6681 think-tanks were included in the 2014 Think Tanks and Civil Society Programme World’s Best Think Tank Rankings (UPENN Index) of Pennsylvania University. According to this year’s report, 31 think tanks exist in Turkey, and Turkey was assessed within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The main notion that should be discussed herein is that some of those countries that are socio-economically underdeveloped possess more think tanks than Turkey. For instance, in Palestine, where a constant war atmosphere is evident, 44 think tanks exists, whereas, in Egypt, according to this report, 57 think tanks are active. In a way the UPENN index serves as the official record that the globally competing think tanks are the only ones that are residing on the sieving. Similar to the leadership of the United States in the world’s best universities ranking, US continues to be a pioneer in terms of think tanks by possessing 1831 of such institutions. The closest follower China, holds 429, and Russia holds 122 think tanks. Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), Association for Liberal Thinking (ALT), Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), International Strategic Analysis and Research Center (USTAD), Istanbul Policy Center (IPM), Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), Strategic Outlook (SO), European Stability Initiative (ESI), International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) and Education Reform Initiative (ERI) were the only Turkish institutions that have entered the UPENN ranking.
Turkey’s turbulent political life with frequent coup d’états has had a great impact on the limited number of think tanks of Turkey. Under this framework and according to the report, North Korea, governed by a dictatorship, holds 4 think tanks. It can be stated that in a way countries that suffer from geopolitical complications or (Iraq possesses 42, Israel possesses 59) does not reside in a democratic environment (Saudi Arabia possesses 7, Syria possesses 6 think tanks) own less think tanks. With this interpretation, it can be stated that, in conjunction with an increase in the amount of think tanks in Turkey being directly proportional to the conditions of Turkish democracy, the number of think tanks standing below the expected rank displays the problematic conditions of the Turkish think tanks.
First of all, think tanks in Turkey attribute a great importance to “nameplates” but the main issue of large think tanks such as BILGESAM, SDE and SETA with nice facilities in Ankara and Istanbul not appearing in the list is open to debate. By means of budget, BILGESAM, SDE and SETA have millions of dollars; but despite this, the biggest problem of these three establishments originates from spending the budget on nameplates rather than research and development. This condition is such explicit that evident the English webpages of BILGESAM, SDE and SETA are far from update. The world cannot catch up with the emerging developments in Turkey from think tanks and therefore is obliged to catch up via English newspapers ( Hurriyet Daily News, Daily Sabah). The only think thank that can constantly broadcast up to date in English is the Konya based in think tank, Strategic Outlook, which has been on the UPENN index since 2013. The inability of the establishments to publish analysis and reports in English, unfortunately, diminishes the global competitiveness of the Turkish think tanks. Another problem of the think tanks in Turkey is that they are afloat with state support and it is at this very specific point a great predicament exists. At the same time, think tanks are non-governmental organizations. Civil society, with its briefest definition, identifies the area between the individual and the state; in another words, it is not possible for think tanks to have the opportunity to obtain a successful and sustainable achievement while strongly attached to the state. The apparent example for this in Turkey is Turkey’s first grand think tank ASAM, which existed with Ülker’s financial support, and its rapid disappearance when Ülker withdraw its support subsequent to a government change. Therefore, the economic dependency of think tanks to the state has a negative affect on the sustainability of the think tanks, as evident with the ASAM example, and this results in a trend that targets domestic policy rather than foreign policy.
Another deficiency of Turkish think tanks is that they do not have regional experts. Such that the academicians or writers that follow the recent developments of Turkey - Armenia relations are individuals that have probably never been to Armenia before. In short, the biggest deficiency of the think tanks in Turkey is that instead of raising experts that possess regional knowledge, these institutions employ an expert and then analyze regional developments. For the Caucasian region, mainly Azerbaijani experts are introduced as being experts on Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. In brief, think tanks in Turkey should place further importance to regional studies. In this regard Turkey has gone through the bitterest experience during the Syrian Crisis. It has been understood with the Syrian crisis that a Syria expert that knows Syria, be able to prepare analytical reports and be fluent in speaking regional languages did not exist in the think tanks of Turkey.
The states that have the world’s best think tanks are the ones that also have the best news agencies. Deutsche Welle, Reuters, CNN, BBC have raised experienced journalists through initially employing reporters and field experts in diverse regions. The majority of Turkey’s biggest media companies are members to the abovementioned foreign news agencies, but due to financial matters, they have made huge cuts on sending journalists to the fields. The decrease in the amount of journalists that have conducted field study have a negative effect on the dynamism of the think tanks in Turkey. Employing journalists interested in foreign policy within the think tanks in Turkey would contribute greatly to the accuracy of the foresights and reports on the region.
As a result improving the capacity along with the improvement of quality is not something that could be achieved in a short period of time but it is also not an impossible feat. Under this framework, ensuring Turkish think tanks to stand upright and concentrate on regional studies would assist the appearance of think tanks that base in Turkey (in local terms) and enable them to perform services in global circles.