Magazine article DISAM Journal

Invigorating the U.S.-Turkey Strategic Partnership

Magazine article DISAM Journal

Invigorating the U.S.-Turkey Strategic Partnership

Article excerpt

[The following are excerpts from a speech delivered at Turgot Ozal Memorial Lecture at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, DC, June 24, 2008.]

Like Turkey itself, U.S.-Turkey relations have navigated remarkable transitions over the past 50 years. Today, we are living in perhaps the most exciting period. Timeworn cliche about Turkey, such as "bulwark against the Soviet Union" or "NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] Ally since the Korean War" or "bridge between East and West," are being updated with new concepts, such as "energy hub" and "vibrant, emerging market."

All of these cliches retain a certain degree of truth. But they reflect a static and simplified view of U.S.-Turkish relations. Today, the U.S. Government's appreciation of Turkey's geo-strategic significance is evolving in new and positive ways. Today, we are starting to understand Turkey's multiple identities. Turkey is not merely a bridge; it is a society whose soul lies in both East and West, with a strategic and cultural reach extending from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Caucasus to the Balkans, Berlin, and Amsterdam. At the same time, Turkey is a strategic link between North and South, lying at the center of an extended Black Sea region that connects the European Union, Russia, and Ukraine with the Middle East.

With a more sophisticated appreciation of Turkey's economic, diplomatic, and cultural might, the United States enjoys new opportunities to pursue the shared interests and common values that unite our two great countries. No factor is more significant in elevating Turkey's strategic relevance today than its vibrant democracy. Turkey's constitutional principles of democracy, secularism, and the rule of law can inspire reformers in the broader Middle East and beyond who seek the same political and economic freedoms and the same opportunities to improve their societies as do the citizens of the Turkish Republic.

We are thus in the process of updating our strategic concepts. To understand more deeply the opportunities before us, we should first take a brief look backward at how U.S.-Turkey relations have developed over the past decade.

During the 1990s, Turkey began fully to enjoy the fruits of Turgut Ozal's groundbreaking reforms; and Prime Minister Erdogan has continued this important reform effort. Ankara and Washington recognized an opportunity to build a new bilateral relationship. Our Cold War conception of Turkey as the cornerstone of NATO's Southern Flank, blunting Soviet ambitions and hosting key NATO military assets and Incirlik Airbase, was becoming outdated. As Turkey's economy grew, so did its demand for energy, along with its ambitions to reconnect with Turkic populations in the Caucasus and Central Asia. At the same time, the United States sought to help the newly independent states of Central Asia and the Caucasus cement their independence by connecting their economies to European and global markets. Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev welcomed international investors to help develop the Caspian Basin's mammoth oil and gas reserves. Then-Turkish President Suleyman Demirel worked with these leaders, and with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, to develop a revitalized concept of the Great Silk Road in the version of an East-West Corridor of oil and natural gas pipelines.

And so, a new U.S.-Turkey strategic partnership was born, with energy as a centerpiece. The United States and Turkey worked together in pursuit of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline and the South Caucasus Gas Pipeline (SCP) to connect Azerbaijan's oil and natural gas reserves with European and global markets. Meanwhile, Turkey was developing a strategic partnership with Israel, bringing together the Middle East's only two democracies at that time to pursue their common security and economic interests. …

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