Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Turkey-EU-US Triangle in Perspective: Transformation or Continuity?

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

The Turkey-EU-US Triangle in Perspective: Transformation or Continuity?

Article excerpt

This article examines the delicate dynamics of the triangle of Turkey-EU-US relations. While acknowledging the role of the United States in promoting close links between Turkey and the EU, this study underlines the limits of American influence on EU decision-making on issues concerning "deep integration." In this context, the future of this triangular relation depends on the interplay of contending forces in Turkey's domestic political arena as well as the dynamics of trans-Atlantic relations in the international scene.

The first major war of the 21st century lasted only 21 days. Yet the US invasion of Iraq left a tremendous mark not only in Iraq and the volatile Middle East, but also intensified the already emerging trans-Atlantic rift and set the Turkish-American alliance on a troublesome path. The military victory came rather quickly for the United States. However, translating military victory into a political one and achieving longterm peace and stability, as well as restoring the delicate balance of the TurkeyEuropean Union-US triangle proves to be a much more challenging task for all the parties concerned.

Turkey had been an important ally of the United States throughout the Cold War era. With the end of the Cold War and the absence of the Soviet threat, Turkey's geostrategic importance came under increasing scrutiny. After a temporary interlude in the early 1990s, however, the strategic partnership between the two countries was restored on a new basis. Yet, Turkish-American relations came under severe challenge during the early months of 2003 in the context of the War in Iraq, following the failure of the Turkish Parliament on March 1 to authorize the deployment of US troops to Iraq via Turkish territory. Clearly, this was interpreted as a major blow by the Bush Administration, resulting in a serious setback in the long-standing TurkishAmerican partnership. What is interesting for our purposes is the impact of this rupture in Turkish-US relations on Turkey's relations with the European Union. The relevance of this question increases at a time when the Iraq War has resulted in a massive rift in the trans-Atlantic alliance as well as generating deep divisions within the "New Europe" itself.

This article makes the following main arguments. First, the role of the United States in promoting closer links between Turkey and the EU, both historically and in the more recent context, has indeed been critical. Yet, one also needs to recognize the limits to American influence on the EU in decisions concerning "deep integration." This became particularly evident in the context of the Copenhagen summit of December 2002, when explicit pressure by the Bush Administration in support of accelerated progress for Turkish membership appeared to have backfired. second, the war on Iraq has pushed Turkey closer to the EU and accelerated the reform process on the economic and democratization fronts in line with the EU's Copenhagen criteria. In retrospect, the war has helped to tilt the balance of power within Turkey's domestic politics further in the direction of the "pro-EU coalition" which had already been gathering strength particularly since the Helsinki decision of 1999 granting Turkey candidate status. Moreover, the more credible set of incentives from the EU since the Helsinki summit, in addition to giving momentum to Turkey's transition from a procedural to substantive democracy and helping to transform its economy, also gave way to a closer alignment of Turkey's foreign policy with the major European powers leading to a relative "Europeanization" of Turkish foreign policy. Finally, the fact that short-term dynamics appear to favor closer relations between Turkey and the EU should not lead to the misleading interpretation that Turkey would be able to achieve smooth and rapid progress towards EU membership in the absence of US support. While in the December 2004 summit the EU had set a date to start the accession negotiations with Turkey, the thorny path towards Turkey's full membership is still full of difficulties and uncertainties. …

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