Historically, the Turkish foreign policy strategy is comprised of two different stages. Before evaluating these stages, there is a need to identify the objective of the newly formed Turkish government in the 1920s. The main objective of the Turkish government was to attain international recognition so as to be accepted as an equal member of international society. However, there were so many questions that were unresolved and in the beginning, indeed each question was on the table. Regarding the first stage of the Turkish foreign policy strategy; during the Lausanne Peace Negotiations, the methodology was mainly based on bilateral diplomacy. To cement this point; the government tried to discuss and solve common problems among parties in the Lausanne. However; if the problem was between two countries, then that problem was sent to an international commission, and that commission would work out a solution. If it is not realized, in the case of “Mosul” for instance, that would be reported to the League of Nations. When it comes to the second stage of the Turkish foreign policy strategy, this is simply regarding the regional cooperation initiatives that Turkey established with the neighboring countries in order to ensure a secure regional environment.  In this article, the main focus will be on two famous regional cooperations that are the “Balkan Pact” and the “Saadabad Pact”, and their comparison in terms of the main objectives and functions.

The Lausanne Peace Negotiations

Starting with the Balkan Pact, it was regional cooperation that was signed with four states that are Romania, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey. Each country had a specific reason to be a part of the pact. When their interests overlap with each other, the Balkan Pact came into question. However, it is possible to state that the containment of Bulgaria was a common concern for all the signatory powers. When it comes to the main objectives of the Balkan Pact; initially, it aimed to preserve the stability in the Balkans against some countries such as Bulgaria and Italy that pursue irredentist and revanchist policies. Therefore, all those four powers aimed to keep Bulgaria and Italy apart from each other. As it is mentioned, there were specific objectives articulated by each country. For Romania, the Balkan Pact would be welcomed since it aims to contain Bulgaria. The main reason for that issue has relied on the “Southern Dobruja” region which was taken by Romania at the end of the First World War. Because the Balkan Pact gave a guarantee to protect the territorial settlements, this would be in the interest of Romania. Secondly; there was also the “Bessarabia Problem”, today’s Moldova, and Romania wanted from Balkan Pact to function against the Soviet Union. However, the pact did not function against the USSR simply because of the reservation put by Turkey. For the Yugoslav case; if there is a spontaneous attack coming from both Italy and Bulgaria, that would overwhelm the defense system of Yugoslavia since the Dalmatian Islands were under the threat of Italian aggression. In order to prevent this, the Balkan Pact could function as a defensive union. Similar to the Yugoslavian objective, the Turkish government also desired to keep apart Bulgaria and Italy from each other since there was a delicate defense problem in both Straits and Thrace due to the restrictions imposed by the Lausanne Treaty. On the other side, there were differences in the Greek thesis. Even though the Tsaldaris government supported the same arguments issued by other signatory powers, Venizelos put pressure on the government to declare a reservation regarding attitude against Italy. According to Venizelos; if Greece obeys such terms, then Italy could blockade the Greek trade system in the Aegean and the Adriatic Sea, thereby that would be a disaster for the Greek economy. Hereby, Greece would not take up arms against Italy according to that provision. Nevertheless, there appeared an imbalance within the pact since the main objective of the pact was undermined by the Greek reservation. In that sense, other signatory powers forced the Greek government to sign bilateral military cooperation agreements, yet Greece did not participate in any of those agreements. However, this would be a disaster for Greece later on. According to Baskın Oran; in his book “Türk Dış Politikası I”, when Italy attacked Greece alone, and not in consultation with Bulgaria, the Greek government asked for support from Turkey, yet Turkey was not under obligation to help since Greece was not involved in bilateral military cooperation agreements[1]. In short, the Balkan Pact was both a political as well as military cooperation agreement, and it aimed to preserve the stable atmosphere in the Balkans. In addition to that, Balkan Pact was thought to be an extension of the French security network; but according to Mustafa Türkeş, there was no such a concern expressed in the “Little Entente of 1920 and 1921”. In other words; while Little Entente aimed to bring “German and Hungarian Question” into the table, there was no such an objective in the Balkan Pact since it was limited regional cooperation devoted to preserving stability in the Balkans[2].

The Balkan Pact Negotiations

With respect to the “Saadabad Pact”, it was also another regional cooperation initiative that was signed between Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Turkey in order to address common problems. Unlike the Balkan Pact, the Saadabad Pact has solely relied on political issues. In that sense, it was a political agreement rather than military cooperation. The signatory powers could have signed the military agreement, but none of them wanted to commit themselves in terms of territorial disputes. The main reason for this has relied on the fact that there was an actual territorial dispute between Iran and Iraq over the “Shatt – al Arab” region. Thus, they strictly refrained themselves to give a guarantee for defending each others’ borders. However, they showed goodwill that politically signatory powers could come together and discuss each other’s policies by exchanging views. Moreover, there was one common problem regarding the “Kurdish groups”. In that sense, they promised each other not to support each others’ “Fifth Column” meaning that they would not give any support to separatist movements. Especially; in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey there were Kurdish groups that participated in some revolts against the regime. Besides, they all had a common experience regarding the British policies there since Britain wanted to use those separatist groups for their own interests. Therefore, they gave a promise not to support neighboring countries’ separatist groups. In addition to this, there were also some specific reasons for each country. For instance, regional stability was so significant for Turkey as, during the 1930s, the Turkish government devoted itself to economic development strategies. In that sense, if there are peace and stability in the neighboring regions, it would give a free hand for Turkey to allocate its resources to domestic development. On the other hand, according to Afghanistan, the Saadabad Pact was not only helping to recognize the independence of Afghanistan but also provided some sort of stability for their modernization reforms in the 1930s. In that sense, consolidation of recognition was the main objective for them. To sum up, Saadabad Pact was political cooperation rather than a military agreement, and each signatory state agreed that they do not support any fight in the region. Those conditions simply showed that signatory powers were seeking a peaceful atmosphere and good neighborliness relations knowing the fact that violence would exhaust their accumulated capital. Instead, they wanted to allocate those accumulated resources into their economic development plans and domestic strategies. To cement this point, Turkey became a center of attraction, and even sometimes those newly formed independent states were inspired by the “Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s Reformation”, and started to implement similar modernization attempts in their countries.

In conclusion, it is possible to say that although the nature of those two regional cooperation initiatives had similar aims, they also include major differences in itself. On the one hand, there is a precise defensive unity in the Balkan Pact which articulates not only political but also military characteristics since each signatory powers had their own problematic conditions regarding their defense policy and geopolitical concerns and threats. On the other hand, although it also had an objective of securing the borders, the main objective of the Saadabad Pact was mainly articulated as the “non – aggression” and “good neighborliness relations”. Therefore, it possessed only political characteristics, and it was not designated to change the international order, rather it was formed to address certain problems that signatory powers faced.


[1] Oran, B. ( 2001). Türk Dış Politikası – Cilt 1 (1919 – 1980) .

[2] Türkeş, M. (2020). The Transition from the Ottoman Empire to Turkish Republic – Lecture Notes.

Middle East Technical University, Department of International Relations
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