REVIEW: Article

Perspectives on Turkish-US Relations: Grasping the Opportunities

The year ahead will be an important one in Turkish-United States (US) relations.  Key challenges as well as substantial opportunities will mark the year 2004. Difficult foreign policy issues and choices await the two countries. 

In the year 2004, the imperatives of fighting terrorism will be just as demanding as now, if not more. The Greater Middle East will be an area where the need for peace and stability is to be more acutely felt and where societal transformation in the direction of more participatory and democratic regimes will need ever more sustenance. Afghanistan and Iraq will still face major challenges as they stabilize and rebuild. The implementation of the “road map” or its successor should require further concerted effort by all. The Caucasus, after a season of elections, ought to be ripe for another push to resolve existing conflicts. In meeting these various challenges, Turkish-American cooperation will be a most significant and relevant factor in the overall equation. The two countries, as allies, friends and partners, are uniquely poised through joint effort, to help promote security, prosperity, democracy and a secular drive for greater justice and equality in these different geographies. 

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Istanbul Summit in 2004 will be a defining moment for the newly enlarged Alliance and for the future of the transatlantic relationship. Turkey’s bid for European Union (EU) membership reaches a crucial phase also next year. A decision by the EU Rotterdam Summit to commence accession negotiations would not only engender a new positive dynamic in Turkish-EU relations but also impact the much wider geography of the Greater Middle East, perhaps even beyond. At a point in history where a fresh outlook and orientation could help the US and the EU pave the way to a revitalized transatlantic synergy in facing common global challenges and threats, Turkey’s EU accession could provide the catalyst to help effectuate this recalibration between the two sides of the Atlantic.     

The perspectives on Turkish-US relations are promising, because the relations between Turkey and the United States have been strong and have withstood the vicissitudes of time. Turkey and the US have been allies and strategic partners for decades not because they have seen eye to eye on all issues but because their strategic interests have converged with consistency. These relations have endured and blossomed not because we have been able to support each other on each and every question. Rather, it was because we shared and continue to espouse common values and interests that guide our choices as two sovereign nations.

As Secretary Powell stressed in his speech at George Washington University recently (September 2003), in the current setting of international affairs, the emphasis should be placed on the strategy of partnerships. It is through partnerships that one best protects and promotes national interests and values. Clearly, the parameters of any partnership are important for the parties involved. Both (all) sides must benefit from the partnership and there should be an overall balance in the accrued benefits. Terrorism, religious fundamentalism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, humanitarian, social and environmental disasters and not least, traditional regional conflicts all require a coherent and sustained solidarity among allies and friends like Turkey and the US.   Indeed, these two countries provide probably one of the best ongoing examples of a significant and mutually beneficial partnership encompassing a wide range of issues and challenges over an extended period of time. 

No two countries have been more consistent and steadfast than Turkey and the United States regarding their attitudes and actions as well as their bilateral cooperation in the war against terrorism. The US was the lone hand that extended help to Turkey over the years in its costly struggle against terror. Now, Turkey has been doing everything possible to support and work together with the US in the present setting against terror. In Afghanistan alone, Turkey contributed to Operation Enduring Freedom and additionally played a very important role by assuming the leadership of the International Stabilization Force for more than the planned six-month rotation. The continuing joint efforts and solidarity between Turkey and the US on other fronts against terrorism are a vital component of the global drive to eliminate the causes and all manifestations of terror.  

In the Balkans, we have joined forces in leading the international community against aggression and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, as well in Kosovo. We have also acted in close cooperation with the United States in efforts to stabilize the situation in Macedonia. Had it not been for our joint resolve and steady commitment, the suffering in the Balkans could surely have been much worse.

In another troubled region that is the Caucasus, we have been partners for peace in the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group to bring about a settlement to the Nagorno-Karabagh issue between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Acting together, Turkey and the US have also been effective in preserving Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Encouragement of ever more steps toward democratic rule and strengthening of domestic capabilities and institutions have been a major course of action for the two partners in this key region. 

Turkey and the United States have joined their efforts within a long-term vision to build the East-West energy corridor in the Caspian basin to carry oil and natural gas from the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus to Turkey. This project will help ensure energy security through diversity and the integration of the economies of these countries with the world economy. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and Shahdeniz natural gas pipeline projects are becoming a reality thanks to our cooperation.

From the Balkans to the Caucasus and Central Asia, Turkish-US relations would continue to play an important role for peace and stability and the diffusion of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

An area where the Turkey-United States partnership should create a special synergy is the Middle East. Turkey’s experience and capabilities as a country of the region and its secular democracy make it an invaluable partner for the US whether in Iraq, the Middle East peace process or in the broader transformation of the regional countries into open, pluralist societies.

Turkey wants the United States to be successful in Iraq and wishes to see a stable, peaceful and prosperous Iraq with a fully functioning free market economy. This is what the people of Iraq deserve and that was the purpose of the US-led military action in the first place.  It is not just vital to the United States, but also to Turkey that the people of Iraq govern themselves democratically, with the rights of all its citizens fully respected.  Successful cooperation between Turkey and the United States has resulted in positive developments in Afghanistan. Such cooperation would be even more beneficial in Iraq, where Turkey has historical, cultural and human roots and connections. Indeed, Turkey is now the main conduit for humanitarian assistance and reconstruction materials bound for Iraq. Turkey is already in the forefront of meeting the energy demands and household needs of neighboring Iraq by supplying electricity and liquified natural gas (LNG). The electricity agreement that has been signed in this respect is the first of its kind in post-war Iraq. Turkey is in a unique position to help rebuild Iraq, not just physically but also politically, given its proximity, its own democratic system and its strong ties with the US. 

Times of change inevitably exacerbate the difficulties in properly grasping the opportunities out there during such periods. In order to eliminate or at least reduce the prevailing uncertainty surrounding the problems of our day, one could perhaps focus on islets of certainty as a source of strength and capacity-building to address the issues before us. As far as the Turkish-US relationship is concerned, this means focusing on the shared visions of our countries’ and our common mission vis-à-vis the challenges posed by this new century.  

We also have to be conscious of the importance of “perceptions.” In such a complex world, policy makers and especially diplomats have to establish “the structures of a communicative situation.” This is as important as conducting diplomacy. 

Without ambitious, forward-looking projects, societies cannot create a dynamic for coherent modernization. The unfortunate alternative is being confined to the contemplation of the existing status quo or a presumed return to a golden age of the past. “Idealism” and “voluntarism” are key words for those countries that wish to exert an influence through their foreign policies in shaping the future of humanity. In this respect, striking the right equilibrium between vision and pragmatism becomes essential in attaining the goals set. 

Saint Augustine had already gazed at the truth in a very subtle way: in appearance, there are three tenses; the past (praeterium) which relies on the memory (memoria); the present (praesens) submitted to the observation (contuitis); the future, object of our expectations (expectatio). In reality, only the present exists. The future, as well as the past, is essentially an extension of our mind and therefore malleable.

To conclude an article on the perspectives on Turkish-US relations with such a philosophical reference may be seen out of context. Nevertheless, at a time where we witness an abundance of observations, proposals and also “prophetic thinking” on the prospects of such important issues as the new fabric of international relations, the United Nations, the transatlantic partnership, US-EU relations, the Greater Middle East or the renewal of politics in the Muslim world, it is worth underlining the difficulty humankind always had in “appropriating the future.” It is good to know that the Turkish-American partnership is here and now.     

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Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to the United States