echnology has always been a determining factor of state power and their position in the international arena. While it has an immense impact on a state’s economy, technological development is directly translated into military power as well. Within this framework, one can argue that the United States becoming the sole superpower after the Cold War is primarily the result of the technological monopoly it created. This gave the U.S. the opportunity to create an international system based on so-called liberal values, which indeed were used and best served American and Western interests.
Most of the states were obliged to act in accordance with the U.S. system due to their technological dependence on the United States. Considering the unfair and unstable international conjecture of our times, technological development has become an imperative for states that aim to make their voice heard. Turkey has emerged as a leading state within this group: not only does it intend to increase its role in the international arena by taking advantage of this technological revolution, but most importantly, it aims to bring an end to the technological monopoly that has given rise to an unjust world.
Within this perspective, Turkey has conceptualized its efforts into the “National Technological Move” vision, which was officially announced in 2019. For many years, internal and external restraining factors affecting its position in the international arena hampered Turkey’s development and adversely affected the confidence of its people in the state’s capacity. In addition to the breakthroughs of Vecihi Hürkuş and Nuri Demirağ, examples such as Devrim Otomobili showed how national and domestic initiatives were stopped or blocked. However, in the last decade, overcoming the holding factors and paving the way for national technological initiatives have been the driving forces of Turkey’s national policies.
Breakthroughs that should not be forgotten
Even though the “National Technological Move” was officially announced in 2019, the roots of technological development in Turkey go way back to the beginning of the 1920s. The first example is Vecihi Hürküş who dreamt of nationalizing the Turkish aviation forces. Hürküş was able to develop the first Turkish airplane known as “Vecihi K-VI” in 1924. At that time, instead of being encouraged, Hürküş was sentenced to prison as the flight didn’t have an official permission. Later on, Hürküş founded the Vecihi Civil Aircraft Schools, the first Turkish aviation school which following a lack of support and funding closed.
Nuri Demirdağ is another example where contemporary external and internal forces in Turkey prevented the development of indigenous technology. Demirdağ was one of first figures in Turkey who emphasized the importance of domestic, national, and original production – the main pillars of today’s “National Technological Move” vision. In 1936, Demirağ supported the development and production of an indigenous aircraft, known as “NU D-36.” However, Demirdağ’s aircraft not only was not used in Turkey but the government at the time prohibited its export.
Similarly, due to the lack of support from the government, the project of Devrim Otomobili, the first Turkish-made car, didn’t continue and another domestic production was laid aside.
The evolution of the “National Technological Move”
Not able to rely on its domestic production, Turkey has been compelled to be dependent on foreign technologies and products. However, while in the short term, foreign technologies and products have at some point served the interest of Ankara, in the long term, they are inefficient and restrictive. Indeed, being depended on foreign assets, impeded Turkey from developing and producing critical technologies, and the country was unable to follow policies in accordance with its national interests. Specifically, the dependency on other states, especially the U.S., has in many cases negatively impacted Turkey’s foreign policy. Johnson’s letter of 1964 and the embargo imposed on Turkey after the Cyprus Peace Operation in 1974 are cases in point.
Indeed, these two examples can be seen as the beginning of the “National Technological Move” vision. At that time, the Turkish administration experienced in the clearest way how being dependent on American technology posed a danger to its national interests and, therefore, a change in mentality was needed. Yet, the political changes didn’t occur until the late 1990s and early 2000s. Specifically, the Turkish governments at that time, aiming to achieve independence from external actors especially in the defense sector, took decisions that would support the development of national projects. These decisions are seen as the starting point of several successful national projects today such as the Bayraktar TB2 UAV, the MİLGEM warship, or the ATAK helicopter.
Alongside the defense sector, the mentality of national and domestic production is to be implemented in other sectors as well. The “National Energy and Mining Policy” laid out in 2017 was a manifestation of the policies that aimed at independence from external actors by bringing to the fore the need for self-sufficiency.
As the discussions of Turkey’s technological vision gained impetus, the Ministry of Industry and Technology took an important step by publishing the “2023 Industry and Technology Strategy” in September 2019, in which the term “National Technology Move” was officially announced for the first time. Specifically, the “National Technology Move” was built on the foundations of “domestic, national and original,” through which Turkey aims to become one of the technologically developed states on the international scene.
The political meaning of the “National Technological Move”
Challenging the technological monopoly of other powers and strengthening Ankara’s independence from external actors by following self-sufficient policies lie at the core of Turkey’s “National Technological Move” vision.
For many years, the U.S. has been the dominant actor in terms of technological innovations. Nevertheless, lately, there is a rivalry of great powers between the U.S. and China. Technology has been at the heart of this competition, considering the great impact of technology on economic development, and the position of states in the international system. While the U.S. is trying to maintain its monopoly, China has clearly stated its ambition to leapfrog the U.S. in technological developments.
This has paved the way for a possible decoupling between the great powers which has a profound impact on the other states and the international system itself. As these developments go on, other powers, such as Turkey, are trying to create opportunities so as in the future they are not obliged to either follow or be dependent on one technological power, or to be compelled to choose between two powers, in this case the U.S. and China.
By doing so, Turkey aims to enter the game as a power in and of itself, minimizing its dependency on other actors which would limit its power, as we have witnessed in the past. To achieve this, Turkey has been urging technological self-sufficiency, a policy followed by many states, for example, China and the U.S. in terms of chip production.
As a result, Ankara is aiming to benefit the most from the current Fourth Industrial Revolution though the “National Technological Move” vision. Without doubt this will give Turkey the possibility to emerge as an important regional and global power in the future. While powers like the U.S. and China are engaging in continuous competitiveness, it is an essential prerequisite for Turkey to depend on its own capabilities. Only if Turkey is successful in these steps, will it be able to follow independent and autonomous policies with its national interest at their core.