Turkey-U.S. Defense Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges

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For instance, at least some officers from Central Command, the U. And his list of American transgressions has only grown, particularly the role he has accused the U. In the failed takeover, officers aligned with cleric Fethullah Gulen — who lives in the U.

I see the future of U. Opinion, Analysis, Essays. Mavericks with Ari Melber. Follow think. Get the Think newsletter. Please submit a letter to the editor. How did such a great alliance turn into a cold shoulder? The historically strong US-Turkey relationship has been tested in recent years by a seemingly never-ending series of disagreements and crises.

After each development, commentators claim again and again that US-Turkey relations have never been so bad. Each point of conflict seems to make relations that much worse and the recent sanctions on two Turkish ministers have initiated a new wave of such claims. The roots of the current disagreements between the United States and Turkey began during the final years of the Obama administration.

Turkey makes no distinction between the two groups and has repeatedly decried the strategy of using one terrorist organization, the PKK, to fight another, ISIS. For the United States, the need to find an effective ground force with which to combat ISIS overrode any other concerns. While tensions over Syria have unfolded over the course of several years, a number of other issues have emerged recently.

Many in Turkey suspected the US government of complicity in the coup attempt. The perceived obstinacy on the part of the United States against the extradition, further increased Turkish suspicions and anti-American rhetoric, leading to greater lack of trust and understanding. Fresh tensions again flared in the fall of over an Iran sanctions judicial case involving Turkey in the district court of New York. Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian businessman, was alleged to have helped the Turkish state-owned bank Halkbank evade US sanctions on Iran by facilitating payment for Iranian oil and gas with gold.

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The arrangement is favorable to US interests, but it also gives Turkey leverage over the United States and its coalition partners by threatening to revoke permission to conduct strikes against ISIS from Turkish territory. The United States has an incentive to maintain access to Turkish air bases, but in return for Turkish cooperation on other issues, could seek to explore ways to limit direct Turkish support for the SDF.

The goal should be for the two sides to announce an immediate cease-fire.

The main challenges are that the United States lacks any real leverage over Ankara; and it would be politically disadvantageous for President Erdogan to pursue a cease-fire before the scheduled November election. The NATO alliance has dealt with authoritarian members in the past and can do so again. The intent of the aforementioned policy recommendations is to couch a firmer US approach to Turkey within ongoing efforts to come to a consensus on broader geostrategic issues, like the war in Syria and Iraq and the threat posed by Russia.

The domestic political environment in Turkey will make this difficult, but the lessons of the recent past suggest that the United States can be more forceful in its dealings with Turkey, without fear of the alliance totally crumbling. As such, a US-Turkey policy tethered to the current political environment inside the country should start with key questions about what it is that the United States wants from its ally, and then build backward a set of carrots and sticks to try and gain consensus on shared interests.


This approach requires a reconsideration of the drivers of the current tensions and challenges assumptions that the reasons for the downturn start and stop in Washington, DC. Currently, the United States has a chicken and egg problem: it would like to improve relations with Turkey, but it has prioritized the war against ISIS, and is thus dependent on a group Ankara views as a security threat.

The Turkish government, too, is caught in a political cul-de-sac, particularly with the arrival of the Trump administration. For domestic reasons, President Erdogan continues to criticize the West.

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Yet, the Turkish president has also sought to cultivate close relations with the new president. The trend in Turkish politics is toward indefinite authoritarian and illiberal rule. However, the United States has maintained close working relationships with authoritarian allies in the past. The NATO alliance has done the same. The value of the alliance for US security interests is clear: NATO provides stability in Europe and has acted as an effective deterrent against Russian military action directed at alliance members.

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Turkey has a network of bases that the United States could use in a crisis, either to project power in the region or as key transit points for conflicts out of area. The policy recommendations in this report are transactional, designed to work toward consensus on a specific set of issues. The conclusion, of course, is the need to set aside the idea that the glue holding the alliance together is one of shared values, in favor of a narrow set of shared interests with potential overlapping policy prescriptions.

To arrive at consensus with Turkey on shared interests, the US also has to acknowledge that it will take a significant amount of cajoling and meetings to find common ground on policy. The Turkish security establishment is certain to view the United States differently, after the American military partnered with a group that Ankara identifies as its top security threat: the PKK. Yet despite this, Turkey still perceives cooperation with the Trump administration as important, asks the United States for assistance, and remains dependent on NATO for security from the Russian threat.

The two countries have much to discuss about the future of Iraq and Syria. Both Turkey and the United States rely on the same security structure for power projection in the Black and Mediterranean Seas. The US-Turkish relationship has changed considerably in recent years, and now the two sides need to think creatively about ways to maintain the partnership, based on a clear understanding of the changes in both countries and their approaches to regional security and politics.

His research interests include US-Turkey relations, Turkish foreign policy, the Syrian conflict, nonproliferation, and the Iranian nuclear program. Follow aaronstein1. This total is 18 seats shy of a majority. Skip to content. Trends in Turkey: Implications for the US-Turkey Relationship The political trends in Turkey incentivize the AKP to demonize the West, because that helps President Erdogan align the disparate elements of his new political coalition, which is now intermingled with a faction of ultra-nationalist and Eurasian elements.

Policy Recommendations A more transactional US-Turkey relationship is dependent on US and western policy makers acknowledging that the drivers of poor relations with Turkey are not entirely self-inflicted. The United States and Turkey could explore spinning off a dedicated military task force, dedicated to using Turkey-based aircraft to strike al-Qaeda-linked groups in Idlib, Syria. This policy would have a second benefit for US interests. However, the terms of the deal appear to preclude the Turkish targeting of al-Qaeda in Syria.

Instead, Turkey appears to have reached an agreement with al-Qaeda to allow for the safe passage of its forces to designated points in Idlib. The problem for US interests is twofold: First, this process indirectly legitimized al-Qaeda as an actor in Idlib; Second, the terms of the de-escalation agreement precludes US strikes on al-Qaeda in the area. Turkey appears to be trying to, slowly, use antipathy toward al-Qaeda to isolate and then defeat the group.

Relations with the European Union

It is unclear if this strategy will be successful. Various external actors—including Turkey—have pursued a variation of this approach for close to half a decade without success. If this latest effort collapses, the United States will retain an interest in going after al-Qaeda in Idlib to deny them safe haven, from which they can plot external attacks. Turkey could assist in this effort, but in doing so would have to grapple with the risk of blowback. The US should assume that regardless of Turkish efforts to split al-Qaeda in Syria, military efforts will eventually be needed to deal with hardline elements.

Despite the challenges, the recent history of US-Turkish relations underscore just how far the two sides can push one another without the alliance breaking.

For the Sake of the Alliance, Erdogan Must Fold

The durability of the relationship suggests that the United States can be more forthright in its efforts to encourage Ankara to return to peace talks. The United States should also acknowledge that its security assistance to the Turkish government helps to prolong the conflict with the PKK and is not tethered to an achievable political outcome that would end the conflict. This assistance has helped to ameliorate tensions and improve bilateral relations, but absent a clear political strategy from Ankara about how to address the broader drivers of the conflict, US assistance will do little to bring about a resolution.

Thus, the United States should consider asking tough questions about Turkish strategy and insist on clear, articulated political goals that increased military lethality would support.

Turkey-U.S. Defense Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges
Turkey-U.S. Defense Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges
Turkey-U.S. Defense Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges
Turkey-U.S. Defense Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges
Turkey-U.S. Defense Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges
Turkey-U.S. Defense Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges
Turkey-U.S. Defense Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges

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