Magazine article World Affairs

The U.S.-Turkish Alliance in Disarray

Magazine article World Affairs

The U.S.-Turkish Alliance in Disarray

Article excerpt

During the late 1940s, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan brought U.S. military and economic aid to Turkey to help it withstand Soviet encroachments. For its part, Turkey proved to be a particularly brave and valuable ally of the United States during the Korean War (1950-53). Thus, their shared geopolitical interests paved the way for a mutually valuable strategic alliance that was formalized when Turkey joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952 and began to anchor the alliance's southeastern flank containing Soviet communist expansion. The United States also began to hold Turkey in high esteem as a secular democratic Muslim state offering an important model for other states in the geostrategically important Middle East. Turkey continued to receive valuable U.S. economic and military aid. Despite their great national differences, the United States and Turkey became staunch allies following World War II.

Even with the end of the cold war, the United States continued to tout Turkey's significance as a strategic ally helping to bring stability to the former Yugoslavia and Somalia, while combating terrorism and political threats from such rogue states as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Syria. Turkey's failure to support the U.S. northern front in the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003, however, has called into question the future of its alliance with the United States.

The purpose of this article is to analyze whether this signals the end of the long-standing U.S.-Turkish alliance. Before tackling this question, however, it would be useful to review briefly some of the more pertinent theoretical literature on alliance formation and termination, the heyday of the U.S.-Turkish alliance, and earlier alliance problems between the two.


Alliances are created to enable their members to achieve shared goals and are then disbanded when the goals have either been achieved or are no longer pertinent. Consequently, alliances usually tend to be short lived. According to Robert E. Osgood, an alliance is "a latent war community, based on general cooperation that goes beyond formal provisions and that the signatories must continually estimate in order to preserve mutual confidence in each other's fidelity to specified obligations." (1) Alliances, therefore, usually are created in situations in which conflict or its threat is present. (2)

George F. Liska and William R. Riker agree that alliances or coalitions disband once they have achieved their objective, because they are formed essentially "against, and only derivatively for, someone or something." (3) Although a "sense of community" may reinforce alliances, it seldom will bring them into existence. In creating alliances to achieve some desired goal, decision makers weigh their costs and rewards. The decision to join an alliance is made based on perceived rewards exceeding costs. Each state considers the marginal utility from alliance membership as contrasted with non-membership. In the end, the durability of an alliance "rests on the relationship between internal and external pressures, bearing on the ratio of gains to liabilities for individual allies." (4) Once costs exceed rewards, the decision to end an alliance will be made.

According to Liska, states join alliances for security, stability, and status. To these, Riker adds the threat of reprisal if they refuse to ally, the receipt of payments of one kind or another, the obtainment of promises about policy or future decisions, or the gaining of emotional satisfaction. Once these goals have been achieved, the size of the alliance must be reduced for the remaining alliance partners to accomplish further objectives. In addition, of course, alliances are necessary to attain a balance of power that will maintain peace and stability. Thus, the creation of one alliance usually calls forth that of a counteralliance. Moreover, when one alliance is on the brink of victory, neutral actors often ally with the weaker alliance to prevent the stronger one from gaining hegemony. …

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