How have middle powers reacted to and positioned themselves in the changing international environment since the 2000s? What factors determine and impact these middle powers’ foreign policies? Classical international relations theories have focused primarily on the relationship between the great powers and, to a lesser extent, on the asymmetrical relations between the great and middle powers. Considering the significant transformations since the 2000s — the rise of non-Western powers, including China and Russia, rapid globalization and growing interdependence between actors in the international system — the “to choose is to lose” mentality has become the common denominator for middle powers struggling with intense great power competition. The present research contributes to the theoretical knowledge and empirical assessment of the middle powers in the changing international order over the last two decades by analyzing global, regional, and domestic dynamics in Malaysia and Turkey. By comparing Malaysia and Turkey, two middle powers with significant differences in their historical legacies, economic structures, geo-political positions, and socio-political trajectories, the present study argues that middle powers seek autonomy in the changing international order, as supported by their partial autarky, participation in international mechanisms, and diversification of foreign policy options. Furthermore, the outcome of their autonomy-seeking ambitions is determined by their needs for domestic political legitimacy, asymmetric interdependence, and security challenges.
Yalkun Uluyol is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Social and Administrative Science at Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey. He is currently a visiting scholar at IKMAS, UKM, as a recipient of the TÜBİTAK International Grant. He holds BA in Economics from Istanbul University. His major fields of interest include comparative politics and international political economy, and his research focuses on the rise of China and its implications for the dynamics of the international order. He is now working on his Ph.D. dissertation entitled “Middle Powers in the Changing International Order: Malaysia and Turkey in Comparative Perspectives,” supervised by Prof. Dr. Ziya Öniş. His article, “Emerging partnership in a post-Western world? The political economy of China-Turkey relations,” co-authored with Prof. Öniş, was published in Southeast European and Black Sea Studies. He is also the co-author of the report “Driving Force: Automotive Supply Chains and Forced Labor in the Uyghur Region,” published by Sheffield Hallam University, Kennedy Center for International Justice.