey, 9/11 and the Davutoğlu Doctrine emblematize the country’s efforts to contribute to regional and international peace and stability. Both Japan and Turkey satisfy the 5 Cs authored by Ravenhill to an appreciable degree. The Japanese government stresses its preference of concentrating on human security and coalition building within Southeast Asia. Turkey makes efforts to build credibility through contributions to the UN system. Despite their varying levels of GDP and military capability, Japan and Turkey share liberal middle power preferences.

Today, Turkey and Japan are facing difficult circumstances that may complicate their “good citizen” status. The AKP’s “Davutoğlu Doctrine” has not been effective since the “Arab Spring” occurred, especially due to Syrian unrest. Japanese middle power policies are negatively affected by territorial disputes with China and South Korea. For both countries, now is the time to review liberal middle power preferences and the means of achieving credibility in the view of their own citizens, neighboring countries, and international society.

This contribution is part of the Middle East-Asia Project at the Middle East Institute.

[1] These include Turkish Foreign Policy 1774-2000 by William Hale (in English) and Turkish Foreign Policy: From the War of Independence to Today’s Events, Documents, and Explanation Vol. 1 (19191980) & Vol. 2 (19802001), edited by Baskın Oran (in Turkish). The original title of Oran’s edited books in Turkish are Türk dış politikası: kurtulş savaşından bugüne olgular, belgeler, yorumlar, Cilt 1 (19191980) & 2 (19802001) (İstanbul: Iltişm Yayınları, 2001).

[2] Bernard Wood, “Middle Powers in the International System: A Preliminary Assessment of Potential,” Wider Working Papers, The North-South Institute, Ottawa, 1987, 5-7.

[3] Concerning previous comparative studies on Japan and Turkey as middle powers, see Bahadır Pehlivantürk, “Traditional and Emerging Middle Powers: A Comparative Study of Japan and Turkey in International Politics,” Japan Association of International Relations Annual Convention 2012, 20 October 2012, Nagoya, Japan.

[4] John Holmes, “Is There a Future for Middlepowermanship?” The Better Part of Valour: Essays on Canadian Diplomacy, John Holmes, ed. (Charlottesville, VA: The University of Virginia, 1970).

[5] John Ravenhill, “Cycles of Middle Power Activism: Constraint and Choice in Australian and Canadian Foreign Policies,” Australian Journal of International Relations 52, 3 (1998): 310-313.

[6] Yonosuke Nagai, “Nichibei Chikaku Gap: Chukan Kokka Nihon no Yakuwarizo” (The Perception Gap between Japan and the United States: Japanese Role Image as Middle Power), Zikan no Seijigaku (Political Science on Time) Yonosuke Nagai, ed. (Chukososho: 1979 (originally 1973)), 140-177.

[7] Yonosuke Nagai, “Nichibei Chikaku Gap: Chukan Kokka Nihon no Yakuwarizo,” 155-157.

[8] Concerning the Fukuda Doctrine, see Sueo Sudo, The Fukuda Doctrine and ASEAN : New Dimensions in Japanese Foreign Policy (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1992).

[9] For example, see articles written by Nobuya Banba, Yoshikazu Sakamoto, and Mitsuru Yamamoto. Nobuya Banba, “Taikoku gaiko kara Teikei gaiko ye” (From the Great Power Diplomacy to the Coalition-building Diplomacy), Chuokoron (February 1977): 96-105; Yoshikazu Sakamoto, “Nihon no Ikikata: Chukankokka no kokumin no Chii” (Japanese Way of Life: The Position of Citizens in Middle Power), Sekai (January 1979): 35-53; Mitsuru Yamamoto, “Chukenkokka Nihon no Jikoninshiki” (Japanese Self-identification as Middle Power), Chuokoron (July 1979): 136-145. Sakamoto regards the middle power concept from the realist view. Banba and Yamamoto adopt the liberal approach.

[10] ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Yoshihide Soeya, Nihon no “Midoru Pawa” Gaiko: Sengo Nihon no Sentaku to Koso (Japanese “Middle Power” Diplomacy: Choices and Plans in the Post-World War II Period) (Chikuma Shinsho: 2005), 180-188.

[11] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Japan's Contribution to UN Peacekeeping Operations,” The Japanese government sent 27 civilian personnel as electoral observers to Namibia.

[13] Yoshihide Soeya, Nihon no “Midoru Pawa” Gaiko: Sengo Nihon no Sentaku to Koso, 212-214.

[14] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “The Trust Fund for Human Security: For the ‘Human-centered’ 21st Century,” 2009, fund21.pdf.

[15] “About The ASEAN Regional Forum,”

[16] William Hale, Turkish Foreign Policy: 1774-2000 (London: Frank Cass, 2002), 1.

[17] Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, OIC-EU Joint Forum: Civilization and Harmony: The Political Dimension (Ankara: Etki Yayıncılık, 2002), 260.

[18] The plan for the Alliance of Civilizations was first launched by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at the 59th Session of the UN General Assembly on September 21, 2004. The Spanish government advocated this institution in direct response to the suffering caused by the terrorist attack in Madrid on March 11, 2004. See

[20] “Speech by H.E. Abdullah Gül, President of the Republic of Turkey at the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries,” php?no=53. According to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s investment toward LDCs has amounted to more than $2 billion. He promised that the amount of Turkey’s investment toward LDCs would exceed $5 billion by 2015. “Turkey’s Economic and Technical Cooperation Package for the LDCs for the Next Decade as Announced by H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey,”.

[21] Davutoğlu also emphasized regional stability and prosperity. See Ahmet Davutoğlu, “Turkey’s Foreign Policy Vision: An Assessment of 2007,” Insight Turkey 10, 1 (2008): 77-96; Ahmet Davutoğlu “Principles of Turkish Foreign Policy and Regional Political Structuring,” SAM Vision Papers 3 (April 2012): 1-14.

[22] “Foreign Minister Davutoğlu ‘History Flowed Fast in 2012. It Will Flow Faster in 2013 and We Will Work Harder.’” See flowed-fast-in-2012.en.mfa.


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