Skip to content

Does Turkey See the United States or Europe as a More Reliable Partner?

Bulent Kenes opines in Today’s Zaman that US support for Turkey’s military operations against the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) is a breakthrough for Turkish sovereignty:
During the years of the Cold War, there could be nothing more normal for Turkey, an ally of the US, than to conform to the global policies determined by the US, the super power of the Western bloc that it belonged to in the bipolar system. However, the US wanted to maintain this habit even after the end of the bipolar system when the Cold War ended...
Turkey was, of course, placing importance on its relations with the US and alliance in this new era, but the thing to which it attached a greater importance was the fact that it was a sovereign country. Therefore, Turkey was no longer “a bird in hand” for the US and was endeavoring to become a country which was treated as an equal party at the negotiation table.
Today’s Zaman also reports that Turkey will not join the International Criminal Court in the foreseeable future, despite pressure from the EU to do so:
Noting that the US also opposes the statute's ratification, Justice Ministry officials assert that the court may be called to prosecute Turkish officers who participate in cross-border operations against the PKK in northern Iraq.
I wonder how this will affect Turkey’s accession to the EU?  The EU did not set Turkish ICC membership as a mandatory precursor for EU membership, but Turkey’s decision to stay out of the court will undoubtedly provide fuel for the anti-Turkey fire burning across Europe. 

Does Turkey see the US as a more reliable partner than Europe?

First, in an ideal world this question would not need to be asked since Turkey is a member of NATO, and all NATO members are presumed to be reliable allies.  When you are done laughing at how far from the truth this is (see my previous post War for Dummies for more), here are some initial thoughts to the question:

While US and Turkish cooperation against the PKK is probably more circumstantial rather than signifying some greater paradigm shift as Kenes suggests, it is nonetheless a positive step for US-Turkey relations after they hit a low leading up to the Iraq war. Concomitantly, Euro-Turkey relations continue to decline as Turkey becomes increasingly frustrated with its spurious EU accession process.  I especially think Turkey has little chance of accession to the EU with the influential anti-Turk Sarkozy as Frances’ president.

So if current trends continue,  Turkey will increasingly view the US as a more reliable partner than Europe.


No Trackbacks


Display comments as Linear | Threaded

Andrew Zvirzdin on :

I believe you are right that Europe/Turkey relations are struggling right now, particularly since the assassination of Hrant Dink. 2007 also marked the first year that a majority of Turks did not favor EU accession. So there is a shift to be sure. But a shift to the US? I am less convinced on that point. No doubt, Turkey remains an ally of the US and a crucial NATO member. But the US has worked feverishly to curtail the extent of the excursions against the PKK and the House resolution referring to the Armenian genocide ignited quite a lot of anger in the country as well. I think Turkish allegiance is up for the highest bidder at this point. The EU is not too anxious and the US seems to arrogantly assume Turkey will continue to follow. Are there any other bidders? Russia perhaps? Some think even Iran may be interested in Turkish support. I think Turkey has some important decisions to face in the next decade. Do they face East or West? North or South?

Anonymous on :

Andrew: Interesting points, but the question remains, given what Turkey has to offer, who wants/needs a recalcitrant Turkey? Turkey feels understandibly betrayed by the Austrian/French contingent of the EU which refuses to contemplate a union with Asiatics. The middle eastern states regard Turkey with suspicion--a half-westernized asiatic state of uncertain allegiances. The US does not care after her initial bribe, read aid package, was turned down by the Erdogan administration in 2003. Turkey may have a dominant geopolitical position but its military and weapons are reliant on US technology. All those reversed engineered F-15s arent a lot of good without GPS or spare parts. Generally, where is Turkey to turn now that acession to the EU is not feasible? Russia? The Turks have been at war with Russians/Ukranians/Southern Slavs since the 15th century. Particularly, the Russians since Catherine the Great. Have we forgotten about the wide-spread murders of Ottoman subjects of Turkish descent after the first World War? America's popularity with the Kemalist military was predicated on keeping the Soviets away from Turkish territory. There is no history of anything but war between the two countries and its attendant atrocities. The Turks are more alone than their cousins, the Hungarians.

joe on :

annoy Actually the Turkish Air Force does not fly the F15. In 1983 Turkey entered into a coproduction agreement with the US to build the F16 of which it has now over 200 aircraft. Going forward the Turkish Air Force will fly the F35. You might be surprised at how many of the euro's toys would not work without US technology. As to your statement about how the US views Turkey as an ally, I would put it ahead of the members of the “chocolate summit” both from the perspective of importance and reliability. Equally I would not make too much of the actions of Turkey in the run up to operation IF. Should you want to place importance on anything during that period, a more important event was the actions of the “chocolate summit” as it pertained to the deployment on NATO assets to support Turkey. While the Marshall Fund shows a decline in the popularity of America with the population what is not captured in the survey is the close alignment of basic values shared by the people of Turkey and the US. These basic values more closely align these two nations to a degree not found in Europe. This is equally true by the way of India. As to actually going into combat with Europeans or the Turks, I personally would chose the Turks every time. I can say this with a degree of certainty having interacted with both. I also can state that those US military personnel who have served with the Turks and other member NATO would agree. As to the US and Europe, Turkey acting in its own interest will view Europe from an economic perspective and the US from a defensive perspective. I personally think this is a wise course for Turkey. It also might be the only course. There is no way Europe will come to the defense of Turkey.

Don S on :

"There is no way Europe will come to the defense of Turkey." On current evidence there is no way that most of 'Europe' would come to the defense of any ally, although parts of it might. The UK and Nederlands perhaps. This makes almost anyone a better potential ally, certainly Turkey is. Because it's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of fight in the dog.

Kyle - Atlantic Review on :

"Because it's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of fight in the dog." The first thing that comes to mind is Georgia (the country), which has something like 2000 troops in Iraq and is the third largest contributor in number of forces behind the US and UK. Little Georgia! And the Netherlands is a major contributor to Afghanistan. Little Netherlands! It is amazing that such small countries (and in Georgia's case, unstable) will contribute so much more than larger allies, even in absolute contributions.

Pamela on :

I am baffled as to why Turkey ever wanted to join the EU in the first place. It requires a total surrender of sovreignity. Especially given the strictures in the EU Constitution - ok , 'Lisbon Treaty' - about military activity. Turkey would have to go thru the EU? The EU would come to Turkey's aid? Pigs will fly. I agree with you, Andrew, on one point. Turning away from Europe does not mean turning toward the U.S. But I disagree with your remark that the U.S. has worked assiduously to curtail Turkish activities against the PKK. Certainly we have worked to eliminate the NEED for Turkish military activity, but we aren't getting any help from the Iraqis against the PKK that I can discern. We have given the Turks logistical/targeting info, so much so that a rep from Iraq/Kurdistan snubbed Condi Rice when she last visited Iraq. As for the Armenian genocide resolution in the House - that was disgraceful posturing by the Democratics led by the ghastly Nancy Pelosi with the specific intent of driving a wedge between this administration and Turkey. Public blustering aside, the Turks aren't stupid. It is not the position of this admin and the Turks know it.

Martin on :

The German Marshall Fund conducts an annual survey in Europe and the US called "Transatlantic Trends." Turkey is always a big issue. By the way, Kyle, when you write "Europe" you mean "European Union" rather than "Europe," because Turkey is part of Europe... Many Turks see their country as part of Europe. Whether or not they are in favor of EU membership is another thing, but many certainly do not see themselves as Middle Eastern or Asian. And most Turks see their country as part of both Europe and Asia. This year the GMF learned: "First, over the last year, the survey shows Turks becoming markedly cooler toward the world. The trend is most striking in attitudes toward “Western” partners — the U.S., EU, and Israel — where the degree of warmth has declined by roughly 50 percent over the past year. But this cooling trend can be seen across the board, including attitudes toward Russia, Iran, and the Palestinians."

Kyle - Atlantic Review on :

@ Martin: Thank you for the comments. You bring up good points, and I agree the term Europe should have been replaced with EU. My hope is that Turkey will continue to see itself as a part of Europe as we move into the future. The GMF poll you mention was taken in June 2007, before the US began providing intelligence and clearing Iraqi airspace for Turkish jets. Before this there was a long slump in US-Turkey relations; as Andrew points out above, the US House’s decision to name the Armenian genocide in October was just one source of tension. Nonetheless, my feeling is that US support for Turkey against the PKK could offer a turn around point and lead to an improvement in Turkey-US relations. As Bulent Kenes put it in the article discussed above, “obtaining a chance to rectify its negative image of many years in Turkey and to win the heart of this country, which had long been considered lost, were gains big enough for the United States” to decide to help Turkey fight the PKK. On the other hand, US support for the PKK missions may be a temporary fling and not necessarily lead to a long term improvement in relations. Both the US and Turkey gain from suppressing Kurdish violence in northern Iraq/southern Turkey in that: a) the US has declared a war against terrorism and has declared PKK a terrorist group; b) Turkey wants to halt violence in its territory = mutual benefit in these current actions. @ Andrew and Pamela: I tend to agree with Pamela: “But I disagree with your [Andrew's] remark that the U.S. has worked assiduously to curtail Turkish activities against the PKK. Certainly we have worked to eliminate the NEED for Turkish military activity, but we aren't getting any help from the Iraqis against the PKK that I can discern” I think we were not excited about Turkish military incursions into Iraq, and seriously wanted to prevent the need for them to happen, but at some point we decided the best alternative would be to support Turkey in this mission. Will the military actions against the PKK actually reduce violence is another question. In the short term I doubt it, since people tend to respond to violence with violence. I seriously doubt the PKK is simply going to role over because Turkey is now making strikes against PKK targets. A report by the Washington Post supports this: “The attack [last Thursday], which also wounded about 60 civilians and soldiers, substantiated fears that Turkey's escalated campaign against Kurdish guerrillas in neighboring Iraq would increase violence in Turkey itself.”

Yuksel Oktay on :

Does Turkey See the US or Europe (should be EU) as a More Reliable Partner? Posted by Kyle Atwell Turkey is and has always been a part of ''Europe'' in a geographical and historical sense, which need no elaboration. Turkey is not a member of the ''European Union'' that will eventually evolve into the ''United States of Europe''. Turkey should be a member of the EU, however, in my opinion, this will never be realized. Even a turbaned English citizeen of Shikh Indian heritage at Heathrow Airport told me, ''never in a million years'' when I told him that in several years I would be able to go through the EU desk to enter the countryç. Turkey should concentrate on the industrial development of the country to bring it up from being the 17th largest economy in the world, which some say, is prevented by the USA and the EU. Yuksel Oktay Istanbul

Pamela on :

Greetings! Would you be kind enough to elaborate on this remark: "Turkey should concentrate on the industrial development of the country to bring it up from being the 17th largest economy in the world, which some say, is prevented by the USA and the EU." How are the USA and EU preventing this development? I'm not disputing the assertion, it is simply new to me and I have not heard the arguments. Turkey will not be admitted to the EU. First, because it is a Muslim country that is becoming increasingly Islamist. That's the EU argument, even if they won't say it in polite company. Second, the only option Turkey has at the moment regarding the PKK is military. Although the U.S. has so far been able to mitigate the degree of Turkey's military response (e.g., no overnight occupations please - we don't need the media talking about an 'invasion') the constitution of the EU would require a) Turkey receive EU permission for any military activity and/or b) the EU come to Turkey's aid. Neither would ever happen. I can understand the Islamist's desire for entry into the EU as it would shield them from Turkey's secular military. And I can understand the Turkish secularists' desire to join the EU as that would protect them from the Islamists. That is called irony. Turkey will begin to look for increased influence in Muslim Asia, e.g. Kazakhstan. Also, I would keep a close eye on Muslim demographics in Russia proper. (From 300 mosques to 8000 in fifteen years.) I don't know that Muslims in China are of interest just yet in terms of simple demographics. The last number I heard was around 14 million. That's a scientific wild-ass guess as China doesn't keep that kind of census data. Out of a population of over a billion, that's small, yet I know we ran across a few in Afghanistan. I do remember reading that some of the Korans found on them were in Uygur, which is a Turkic language. I think they are mostly clustered in Xinjiang province. (I'm pulling that from memory, which is never perfect.)

Don S on :

"Does Turkey see the US as a more reliable partner than Europe?" I rather doubt it. The Turks have their differences with both the EU and the US, and don't seem inclined to accept orders or the hegenomy of either; is this wrong? I don't think so. They don't have be good compliant little members of someone's power bloc, why can't they pursue an independent policy and make diplomatic agreements when Turkish interests are congruent with those of other nations? The EU is in the process of rejecting them for EU membership, in part for religious reasons. Not all opponents are bigots but surely some are; don't expect the Turks to be grateful for the snub. But that doesn't mean they will automatically gravitate into an American-led bloc. No, it means that the EU has missed it's best chance to influence Turkey profoundly - that is all.

Kyle -- Atlantic Review on :

New article up on Today's Zaman titled, "Prospects for increased Turkish-American cooperation" by Mehmet Kalyoncu. The article seems a little drifty, but he appears somwhat optimistic about the future of Turkish-US relations, I guess: "Both the lessons learned from the mistakes of the Bush administration and the continuing challenges to American interests across the globe require policy makers and scholars to redefine American foreign policy. While the situation at hand is taken advantage of by the liberals to bash neoconservatives and to influence the US president’s foreign policy, the mistakes made in the last seven years have forced conservatives to moderate their rhetoric. The conviction on both sides that the US can no longer go it alone assures an emphasis on multilateralism in US foreign policy after the Bush administration. In addition to such a paradigm shift in US foreign policy, converging regional and global interests of Turkey and the US are likely to bring about increased cooperation between the two so long as the former is able to draft long term foreign policy goals driven purely by national interests."

Kyle - Atlantic Review on :

Does the ICC even do anything of value? It seems more of a political symbol than an active deterrent or true means of justice. Anyhow, a new op-ed in Today's Zaman argues that yes, the ICC is important, and Turkey should not abstain from ratifying full membership into the ICC because: 1)"Turkey may not remain safe from the court’s jurisdiction even if it does not proceed with ratification. The Rome Statute provides that the UN Security Council, acting under Section VII of the UN Charter, is authorized to refer any situation to the ICC without geographical restrictions." He states some caveats that I won't bore you with here. 2) "The Rome Statute includes a number of safeguards that will prevent likely abuses and politically motivated actions." For example: "the ICC takes action only if it becomes evident that the relevant national authority is unable or unwilling to deal with the case under review." 3) "Currently, the court is not authorized to deal with terrorists and terror crimes. But remaining as a non-party state will not help Turkey promote its case; as an outsider, Turkey will have no influence over the works to amend the statute." 4) "US opposition to the court is such a lame excuse for the Turkish authorities to shelve the ratification of the statute." Article -->

Pat Patterson on :

In its 6 years of existence the ICC has conducted zero trials. They have alleged crimes were committed but have conducted no plea arraginments, no evidentiary hearings and again have convened no panels or juries to hear any formal charges. Only four catastrophically inept coutries are being investigated, nine warrants isued and only two in custody. And the two that were turned over represented the losing side in civil wars. Yep, I'll bet those results really scare the bad guys!

Add Comment

E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.

Form options