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THE PARADOXICAL LOGIC OF TURKISH - US GEOSTRATEGIC RELATIONS
No nation has friends, only interests.
Charles De Gaulle
The price of greatness is responsibility.
Sir Winston S. Churchill
Retired Bgd. General Nejat Eslen
It was 1963. The Cold War raged fiercely. I had just completed the branch school where I had learned war fighting doctrines at tactical level and was headed to my first troop assignment at a town very close to the Turkish - Soviet border. I had to make a long train journey to reach my destination. During the journey, we heard a shocking news from a battery operated portable receiver: US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been shot dead. This was truly shocking news, all the more so because most Turkish people had great sympathy on President John F. Kennedy. There was crying on the train after his death. The moment was humane, touching and paradoxical, for some Turkish people were crying over the loss of President Kennedy as if they were crying for their own president.
The passengers on that train knew nothing about the real paradox. Only a short time earlier, in 1962, the Soviet Union had wanted to install ballistic missiles in Cuba, a country under the influence of the Soviet Union. Ships loaded with missiles headed towards Cuba had caused the most serious crisis of the Cold War era. During the crisis, it was suggested that the USA withdraw its Jupiter missiles from Turkey if the Soviet Union agreed not to install missiles in Cuba. An agreement was reached and the crisis was resolved. In fact, in order to resolve the crisis, President Kennedy had negotiated and agreed to withdraw the Jupiter missiles placed in Turkey for Turkey’s and NATO’s security, without consulting or informing Turkey. Because of the Cuban crisis, Turkey had become the focal point of the negotiations. Had the crisis not been resolved and turned into a conflict, Turkey might easily have become a military target for the Soviets, despite the fact that the crisis was over Cuba, a country thousands of miles away from Turkey. When I discovered these facts, I thought that President J. F. Kennedy had perhaps not been so worthy of such intensive adoration by the Turkish people and that the sympathy of Turkish people for him was a real paradox.
The US – Turkish Relations during the Cold War
The location of my first assignment was similar to the Fulda Gap in Germany, a critical region on the main defense line. Because of my young age and junior rank at the time, I had no idea that I was serving at a very critical point of the Rimland, which is located between the Heartland of Eurasia and the open seas, according to the thesis of the famous American geopolitics theorist Nicholas J. Spykman. Nor did I know that according to Spykman’s thesis, those who ruled the Rimland could contain expansions of the powers based on Heartland and could determine the future of the world. In other words, I was contributing significantly, if unknowingly, to Nicholas J. Spykman’s geopolitical thesis to determine the future of the world. Moreover, again because of my young age and junior rank at the time, I had no idea at that time that the famous US diplomat George Frost Kennan had developed the strategic concept of containment, based on Nicholas J. Spykman’s geopolitical thesis, in order to block the expansion of the Soviet Union and Communism; nor that his ideas had also formed the strategic defensive concepts of the Cold War era of the US and NATO. Thus, my mission was also related to George Kennan’s strategic concept of containment and therefore was highly important for the security interests of Turkey and NATO, as well as the United States.
Although I did not have so much insight then, I knew I had an important mission. What made my mission important was its relation with homeland and NATO security. Because the US was the leading country of NATO, it must have been important for US security interests as well. I did not quite understand what was meant when some of our senior officers told us that our mission was also related to protecting US political values and economic interests. Another thing I did not understand was how we were expected to fulfill this important mission in this critical region with equipment leftover from World War II and missing spare parts. Senior officers used to say that the US had donated the main equipment, but that they were selling the spare parts at very high prices; this was the reason for the shortage of spare parts. I could not easily overcome this paradox, since our mission was so vital for Turkey’s, NATO’s and the US security interests. Another source of paradox for me was constituted by the knowledge that a USA U-2 spy plane had been shot down by the Soviets at a location very close to my place of duty. The spy plane had flown from İncirlik, an airbase assigned to the US for NATO missions, without Turkey’s consent, and this episode had caused a serious tension between Turkey and the Soviet Union.
1964 marked one of the greatest moments of tension in Turkish – US relations of the Cold War. In Cyprus, there was conflict between the Turkish and Greek communities. Supported by Greece, the Greek Cypriots increased their level of activity for Enosis (Unification). Tension increased when the Greek Cypriot leader Makarios, declared the cancellation of the Alliance Treaty, which was the most significant aspect of the Zurich and London Treaties that formed the basis for the Cyprus State. Survival of Turkish Cypriots was at risk. Based on the rights obtained from the aforementioned treaties, Turkey had no choice but to intervene in the island. Under these circumstances, Prime Minister İsmet İnцnь received a letter from the US President Lyndon Johnson. In his letter, President L. Johnson said that an intervention in Cyprus might lead Turkey to a conflict with the Soviet Union, and if that were to happen, the obligation of NATO to protect Turkey would not apply; moreover, Turkey could not use weapons given by the US for intervention purposes. President Johnson’s letter was interpreted as a “diplomatic atomic bomb” written in a cowboy style. Prime Minister İsmet İnцnь expressed the graveness of the situation by saying that, “If our rightness is not accepted, this system will collapse, a new world order will be established, and Turkey will find its place in this new world order.” (1) Neither a new world order was established; nor did Turkey find a new place in it, but Turkish – American relations received a serious blow.
In 1974, following the Turkish military operation in Cyprus to save the lives of the Turkish Cypriot community, the US Congress imposed a weapons embargo on Turkey and froze its military aid. This was the single most tense episode in Turkish – American relations of the Cold War era. The US was ‘punishing Turkey, its indispensable ally’, according to Henry Kissinger. The decision of the US Congress was not the result of a rational evaluation, but an emotional decision to satisfy the Greek lobby in the US. With the embargo, the US was restricting the security capabilities of NATO’s Southeastern flank and its loyal ally Turkey, in other words ‘shooting its interests in the foot’, causing a serious crisis of confidence and a paradox not easy to overcome. Turkey responded by closing the bases assigned to American military use.
In 1984, I was selected for operational and strategic level education at the War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The education was mainly designed for US senior officers, potential military leaders and there were several international fellows from friendly or allied countries. (Colonel Tommy Franks was one of my schoolmates and later he had the chance to become a senior commander of the US units which invaded Iraq) Living in the US with my family for about a year was an interesting experience. Star Wars were in the headlines and the Cold War continued. US military officers were under the influence of the Vietnam War syndrome; they were trying to understand why the Vietnam War had been lost. The ideas of Carl von Clausewitz were seen to be the remedy for future wars. I saw that the US had a bad habit of learning by making mistakes. The US would lose a war by making mistakes, then try to understand what went wrong and try to fix it; but this was costly. The teachings throughout my studies said that ‘’interests’’, ‘’opportunities’’ and ‘’commitments’’ were the key parameters in international relations and strategic planning; but US fellow officers had the habit of emphasizing “interests and opportunities,” regardless of ‘’commitments’’ in their practical strategic planning. Interestingly, countries that were important for the US strategic interests, either for their strategic location or the size of their armed forces, were also important countries in US international relations.
Another striking observation was that the future leaders of the US military, who were supposed to be interested in global geography, were not taught and were not interested in global geopolitics and geopolitical theories. I was a prestigious student, because I was from Turkey and Turkey had a significant geostrategic position on the Rimland to protect NATO’s Southeastern flank to contain the Soviet expansion and the Turkish Armed Forces were an important asset for the US interests with its size and capabilities. Moreover, the Americans had not yet forgotten that Turkish soldiers had died in Korea to save a US division from annihilation, and a US army from being surrounded.
Despite the paradoxes that created tension from time to time, Turkish – American relations up until the end of the Cold War era were quite simple and consistent. Security interests were aligned to a great extent, against a common threat. In other words, Turkey’s geographic location and armed forces contributed to US interests to contain the Soviets and Communism; and Turkey felt safer facing the Soviet Union as a NATO member, with the support of the United States.
US Geostrategy in the Post Cold War Era
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell suddenly, marking the unexpected end of the Cold War. In 1991, the Soviet Union disintegrated. In the summer of 1991, I was assigned to SHAPE, Belgium; the Supreme Headquarters Allied Power Europe, with the rank of Bgd. General. SHAPE was in chaos, trying to adapt to the new geopolitical environment and to find itself a new mission, since the main threat, the Soviet Union had collapsed. Shortly after, in the former Yugoslavia, Muslim Bosnians were attacked by Christian Serbians; in the meantime, SHAPE US and UK intelligence officers were explaining us in weekly briefings how Islamic fundamentalism was becoming a threat. It was a striking paradox, hard for me to understand. The Western World, including NATO, was not making an attempt to protect the Muslim Bosnians from Christian Serbians.
Something else I found difficult to comprehend, along with the rest of the world, were ideas expressed by Francis Fukuyama, in his famous article The End of History (2), published in The National Interest in 1989 and later in his book The End of History and The Last Man (3), published in 1992. According to Fukuyama, the fall of communism and the triumph of free market liberalism had brought the end of history. In his article, Fukuyama said that a remarkable consensus concerning the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a system of government had emerged throughout the world over the past few years, as it conquered rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy, fascism, and most recently communism. Fukuyama’s thoughts were met with suspicion, as if he were trying to prepare the ideological ground for the United States’ post Cold War geopolitical interests.
Samuel P. Huntington’s article The Clash of Civilizations (4), published in the Foreign Affairs in 1993, was perceived as another confusing and confused thesis by some circles, influenced the US grand strategy significantly. According to Huntington, world politics was entering a new phase in which the great divisions among human kind and the dominating source of international conflict would be not primarily ideological or economical, but primarily cultural. From Yugoslavia to the Middle East to Central Asia, the fault lines of civilization would be the battle lines of the future. Huntington claimed that “the principle conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. Conflict between civilizations will be the latest phase in the evolution of conflict in the modern world.”
In his article, which he later published as a book, Huntington categorized civilizations as Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African. Actually, Huntington’s ideas formed a paradox since the struggle for geopolitical power or world supremacy in the 21st century would mainly be made for the control of strategic resources, sea lines of communications and economic markets, which naturally would bring major political results as well. The second paradox was that the first potential adversary presented to the West, radical Islam, was not just a culture, but predominantly an ideology. In other words, it would be impossible to isolate geopolitical interests, economic desires and ideological differences in the power struggle of the 21st century.
To illustrate Huntington’s paradox, while describing the war against terror in October and November 2005, President George W. Bush defined Islam as an ideology and identified radical Islam with the ideology of Communism. Additionally, in the same speech, George W. Bush, creating new terminology such as “Islamo-fascism” and “Militant-jihadism” indicated that the main clash of the century would continue to be in the form of “clash of civilizations”. While Samuel P. Huntington’s ideas formed the infrastructure for the global geopolitics of the United States, they also caused the main fault of the global geostrategy, since Huntington’s ideas reflected a serious prejudice for a new form of confrontation. Although Huntington’s thesis is becoming a reality and radical Islam has become a source of violence, it does not change the fact that his thesis is a prejudice. Huntington’s ideas misguided US global geostrategy which should be based on calculations and rationality, not prejudice. I surely understood what the SHAPE intelligence officers meant when I read the ideas of Samuel P. Huntington.
Additionally, in his famous article, Huntington claimed that as people classified themselves by civilization, countries that contained large numbers of peoples of different civilizations, such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were candidates for dismemberment. He also said that the most prototypically and historically torn country is Turkey, alarming words for us Turkish people. (5)
In the National Security Strategy of the United States published in August 1991, the following statements regarding the US interests and objectives for 1990’s; “to ensure access to foreign markets, energy, mineral resources, the oceans and space” and “to maintain stable regional military balances to deter those powers to seek regional dominance,” provided the true clues to American geopolitics of the 21st century (6) and neither of these geopolitical interests represented cultural differences as the main cause of the conflicts of the new century according to the ideas of Samuel P. Huntington.
In 1997, Zbigniev Brzezinski, in his famous book the Grand Chessboard, American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (7) referred to Huntington by saying that, “a world without US primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth, than a world where the US continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global affairs. The sustained international primacy of the United States is central to the welfare and security of Americans…” and provided clues to the US geopolitical interests of the 21st century as well.
Actually, Brzezinski’s book was a proposed geostrategy to the US administration, and in his book he stated that “for America, the chief geopolitical prize is Eurasia… and America’s global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained.” (8) Eurasia is thus the “chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played.” (9) Brzezinski also said “in that context, how America ‘manages’ Eurasia is critical. Eurasia is the globe’s largest continent and is geopolitically axial. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions… About 75% of the world’s people live in Eurasia and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for about 60% of the world’s GNP and about 3/4ths of world’s known energy resources.”
In summary, in order to sustain its global primacy, Z. Brzezinski proposed to the US authorities to increase US influence on the Eurasian chessboard, to convince Europe (France, Germany or the European Union), Russia and China to adopt roles that suit US interests and to prevent the rise of hegemonic regional powers or coalitions in Eurasia which might hamper US interests. In fact, Brzezinski’s proposed geostrategy is copied from Hitler’s mentor, Karl Haushoffer’s thesis of living space and applied to Eurasia; and though not explicitly, makes the energy rich Eurasian region of Central Asia, the Middle East and Caucasus, America’s living space.
In relation with Turkey, in his book, Brzezinski said that “to promote a stable and independent Southern Caucasus and Central Asia, America must be careful not to alienate Turkey… Regular consultations with Ankara regarding the future of the Caspian Sea basin and Central Asia would foster in Turkey a sense of strategic partnership with the United States.” Needless to say, Brzezinski understood Turkey’s role, especially in the Southern Caucasus, Caspian Sea basin and Central Asia and the importance of motivating Turkey as a strategic partner of the US in order to promote US strategic interests in those regions.(10)
The fact that “preventing the emergence of hostile regional coalition or hegemon; ensuring freedom of the seas and security of international sea lines communications, airways and space; ensuring inhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and, strategic resources” is listed as vital nationals interest in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), published in 1997 (11), makes it easy for us to understand the objectives of the global geostrategy of the US. In other words, prevention of the development of regional hegemonic powers or coalitions opposing US interests in Eurasia; control of open seas, based on Admiral Thayer Mahan’s recommendations and sources of energy and expansion of markets, form the basis of US geostrategy for global primacy.
Similar statements are also included in the QDR prepared shortly after 9/11. In this document, preclusion hostile domination of critical areas; security of international sea, air, space and information lines of communication; access to key markets and strategic resources are mentioned as enduring national interests of the US.(12) These documents clearly express the objectives of the global geostrategy of the US. In summary, the global geostrategy of the US is based on the control of strategic resources and markets, critical geographic regions and communication lines; and advantageous power balances in Eurasia. However, because of the imbalance between the objectives in American geostrategy and its strategic capabilities, the chances of success of this geostrategy do not seem to be so high.
The National Security Strategy of the US prepared after 9/11 stated that “The United States possesses unprecedented -and unequalled- strength and influence in the world… this position comes with unparalleled responsibilities, obligations and opportunity. The great strength of this nation must be used to promote a balance of power that favors freedom.”(13) These expressions were aimed mostly to create a psychological impact; because it soon became apparent that, although the US has the world’s most advanced military power, the power was not balanced with its global objectives. The United States military power is over-stretched and has reached its culminating point in Afghanistan and Iraq. It has become evident that the US does not have the capability to fight in two fronts, its capacity to support prolonged anti-insurgency wars is limited and therefore the US is having difficulty in reaching its geostrategic goals. When it became apparent that there is an imbalance between the actual strength and objectives of the United States geostrategy, the paradox between the above stated geopolitical intentions and the geostrategic reality encouraged other players like China and Russia to compete with the US on the Eurasian chessboard.
Today, the United States is faced with a Eurasia that is far from suiting its geostrategic intentions. Europe does not support the US’ global war against terror sufficiently and the EU desires to establish its own military capability. Although it no longer has the potential to be a world power, the Russian Federation is on the rise, strengthening its economy thanks to rising oil prices, and is no longer the Russia that the US would like to see in Eurasia. Rising China is already a global player with its economic potential and a regional power with its military capability; and China conflicts with the US’ Eurasian interests. Moreover, China and Russia are in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, searching for new initiatives of cooperation with the oil rich Central Asian countries.
On the other hand, the US National Security Strategy, National Military Strategy and the National Strategy for Weapons of Mass Destruction, that became effective after 9/11, are all based on the preemptive strike strategic concept, which dictates elimination of potential threats, the “rougue states”, before they actually become threats. Since development of deterrent capabilities by the declared potential target states is natural and indispensable; and the possession of deterrent capabilities by the targets states converts them into real threats, it is justified to say that this strategic concept is not conforming to the needs of contemporary strategic understanding - which should seek to diffuse threats and realize interests by peaceful means; not with confrontations, but with compromises. Because of the declared preemptive strategic concept, the US is having difficulties to overcome strategic issues caused by the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.
The thesis of the famous futurist Alvin Toffler (14), which claims that the third wave armies of the third wave civilizations with the capability to fight information wars will be the victors of the all future wars, against armies of first and second wave civilizations, has also misguided the US geostrategy. The US military authorities, still under the influence of the rapid and decisive victory of the Gulf War in 1991, initiated the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, with third wave digital divisions, but lacking capabilities for stability operations. Shortly after the invasion, on May 1st, 2003, President George W. Bush declared that the mission in Iraq was complete. However, thirty months later, same President George W. Bush, declared a new strategy named “The Strategy for Victory in Iraq”. This was a paradox caused by misunderstanding of the nature of the war in Iraq. This proved not only that first wave digital armies are not suitable for stability operations and that Alvin Toffler’s thesis is not correct; but also that the US military does not have sufficient capability and war fighting doctrine for prolonged insurgency wars. Moreover, as a weakness of its military strategy, the US military does not have the capacity to bring numerical superiority onto the battle field; to which Carl von Clausewitz has attached great value for suppressing insurgents.
It may also be said that the US has initiated its geostrategic attempts, the global war, without estimating the required military strength to sustain those attempts, without preparing sufficient power, or forming coalitions and strategic partnerships to increase its strength, transforming its military power in accordance with the changing nature of war or relocating its military power in geographical regions which provide easy access to critical areas. For these reasons, the US could not balance its geostrategic aims with its military means. At this point, it is wise to recall Carl von Clausewitz’s famous maxim; “A prince or a general can best demonstrate his genius by managing a campaign exactly to suit his objectives and his resources, doing neither too much, nor to little.” (15)
Turkey’s Search for Geopolitical / Geostrategic Identity in the Post Cold War Era
The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in significant power vacuums in the Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia. Considering the facts and advantages of the new geopolitical environment, soon after the diffusion of the threat of the Cold War, Turkey initiated a realpolitic attempt with the slogan “from the Adriatic to the Great Wall (of China).”
This slogan reflected the desired area of influence of Turkey’s geostrategy for Eurasia. However, in spite of its historical, ethnic, cultural and religious advantages, Turkey was not prepared for such an initiative: Turkey did not possess the political, economic, financial or psychological means, did not have the leadership or the strategic experience to influence such a large geography and therefore could not satisfy the demands of the newly independent Turkic states of Central Asia and Azerbaijan. Thus, with this unrealistic geostrategy, Turkey did not become an effective geostrategic player in Eurasia. Turkey’s geostrategy, with its limited influence, turned into a frustration; this not only caused worldwide suspicion about Turkey’s intentions, but also led other geostrategic players of Eurasia and the US to initiate serious initiatives to fill these power vacuums.
Since Turkey, at the end of the Cold War era, had to redefine its geographical areas of interests and influence, and the geostrategic centers of gravity within those regions; Turkey should have prioritized its geostrategic attempts accordingly, balanced its interests with its available means; and, where its interests are not balanced, should have sought to develop strategic partnership(s) with influential geostrategic player(s) for cooperation where mutual interests converge.
While planning to be an influential power of the Great Game in Eurasia, paradoxically, Turkey had to occupy itself with and to carry out a serious fight against the PKK insurgency, to ensure security and integrity of the homeland.
In parallel with changing international situation, intellectual discussions and research regarding Turkey’s interests and possible roles in Eurasia are still in progress in Turkey; while state level political, diplomatic and military cooperation and educational initiatives of Turkish institutions continue. Along with reactions to the US’s and the EU’s policies related with Turkey and emotional nationalism, there is also search for new realistic concepts to meet Turkey’s future geostrategic needs. Improvement of relations with neighbor countries and creation of a peace belt around Turkey; development of relations especially with regional powers, such as Russia and Iran; organization of a regional community of states in coordination with regional powers and neighboring states; improvement of interests in Eurasia either taking part in Russian Alexander Dugin’s Eurasia concept developed as an anti-thesis for so-called Atlanticism or development of mutual relations with the rising power China might be mentioned as some geostrategic thoughts discussed in various circles.
It is worth stating that slippery relations and potential tensions with the US and the EU, irrational requests for concessions, with new ideas being developed in line with the changing geopolitical-geostrategic environment have the potential to bring Turkey to a point for making alternative geostrategic choices. To continue close political relations with the West, the US and the EU, might be the first choice. The second choice might be the change of direction towards Eurasia and adoption of a Eurasian geopolitical-geostrategic model, which could mean closer geostrategic relations with active players of Eurasia. The third choice could design a geostrategy to develop relations with both the West and the East, based on reciprocal interests and geostrategic balances.
My personal choice is close to the third model: Turkey should continue to develop its relations with the US and the EU, based on mutual interests and rationality; seriously contribute to creation of a peace belt in surrounding regions; and improve its relations with China, Russia and India, the active geostrategic players of Eurasia, as well as with the Shangai Organization for Cooperation; all based on mutual respect, interests and regional balances. Additionaly, Turkey should also leverage its geostrategically central position and power in Eurasia to improve its geopolitical interests. In order to realize this, Turkey should have a comprehensive geostrategy for Eurasia and this geostrategy should carefully exploit the Ankara-Baku-Tashkent geostrategic axis.
Prospect of EU membership has an important impact on Turkish international relations in the post Cold War era. Turkey has recently become a candidate state for accession and membership negotiations have already started. Turkey sees EU membership as an important instrument to improve its democratic values and to achieve level of contemporary civilization. The EU realizes that Turkey, with a majority Muslim population, could be an important model country, and with its geography, could play a major role in the security of energy supply of the enlarged Europe. The EU also values Turkey as a dynamic growing market and the Turkish military as a force of stability in the Balkans, Caucasus, Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The EU is also interested with Turkey’s water resources of Southeast Anatolia, since water in the Middle East will become a strategic issue and international management of those water supplies is desirable in EU eyes.
However, the EU officials state that, because of the potential impact of its population, geographic size, location and economic and security conditions, Turkey’s accession would be different than other candidates; and membership cannot be guaranteed. Regardless, the EU desires to anchor Turkey to its structure by all possible means and prevent Turkey from pursuing alternative geostrategic initiatives. Additionally, the EU asks for concessions deeply rooted in historical prejudices and may seriously endanger Turkey’s integrity. Under these conditions, Turkey’s relations with the EU do not seem to be healthy.
The Paradoxical Logic of US-Turkey Relations in the Post Cold War Era
(Converging and Diverging Interests)
The geopolitical and geostrategic conditions of the post Cold War era are completely different from before. In order to sustain its global supremacy, the US has initiated its strategic attempts in Eurasia as a non-Eurasian geostrategic power, exploiting the advantageous conditions of being the sole global power of the new era. The US, in order to sustain its preponderance efficiently, has made an effort to realize its interests on the Eurasian continent before the rise of regional hegemons and challenging coalitions. Moreover, the US is a nation at war and fighting a global war on terror. However, the US does not have sufficient military capabilities to sustain its geostrategic attempts or to meet the requirements of the new global war. The US has not been able to establish the required coalitions or strategic partnerships to realize its agenda; and could not convince the Europeans of the need for NATO’s expanded contributions to increase its military capabilities.
Located at the center of the World Island, during the Cold War Turkey had significant geostrategic value because of its critical location on Rimland. In the post Cold War era, Turkey is still geostrategically critical, located next to the living space of the continent of Eurasia, which is composed of the energy rich Middle East, Central Asia and Caucasus geographical regions and with the capability either to support or to contain strategic attempts towards the living space. Additionally, its geographic location enables Turkey to expand its influence in the Black Sea, the Balkans, Eastern Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East and Caucasus regions. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and the pipelines proposed to be built eastwards and southwards will increase Turkey’s geostrategic value; since it may become a vital energy bridge to contribute significantly to global energy security. Moreover, with its water resources, its Islamic population with secular administrative system, young and dynamic population, growing economy, military capabilities and with its ability to change strategic balances, Turkey is a significant regional power. Zbigniev Brzezinski well understood Turkey’s geostrategic value and stated that Turkey is an ‘important geopolitical pivot’ and ‘to some extent active player’ on the Eurasian chessboard. (16) Therefore, the US sees Turkey as an indispensable ally.
Because of all these facts, the US desires to continue strategic relations with Turkey established in the Cold War era. There have been incidents to indicate that the US also desires to make use of Turkey’s geography and its military facilities established to meet the Cold War military requirements, as a forward operation base within its new global geostrategic structure, to sustain and support its military operations for new geostrategic needs and balance its strategic military limitations with the Turkish Armed Forces. The US also values Turkey’s political structure as a secular state with majority of Islam population as a model in the Broader Middle East concept and defines Turkey as the key state because of its geostrategically critical location and strategic capabilities in the Broader Middle East. It is worth stating at this point that the US’s regional interests and Turkish security interests which were in conformity during the Cold War era do not always converge any more and may diverge from time to time and this causes the main strategic difference in the US-Turkish political relations. Regardless, in the post Cold War period, Turkey supported NATO operations in former Yugoslavia and contributed to the US-led military initiative for war on terror in Afghanistan by sending troops and a NATO assigned corps headquarters.
Mainly because of the Turkey’s geographical proximity to Iraq, the US intervention became a test for the post Cold War US-Turkish relations. Before the US invasion of Iraq, it was planned to open the northern front and to employ the 4th US Division through Turkey; however, the Turkish Parliament vote on 1st of March, 2003 refused the US requests and the northern option did not work. The US authorities who claimed that they invaded Iraq in order to overthrow the autocratic regime of Saddam Hussein and to build a democratic Iraq; did not want to understand that the decision of the Turkish Parliament regarding employment of the 4th Infantry Division was the democratic right of a sovereign state and therefore the attitude of the US authorities was a paradox. As a result, the US punished Turkey’s initiative by developing close relations with the Kurds against Turkey’s security interests in Iraq. Moreover, as if taking revenge from an enemy, US soldiers commanded by a colonel, detained members of the Turkish special forces on 4th of July 2004 in Northern Iraq. In other words, the US military detained and humiliated Turkish soldiers who had sacrificed their own lives during the Korean War, and saved a US division from destruction and a US army from encirclement. This incident was a paradox impossible to overcome and caused accumulation of anti-American feelings among the Turkish people. The US authorities claim that the military intervention in Afghanistan is part of the global war on terror, which Turkey supports with military contribution; and one of the reasons of intervention in Iraq was Saddam Hussein’s so-called support to terrorist groups. However, same US authorities did neither take any action nor permit Turkey to conduct operations against PKK terrorist organization based in Northern Iraq. This double standard caused another serious paradox difficult to explain to the Turkish people. Iraq case was a test for the post Cold War US-Turkish relations, and ruled by paradoxes, mutual interests did not converge but diverged most of the time.
Presently, regime change in Syria and preemptive strike to Iran’s nuclear facilities to disrupt its program and Turkey’s possible contributions to the US potential strategic attempts are being discussed. Both Syria and Iran are Turkey’s neighbors. Most of the US geostrategic attempts are taking place in the vicinity of Turkey’s geography and force Turkey to make difficult decisions. The US is not eager to understand that regional stability is Turkey’s most vital interest and each US geostrategic attempt damages it and the historical balances of the region as well.
It would not be correct to say that the mutual interests of the US and Turkey always diverge in the post Cold War era. For example, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline system which was built with the support of the US, presented an outstanding model of mutual cooperation, served both the US and Turkish interests and will contribute to world energy security significantly.
In his speech during the 24th Annual Conference of the American-Turkish Council, held in 6 June 2005, General İlker Başbuğ said, “First of all we should understand that there may be differences even between allies. The important point is that, regardless of the number of the common points, the differences should be at an acceptable and manageable level. Therefore our main mission is the designation of the converging points of the US-Turkish interests and expansion of those fields.’ General Başbuğ concluded his remarks by saying that, ‘Turkey’s relations with the US are so broad in its contents that they can not be tied to a single specific subject and those relations are either within or have to be within the balance that considers the national interests of both countries.’ I believe General İlker Başbuğ has analyzed the US-Turkish relations properly and emphasized the focal point: the need for understanding of balanced mutual interests for healthy future relations.
It should be well understood that US-Turkish geopolitical/geostrategic relations are no longer simple and easy, like they had been in the past. US-Turkish relations in the post Cold War era have progressed on slippery and risky grounds, since the interests of both parties do not always converge as they did in the past and based on the current geostrategic conditions, they may even diverge and it may even be difficult for the US to accept that fact because of Turkey’s geostrategic value.
I personally believe that the US-Turkish relations of the new era should be discussed in detail with mutual participation and redefined in order to eliminate potential risks and to establish healthier grounds for the future.
It is important for the US authorities to understand that the words of Charles De Gaulle “no nation has friends-only interests” do not only dominate US international relations, but also relations of all countries, including Turkey; and address not only the US national interests but also the interests of Turkey. The future of US-Turkish relations should be determined by the balance of mutual interests, as General Başbuğ emphasized. Therefore, while the relations of the new era are to be discussed and redefined, definition of converging mutual interests is also essential. Meanwhile, it would also be helpful to accept a larger role and responsibility for Turkey in Trans-Caucasus, Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean regions to balance the geostrategic interests of the US with its limited strategic capabilities.
Such an understanding would represent the responsibility of the ‘greatness’ of the US, since according to Sir Winston S. Churchill, ‘the price of greatness is responsibility’. In other words, the US could prove its ‘greatness’ not only with its imposed geostrategic interests, but also by demonstrating its responsibility. That implies that the US may remain ‘great’ as long as it is ‘responsible’.
US authorities state that the US is a ‘nation at war’. The US authorities should understand that Turkey does not want to be a nation at war and if one day Turkey should have to fight a war, not the US interests, but only the intensity of the effected vital interests of Turkey will decide Turkey’s engagement. Most importantly, when the US – Turkish interests do not converge but diverge, the US should understand that to live with a Turkey which may not be by its side, is far preferable to a Turkey on the opposite side; and to recognize that the impositions of the US are bringing Turkey closer to Eurasia, and such a tendency can endanger US regional interests seriously in the future.
1. Onur Цymen, Silahsız Savaş, Remzi Kitabevi, 2002, p.443
2. Francis Fukuyama; The End of History, The National Interest, 1989
3. Francis Fukuyama; The End of History and The Last Man, London, Hamish Hamilton, 1992
4. Samuel P. Huntington; The Clash of Civilizations, Foreign Affairs, 1993
5. Samuel P. Huntington; The Clash of Civilizations, Foreign Affairs, 1993
6. National Security Strategy of the United States, 1991
7. Zbigniev Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard, Basic Books, 1997, p. 31
8. Ibid, p.30
9. Ibid, p.31
10. Ibid, p.203-204
11. Quadrennial Defense Review, Department of Defense, 1997
12. Quadrennial Defense Review, Department of Defense, September 2001
13. National Security Strategy of the United States, September 2002
14. War and Anti-war, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Warner Books, 1993
15. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Princeton University Press, 1976, p.177
16. The Grand Chessboard, p.41
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