The West Needs Turkey in Europe
F. Stephen Larrabee | Rand Corportation | March 2010
Discussions on Turkey's EU membership tend to neglect the fact that the country's strategic significance has skyrocketed since the end of the Cold War. From the standpoint of Western interests, Turkey plays a key role in conflict resolution from the Balkans to the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia, to the Persian Gulf region. It is hence essential that the United States and the transatlantic community improve its tattered relations with Turkey. The following issues need swift attention by Washington:
- The Kurdish Problem: While Turkey accuses the United States of being too lenient in dealing with the Kurdistan's Worker Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, the West openly criticizes Ankara's repression of the Kurds. The US would do well to support Ankara to a greater extent politically on the issue and provide more intelligence on the terrorists. Washington should support talks between the Regional Government of Kurdistan in northern Iraq and the Turks. Nevertheless, the Kurdish problem cannot be resolved by military force alone. Instead social and economic reforms are necessary both in Turkey and in Iraq.
- Tensions between Turkey and Greece: Discord in the Aegean as well as on Cyprus could easily turn into a conflict that would unnecessarily burden NATO. Hence Washington should more actively support negotiations between Athens and Ankara. Moreover, the two Cypriot communities should intensify their efforts at reconciliation under UN auspices.
- Armenia: Washington would do well to support the thaw in relations between Erivan and Ankara. This would lessen the country's dependence on Russia and Iran. A paramount task for the Obama administration must be to prevent the passage of an Armenian genocide resolution in Congress, which would severely damage U.S.-Turkish relations.
- Relations with Iran and Syria: Diametrically opposed views of how to deal with Iran and Syria have complicated U.S. relations with Ankara. While Turkish policymakers have pursued a rapprochement with Teheran and Damascus, Washington sought to isolate both countries. The U.S. would be well advised to place more emphasis on dialogue and be more considerate of the Turkish position.
- Strategic cooperation: The U.S. should not take for granted access to military bases in Turkey. New talks should be initiated on the subject, as well as on the topic of a ballistic missile defense program to include Turkey.
- EU membership: The U.S. should try to advance Turkey's cause by quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
It is essential for U.S. interests that Turkey be integrated more fully into Europe. Hence it is counterproductive to keep holding up Turkey as a model for the Middle East. That will only lead the Turks to feel excluded from the European community and put into question their western and secular orientation.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community Editorial Team from "Troubled Partnership: U.S.-Turkish Relations in an Era of Global Geopolitical Change" published here by the RAND Corporation.