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Turkish-Made Drone Akinci's Charm Offensive In Iran: How Can Hard Power Be A Tool Of Soft Power?

21.05.2024 17:12

In Türkiye’s dictionary, defense, military, and advanced technological instruments are not solely confined to hard power applications.

By M. Nazmul Islam

M. Nazmul Islam is the head of Türkiye, Asia, and Indo-Pacific studies (TAIPS) at the Institute for International Relations and Strategic Research (ULISA), and an assistant professor of political science and public Administration at Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University (AYBU).

ISTANBUL (AA) — From Ukraine to Azerbaijan, Libya to the Maldives, Somalia to Syria, Ethiopia to Bangladesh, Qatar to Burkina Faso, or Kyrgyzstan to Pakistan, Türkiye's drone industry has emerged as a key instrument of soft power. This is evident in its assistance in Ukraine and its involvement in search and rescue missions in Iran. The concept of soft power, introduced in the 1990s, emphasizes cultural attraction, political values, and foreign policy as a non-coercive means of influence, particularly from a Western and American standpoint. [1] However, a critical gap in this concept is the exploration of how non-Western countries conceptualize and implement strategies of soft power. [2]

By addressing this gap, Türkiye has effectively utilized its cultural, humanitarian, media, and public diplomacy attraction, leveraging assets from its defense industry as instruments of "power of bonding." [3] Türkiye's integration of hard power into its soft power strategy can be seen as a model for leveraging military assets within a civilized and humanitarian framework. This approach illustrates how a country's military and hard power tools can be employed in direct or indirect warfare, military interventions, defense agreements, arms sales, security provision, rescue operations, and training programs. [4] In Türkiye's dictionary, defense, military, and advanced technological instruments are not solely confined to hard power applications. Instead, they serve as tools of diplomatic, political, economic, and humanitarian attraction. This multifaceted approach illustrates how these instruments have evolved into means of "defense diplomacy" and technological attraction in various countries globally.

In a notable instance, Turkish drones have emerged as a powerful symbol of humanitarian efforts, extending their influence beyond the battlefield to virtual realms and cultural expressions, such as poetry and song. This was recently exemplified by a Ukrainian song that gained international recognition, with lyrics that praised the Bayraktar drone: "The occupiers came to us in Ukraine, with brand new uniforms and military vehicles, but their inventory melted into steel … Bayraktar!"

Akinci's soft attraction in Iran

After the Turkish Akinci drone identified the helicopter wreckage and detected heat sources believed to be the crash site of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in East Azerbaijan province, the Iranian search team successfully located the downed helicopter. They finally recovered the dead bodies of President Raisi in the mountainous terrain. This critical search-and-rescue mission was initiated when the Iranian government requested a search helicopter equipped with night-vision capabilities. [5]

Although the procedure was entirely official and initiated by Iran, Türkiye accepted the request promptly. The Turkish Foreign Ministry forwarded the request to the National Defense Ministry, which received Presidential approval on the same day of the incident, May 19, 2024, for the use of a drone abroad. Türkiye completed all preparations within two hours. Following Iranian formalities, the drone departed from Türkiye's eastern Batman province at 11.30 p.m. local time (2030GMT), reaching the crash suspected site an hour and 15 minutes later. The drone identified the helicopter wreckage at 2.36 a.m. and relayed this information to Iranian authorities. The mission concluded at 6.45 a.m. the next day on May 20, when the drone returned to Turkish airspace. [6]

The softest attraction that the Akinci drone garnered was through its direct connection with the international community. During its surveillance mission, Turkish news agency Anadolu initiated a live stream on X, broadcasting footage from the drone. This stream peaked at 3.1 million viewers and, by 10.00 a.m. on Tuesday, May 21, had been watched by nearly 6 million people.

In addition to its search and rescue mission in Iran, the Akinci conducted a symbolic gesture on its return flight to Türkiye. On its flight path, the drone traced a crescent and star — emblems of the Turkish flag — thereby generating its own form of soft power and leaving a symbolic mark for the international community.

Why Akinci?

Having first taken to the skies on Dec. 6, 2019, the Akinci was integrated into the Turkish military's inventory as of Aug. 29, 2021. Capable of flying at altitudes of up to 40,000 feet, it can cover expansive areas over a period of over 24 hours, during which it can remain airborne.

Türkiye offered the Akinci, manufactured and developed by Istanbul-based drone maker Baykar, for its high-speed capacity, enabled by its high-altitude flight capabilities and advanced thermal technology. This was particularly crucial during the search, as helicopters were grounded due to adverse weather conditions. The drone operated at altitudes as low as 100 meters (about 328 feet) over mountainous terrain, despite the challenging weather. It was evident that Iran lacked a drone capable of performing such a search and rescue mission, although it has claimed to manufacture a significant number of drones.

One thing is obvious: Locating the wreckage of the helicopter would have been significantly more challenging for Tehran without the Akinci drone's help. Türkiye's timely intervention was crucial, as Iran lacked alternative options and had to rely on its neighbor's advanced defense technology. This incident once again demonstrated to the global community the need to recognize Türkiye's capacity and commitment to fulfilling its humanitarian responsibilities through its defense attraction.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu.

[1] Nye, Joseph S. (1990). Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. New York: Basic Books.

[2] Islam, M.N. (2023). Power of Bonding and Non-Western Soft Power Strategy in Iran. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-031-19867-0

[3] Islam, M.N. (2023). Power of Bonding and Non-Western Emerging Great Powers Engagement: Comparing China and India's Soft Power Strategy in Pakistan. New York: Lexington, Rowman & Littlefield. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781666920994/Power-of-Bonding-and-Non-Western-Emerging-Great-Powers-Engagement-Comparing-China-and-India%E2%80%99s-Soft-Power-Strategy-in-Pakistan

[4] Fahim, M., & Islam, M. N. (2023). Middle Power's Soft Engagement: Whether Hard Power Can Be a Tool of Soft Power?. Arab World Geographer, 26(2). https://meridian.allenpress.com/awg/article-abstract/26/2/180/493465/Middle-Power-s-Soft-Engagement-Whether-Hard-Power'redirectedFrom=PDF

[5] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/turkiye-s-akinci-uav-identifies-source-of-heat-suspected-to-be-crash-site-of-iranian-president-s-helicopter/3224277

[6] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/turkish-akinci-drone-located-helicopter-wreckage-of-iranian-president/3225053 -

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