Is The United States Losing Turkey?

Policy Paper
March 26, 2007

On February 5th and 6th, 2007, the Hudson Institute, with support from the Smith Richardson Foundation, convened a small workshop of noted specialists on Turkey, Europe, and international security to assess the state of America’s alliance with Turkey and, more specifically, to ascertain whether the United States risks “losing” Turkey as a long-time and critical ally. The workshop was part of a project directed by Rajan Menon, Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University and Fellow at the New America Foundation. S. Enders Wimbush, Director of the Center for Future Security Strategies at the Hudson Institute, served as chairman of the workshop. This report, while it draws on the discussions that occurred during the workshop, is an independent analysis written by Messrs. Menon and Wimbush. The memoranda prepared by the experts in advance of the workshop and the list of participants appear in the appendix to this document.

The alliance between the United States and Turkey, which has endured since the 1947 Truman Doctrine and has contributed to the security of both countries, is now in serious trouble. What is worse, neither side is facing up to this reality, let alone taking serious remedial measures, nor even making concerted efforts to understand the new political currents within each other’s societies.

If this neglect continues, the price paid by both sides will be steep. It is becoming increasingly clear that Washington and Ankara see the world and define their interests in divergent ways. If allowed to continue, this trend could well undo the alliance. The good news is that there is still time to act, providing senior leaders on both sides move with dispatch. It is urgent that they do so, for despite the end of the Cold War, which provided a clear rationale for their alliance for four decades, Ankara and Washington still need each other, perhaps more so because they now face multiple and unfamiliar threats, not least those posed by terrorism.

The most important source of discord between Turkey and the United States is the war in Iraq. Ankara fears that Iraq will break up as a result of the war and that a separate Kurdish state will arise, creating even greater disorder and stoking separatist sentiment in Turkey’s southeast, and increasing paramilitary and terrorist attacks by the Kurdish separatist organization, the PKK. Washington, for its part, feels betrayed by the Turkish parliament’s rejection of its request to open a second front from Turkey’s territory against Saddam Hussein’s army in the run-up to the 2003 war. But more fundamentally, the Bush administration is preoccupied by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and seems to have relegated Turkey to the back burner -- or so it appears to many Turks.

The widespread belief among Turks that the United States undertook the Iraq war without regard to the consequences for Turkey’s security and that Washington now seeks to punish it for the Turkish parliament’s vote has created enormous resentment toward the United States. This sentiment is reflected across the political spectrum. It is evident among elites, including the leadership of the Turkish military, arguably the country’s most influential institution, but also pervades society more generally. Opinion polls show that Turks, who once viewed the United States as an ally and friend, increasingly see it as not just unfriendly, but as a direct threat to their national security. As a result, influential Turks, government officials and foreign policy experts alike, are discussing a strategic reassessment. This reorientation would involve building deep ties with new partners, among them Russia, China, Iran, and Syria and would, moreover, abandon the longstanding premise that the United States remains the indispensable ally.

It would be mistaken for the United States to dismiss these discussions as bluster. Turkey remains a crucial ally in the struggle against terrorism; it is a secular and democratic Muslim country; it sits atop an arc extending from Israel to Central Asia, a zone of actual or potential upheaval and war; it abuts waterways critical to the flow of commerce, particularly oil; its territory is a corridor for the strategically important Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline; and its cooperation is key to a durable settlement in Iraq and to an effective policy to counter the challenges posed by a resurgent (and potentially nuclear-armed) Iran.

Washington must take urgent steps to protect the US-Turkish alliance from further harm:

  • Recognize that its alliance with Turkey could be in jeopardy.

  • Establish high-level joint working groups that are tasked with proposing concrete measures to safeguard the alliance and to ensure its relevance for the post-Cold War world.

  • Make Turkey a central partner in fashioning a political settlement in Iraq and engage in regular consultations and joint planning to this end.

  • Work with both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq and the Turkish leadership to prevent the dispute over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq (contested by the Kurds and by the Turkmen, who are supported by Turkey) from precipitating open warfare and possible Turkish intervention, which could further dent America’s alliance with Turkey.

  • Fashion a “grand bargain” between the KRG and Turkey that includes specific and enforceable provisions to assure the KRG that Turkey will not invade Iraqi Kurdistan to forestall the possibility of an independent Kurdish state and to guarantee Turkey that the KRG will not permit the PKK to use northern Iraq as a base of operations.

For the complete report -- including memoranda from other Turkey specialists participating in the workshop -- please see the PDF version attached below.

 is-the-united-states-losing-turkey  is-the-united-states-losing-turkey