Turkey’s Covid-19 Diplomacy as a Model for Soft Power, By Dr. Begüm Burak

Turkey’s Covid-19 Diplomacy as a Model for Soft Power, By Dr. Begüm Burak

Turkey’s Covid-19 Diplomacy as a Model for Soft Power[1]

Dr. Begüm Burak[2]



The Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic which emerged in China in late 2019 spread all over the world in a short time and caused significant changes and transformations in both domestic and foreign policies of almost all countries. It can be said that one of the main triggering factors in the recent change in Turkey's foreign policy has been the Coronavirus pandemic. Turkey’s changing foreign policy in this process can be defined as “Covid-19 Diplomacy” This article is an attempt to address the impact of the Coronavirus on Turkey's foreign policy within the framework of the “soft power” concept.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic spread in a very short period and quickly reshuffled the domestic and foreign policy priorities of many countries. As of January 30, 2022, 5.677,607 people died so far from COVID-19.

The pandemic was initially seen as a crisis that could be managed. However, with the increasing number of global deaths, it became clear that this was not possible. Although the development of a vaccine is promising, the rapid spread of the virus and the rise in the number of virus mutations suggests that returning to any kind of normal is a long way off. The pandemic hit developed countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom particularly hard. So far, steps taken by the UN and other international organizations to manage the humanitarian crises have been insufficient.

Turkey and the Pandemic

The first case of the pandemic in Turkey was detected in Istanbul and was shared with the public on the night of March 10, 2020, with the statement of Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca. Turkey has taken different steps in both domestic and foreign policy approaches compared to previous periods due to the pandemic. “Soft Power” and Humanitarian Diplomacy”, two relatively new concepts in the discipline of International Relations can be seen as two important analysis elements in understanding the developments in Turkish foreign policy in the context of COVID-19. 

Soft Power

The concept of soft power was first used to describe the power of the United States in the aftermath of the Cold War. This concept was first used by Joseph Nye in Bound To Lead: The Changing Nature Of American Power in 1990. While hard power is defined as the ability of an actor to influence other actors through economic and military coercion; values, policies, cultural elements, and institutions are important resources in the use of soft power.

 The most important feature of soft power is the ability to build trust rather than using coercion. Nye describes soft power as a tool for cooperation and influence rather than coercion.

Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA)

After the Cold War, Turkey has gained more importance with its geopolitical position and identity. Ahmet Davutoğlu in 2008, the Foreign Minister of the time, emphasized Turkey's power in the globalizing world not only in terms of foreign policy and geopolitics but also in terms of economy and identity. This can also be seen as elements of “soft power”

TİKA (Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency) was established in 1992 to develop strong collaborative ties especially in the Turkic Republics and in the natural geography of our country, where we are historically and culturally attached. TİKA was established with the Statutory Decree-Law No. 480 under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. TİKA carried out economic, social, and cultural activities until 1995, after which it began to concentrate on cooperation in the field of education and culture.  In 2011, as a result of Turkey’s dynamic foreign policy initiatives and the driving force of the major global and regional shifts, to increase the effectiveness of the development cooperation process, the organizational structure of TİKA was restructured.

Turkey’s Medical Assistance as Exercise of Soft Power

In the fight against the pandemic, throughout the Middle East region, Iraq, Iran, and the Gaza Strip have been among the actors that received medical assistance from Turkey. In the Balkans, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Northern Macedonia, and Georgia received medical assistance.

In addition to these countries, protective equipment packages were sent to countries such as Colombia, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Pakistan. Besides the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency-TIKA, the Turkish Red Crescent sent medical assistance as well. The Turkish Red Crescent provided medical assistance to the Dominican Republic, Sudan, Poland, Haiti, and Moldova.

In “Our role and mission during the Coronavirus pandemic” report published by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, it notes that 158 countries have made medical aid requests to Turkey and it has sent medical assistance to 155 countries so far. In this process, Turkey has extended a hand to help disadvantaged groups in different geographies. Turkey provided humanitarian assistance to refugees in countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Sudan, Tunisia, and Romania.


American political scientist Joseph Nye coined the concept of “soft power” in the late 1980s to describe post-Cold War era politics. Nye defines “soft power” as a source of attraction and persuasion necessary to control others beyond military power. Nye describes soft power elements as cultural, ideological, and institutional and notes that soft power elements can be used to influence other actors more easily.

It can be said that Turkey through providing medical aid to various countries from different geographies has effectively used soft power elements in the fight against Coronavirus. It is known that during the Covid-19 crisis, medical aid through government institutions such as TIKA (Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency) has intensified. The main argument of this article is that Turkey's Covid-19 diplomacy has contributed to its soft power as well as building new relations and improving existing relations.

The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) has been the agency tasked with leading Turkey’s corona-diplomacy efforts. Turkey, through sending medical assistance to various countries has exercised soft power during the pandemic. Turkey’s COVID-19 diplomacy can be seen as a foreign policy approach dominated by the use of soft power.


[1] This issue was presented by the author in the International Conference with the Theme: Modern World Challenges: Regulating Human Rights, Social Security and Welfare in Contemporary Multicultural World,
on 21  December 2021.

[2] Begüm Burak received her BA degree from Marmara University and MA degree from Istanbul University. She made her PhD study with the thesis titled “The Image of the Undesired Citizens in Turkey: A Comparative Critical Discourse Analysis of the Hürriyet and Zaman Newspapers” in Fatih University in 2015. During her occupation as a teaching assistant, she got engaged in short-term academic activities in Italy, the United Kingdom, Bosnia and Spain. Her profile: https://independentresearcher.academia.edu/BegumBurak


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