Since 1952 Turkey has been a member of NATO and as the first Muslim state its decisive role comes from its army of more than one million soldiers. However it is clear that the ‘ally of America' function in the cold war will become eclipsed. Turkey played an outstanding role during the Iraq war of George W. Bush and now the approximately 1800 Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan cannot be overlooked in the Middle East policy of the Obama administration.
The conflict of the two powers is already the transatlantic event of our new century. The root of the problems date back 2005, when the general direction of the Turkish foreign policy was determined along a religious break, between Islam and Christianity. It was strengthened by the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) rise to power, as well as Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan taking office.
Turkey's prosperous economy opened the country's doors to states of the Arab world. Nowadays it already conducts exports to North Africa and its neighbors in the Middle East, thus becoming less dependent on the West. This economic prosperity also factors into the determination of its foreign policy towards its neighboring states. The Turkish government has been working on tightening its relationship with Iran and Syria. Its cooperation with Syria crystallized when Turkey tried to arrange a round-table conference with the nations competing for the Golan Heights. However its aspirations soon failed due to the Israeli blast of the Gaza Strip and the attack against the Turkish ships in May 2010. With these incidents, the conflict between Turkey and Israel surfaced, which as a supporter of both parties, the US not approve of.
Iran is another thorn in the Obama-administration's and NATO's side. Among Turkey's adjacent states, Iran is the only one, which can guarantee a connection with Asia. Therefore as part of the good-neighbor policy and defending the Islamic world, Turkey raised her voice against members of NATO regarding the Iranian nuclear issue and collided with American policy to such an extent that Turkey voted against the sanctions imposed on Iran in the UN Security Council's meeting in June 2010. The ambitions of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu did not calm down until November 2010, when he persuaded NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen that the new NATO Strategic Concept should not include Iran as a threatening state.
The affair is interesting not only in the case of Iran, but also because of Russia. The last century of Turkish-Russian relations has been very turbulent, although events of the last few years were aimed at the rapprochement and development of the connection. The two countries are strategically connected by the Caucasus, an important Asian area. Turkey is also in a dispute with Armenia, a state with excellent relations to Russia. A similar triangle came into existence regarding the Russian-Georgian conflict, in which Ankara is a third actor. Having long been hostile with each other, the two powers must realize that they need to cooperate in order to maintain a leading role in the Caucasus. The West and the US contribute to the establishment of this alliance to a great extent. Turkey has wanted to join the European Union for a long time; however, rejection by western states has strengthened the country’s resolution to tighten its relation with Russia. During the Cold War the Soviet Union was considered the United States’ number one enemy, and this image of Russia has not changed in the past decades. Thus the dismissive behavior of America and NATO, and the accentuation of the Russian threat contributed to the rapprochement of the two Asian countries, as well as the Turkish resistance to NATO's missile defense system.
Washington's fear of losing Turkish loyalty is also proven by other foreign policy events. The two countries confronted each other on the appointment of Rasmussen as Secretary General in 2009. The Turkish government objected to Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark during the Mohamed cartoon scandal, arguing that his attitude in this affair would make him unable to maintain an acceptable relationship with the Arab states. Disputes regarding the appointment have already died down, but the distribution of the roles during the Afghanistan mission, where Turkey provides the leadership of the armed forces in Kabul, could deepen the breakup of the American-Turkish alliance.
As a defender of the Islamic world and the follower of an excellent neighborhood policy, Turkey attaches decreasing importance to its alliance with western countries. Russia, Syria, Iran, other bordering states and Arab countries view the Turkish government to be in a more positive position in the Mediterranean. If the United States wants to keep its devoted supporter, it should resort to a more forceful policy and ensure promising opportunities to Turkey, which is forging ahead from its secondary role.
Zsófia Farkas is a BA student in International Relations at the University of Pannonia, Hungary and is interested in the politics of the Mediterranean, in particular Morocco and Turkey.
This article was submitted for the atlantic-community.org's
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contest is sponsored by the U.S. Mission to NATO and the NATO Public
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