Academic journal article Insight Turkey

The 'New Turkey' and American-Turkish Relations

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

The 'New Turkey' and American-Turkish Relations

Article excerpt

In recent years, U.S.-Turkish relations have been plagued by significant difficulties and strains. The U.S. invasion of Iraq contributed to a sharp deterioration of U.S.-Turkish relations and a visible rise in anti-American sentiment in Turkey. (2) More recently, differences over Turkey's ties to Iran and the problems in Turkish-Israeli relations have created tensions in relations with the Obama Administration and raised concerns in Washington and other Western capitals that Turkey is drifting away from the West in favor of strengthening ties with the Muslim world.

Strains in U.S.-Turkish relations are nothing new. The U.S. withdrawal of Jupiter missiles in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis precipitated a serious crisis regarding the credibility of the U.S.'s commitment to defend Turkey against outside attack. U.S.-Turkish relations also suffered a sharp downturn as a result of the 1963-1964 Cyprus crisis. The crisis prompted Ankara to broaden its security ties and reduce its dependence on Washington. The Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 precipitated an even more severe crisis. In response to the invasion, the U.S. Congress imposed an arms embargo on Turkey, which resulted in a sharp deterioration of U.S.-Turkish relations.

While these crises put severe strains on the U.S.-Turkish partnership and prompted Turkey to begin to reduce its dependence on the United States for its security, their impact was mitigated by the constraints imposed by the Cold War. In the face of an overriding Soviet threat, both sides felt the need to maintain strong security ties and not allow these disagreements to fundamentally weaken the security partnership.

Turkey's Changing Security Environment

The current strains are quite different. They are primarily the result of structural changes in Turkey's security environment, particularly since the end of the Cold War. The disappearance of the Soviet threat removed the main rationale behind the U.S.-Turkish security partnership and reduced Ankara's dependence on Washington. At the same time, it opened up new opportunities and vistas in areas that had previously been neglected or were off-limits to Turkish policy, particularly in the Middle East and the Caucasus/Central Asia. Ankara sought to exploit this new diplomatic flexibility and room for maneuver by establishing new relationships in these areas.

In addition, with the end of the Cold War, the locus of threats and challenges to Turkish security shifted. During the Cold War, the main threat to Turkish security came from the north--from the Soviet Union. Today, Turkey faces a much more diverse set of security threats and challenges: rising Kurdish nationalism and separatism; sectarian violence in Iraq, which could spill over and draw in outside powers; the possible emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran on Turkey's doorstep; and a weak, fragmented Lebanon dominated by radical groups with close ties to Iran and Syria. Most of these threats and challenges are on or close to Turkey's southern border. As a result, Turkish strategic attention is today focused much more on the Middle East than it had been in the past because this is where the key threats and challenges to Turkish security are located. In addition, Turkey's economic interests have shifted towards the east and south.

This does not mean that Turkey is turning its back on the West or that its policy is being "Islamisized," as some critics charge. Rather Turkey's recent foreign policy activism is aimed at overcoming the anomalies of the Cold War. It represents an attempt to broaden and diversify Turkey's foreign policy, not change its basic orientation.

This is not to argue that the current ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) Islamic roots have had no influence on Turkish policy, but they have not been the main driving force behind Turkish policy. Ankara's foreign policy primarily represents an attempt to adapt to Turkey's new strategic environment and exploit the new flexibility and freedom of maneuver afforded by the end of the Cold War. …

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