Analysis

Summary: The Transatlantic Trends Key Findings Report summarizes the Turkish story in 2008. Recent conversations about the results in Ankara and Istanbul suggest some intriguing observations and open questions. The key divide in the Turkish debate is between those who remain attached to the active and “balanced” AKP foreign policy and those who wish to set more deliberate priorities, looking east or west. Many in Europe are weighing the Turkish case in light of past enlargement experience, with a sense that process and momentum are likely to outweigh public reservations. As almost half of Turkish respondents favored a unilateral approach to international issues, it is worth asking whether Turkish perspectives are not closer to those most often ascribed to in Washington.

Turkey and Transatlantic Trends: How Distinctive?
by Dr. Ian O. Lesser*
WASHINGTON — For the last few years, the findings from GMF’s Transatlantic Trends have included a significant Turkey story. For the most part, this has been a narrative about growing public suspicion toward international partners. This core story has not changed substantially with the 2008 results. The findings of Transatlantic Trends suggest that Turks remain inward looking, if not xenophobic, and inclined toward unilateralism in foreign affairs. Turkish perceptions of global challenges are broadly in the transatlantic mainstream, but in other respects, Turkey looks less European and perhaps more American in its policy preferences—an ironic result in light of continued, highly negative views of the United States. The Transatlantic Trends Key Findings Report (see www.transatlantictrends.org) summarizes the Turkish story in 2008. Recent conversations in Ankara and Istanbul on the results suggest some intriguing observations and open questions. Echoes from a polarized society This year, for the first time, Transatlantic Trends asked some basic questions about religiosity in Turkey, with a view toward understanding the implications on Turkish foreign policy preferences. As it turns out, religiosity does not appear to have a significant influence
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on perceptions of international actors and issues. It does, however, make a big difference in Turks’ perceptions of Turkey. The 18 percent of Turks who self-identified themselves as “never” praying five times a day (admittedly a rough and ready measure) are much cooler toward today’s Turkey than their more observant counterparts. This will hardly be surprising news to observers of the Turkish scene. But the finding is reinforced in other areas. Turks are, for example, just as inclined as Europeans to see Turkey as culturally distinctive from the West, and distinctive enough to call into question whether Turkey fits into the West at all. Discussions with a wide range of official and unofficial Turks underscore the deepening polarization affecting Turkish society. The immediate crisis of the closure case against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) may have passed, but Turkey’s post-verdict debate about the future of the country and its foreign policy choices is now even more pointed and polarized. Moreover, the debate is only partly about the question of secularism in governance and daily life. As many observers have noted, there are now much sharper divisions and resentments concerning the role of the media, the private sector, and the state in an economy that still depends heav-

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Dr. Ian O. Lesser is a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GMF.

Analysis

ily on the government as a customer and source of credit. In foreign policy, the divisions are equally striking. Lack of forward motion in Turkey’s EU candidacy has coincided with the rise of a nationalistic and sovereignty-conscious outlook among many Turkish elites. These views now parallel those current in Turkish public opinion, where attitudes toward NATO and the United States remain the most negative on both sides of the Atlantic, and views of Europe remain mixed at best. To be sure, important actors within the Turkish establishment do not share this perspective and remain attached to a Western-oriented and multilateral strategy for Turkey. The key divide is not really between pro-Western elements and “Eurasianists” looking toward Russia and Central Asia. As Transatlantic Trends makes clear, Turkish attitudes toward Russia had cooled even before the crisis in Georgia (the survey was conducted in June 2008), and a more assertive Russian policy around the Black Sea and the Mediterranean poses clear risks for Turkey. Rather, the key divide in the Turkish debate is between those who remain attached to the active and “balanced” AKP foreign policy—a policy that includes but gives no overwhelming priority to relations with Europe and the United States—and those who wish to set more deliberate priorities, looking east or west. From the perspective of public opinion, there has also been a potent third way of inward-looking nationalism, and this is fully reflected in the survey findings. Contradictions in European views of Turkey As with last year’s Transatlantic Trends results, there is an unusual facet to European public attitudes on the question of Turkish membership in the European Union. Not surprisingly, a majority of Europeans are unfavorable toward Turkish membership. But a substantial majority also believe that Turkey will ultimately join the European Union. Clearly, many Europeans who dislike the idea of Turkish membership also feel it is inevitable. In discussing this finding with Turkish audiences, several explanations are offered. It might simply be that Europeans are taking the long view and accounting for flux in the evolution of Europe as well as Turkey. More likely, many in Europe are weighing the Turkish case in light of past enlargement experience, with a sense that process and momentum are likely to outweigh public reservations. Or it may be a statement about the perceived

democratic deficit in European decision-making (“we may object, but in the end, Brussels will do as it likes...”). The likelihood that Turkish accession will face critical public referenda is not necessarily reflected in these responses. Turkish audiences rightly voiced interest—and skepticism— about the implications of this apparently encouraging result for Turkey’s membership prospects. More like the United States? It would surprise and perhaps dismay many Turks to learn that Turkish public attitudes may be more in line with the United States than Europe in several respects. The survey shows that publics on both sides of the Atlantic express very similar public policy concerns, with economic security increasingly prominent. Yet, with almost half the Turkish respondents favoring a unilateral approach to international issues, it is worth asking whether Turkish perspectives are not closer to those most often ascribed to Washington. Certainly, a go it alone posture would be eccentric in Europe. On questions of hard security, including national sovereignty and homeland security, Turkish strategic culture often seems in closer alignment with the United States than with Europe’s preference for soft power and diffuse sovereignty. Admittedly, this can slip into strategic caricature. But the contrasts are worth pondering as Turkey faces harder foreign policy choices, and as public opinion weighs ever more heavily in Turkish strategy—a point of clear convergence with realities on both sides of the Atlantic.
Dr. Ian O. Lesser, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, GMF
Dr. Lesser is a GMF senior transatlantic fellow in Washington, DC, where he focuses on Mediterranean affairs, Turkey, and international security issues. Prior to joining GMF, he was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Dr. Lesser is also president of Mediterranean Advisors, LLC, a consultancy specializing in geopolitical risk.

About GMF
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is a nonpartisan American public policy and grantmaking institution dedicated to promoting greater cooperation and understanding between North America and Europe. Founded in 1972 through a gift from Germany, on the 25th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has seven offices in Europe: Berlin, Bratislava, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, and Bucharest.

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