Analysis

Summary: Many of the developments that shake the world happen around Turkey, most notably Iraq, Iran, and Georgia. Both the Turkish state and nation feel the effects of political and military developments in the regions surrounding the country and the importance of the transatlantic alliance will be further highlighted through Turkey. America and the European Union would be well advised to treat Turkey as a valued member of the alliance and communicate to the Turkish public their intentions and policies in a more direct and constructive fashion.

Will Turkey Opt Out?
by Soli Ozel*

ISTANBUL — Many of the developments that shake the world happen around Turkey. Iraq, Iran, and Georgia all neighbor Turkey and Ankara’s engagement with these countries is multifaceted. As a direct connection for the transatlantic alliance to these troubled regions, Turkey’s views, choices, and direction are important for Western strategy and security. Both the Turkish state and the nation feel the direct and indirect effects of political and military developments in regions surrounding the country. The public’s outlook on international affairs is thus shaped. Similarly the public’s assessment of the country’s alliance relations reflects these realities. Whether or not Turkey receives the respect, consideration, and understanding from its allies help form the public’s vision of transatlantic relations. Turkey is also in the unique position of being a secular, democratic country with a majority Muslim population that has been institutionally a member of the transatlantic alliance for over five decades. Furthermore, the country is engaged in accession negotiations with the European Union. Given how recent geopolitical developments and Turkey’s own constructive engagement in its neighborhoods (the
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last such move being the visit by the Turkish President to Armenia ostensibly to watch the soccer game between the two national teams) raised Turkey’s profile in international relations, the views of the Turkish public on the transatlantic alliance are more pertinent than ever. In that sense Transatlantic Trends, a public opinion survey published by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, offers a number of important findings about Turkey’s sense of itself and how it views and evaluates its allies. Perhaps the two most important findings of the survey, similar to earlier ones, are that the Turks see their country as a “lone wolf” and more alarmingly, consider themselves non-Western. A Turkish diplomat, Bulent Nuri Eren, once said that “Turkey is a lone wolf without instinctive friends or allies.” To prove him right, the Turks do not have much sympathy for almost any other people or country. According to Transatlantic Trends, on a 100-point thermometer scale reading of “Turkish feelings toward others,” Turkey scores 80 degrees (so the Turks like themselves as a nation despite their endless internecine conflicts and fights) with the second ranking held by the Palestinians at 44 degrees. The rest of the countries surveyed score less than 33 degrees.

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Soli Ozel teaches at Istanbul Bilgi University’s Department of International Relations and Political Science and is a columnist for the Turkish daily Sabah. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF).

Analysis

Almost half of the Turkish public (48 degrees) “felt that, on international matters, Turkey should act alone.” Such degree of unilateralism surpasses even the American tendency to go it alone and reflects a combination of distrust in and disappointment with its allies. Both of these are a function of the perception in Turkey that the allies do not care much for Turkey’s interests, and do not keep their promises to help Turkey in matters that it considers to be vital to its national security. Add to this the fact that since the Gulf war of 1991, all U.S. military threats and interventions have involved Turkey’s neighbors, the alliance appears to be providing more insecurity than security. But one has to be concerned about the strength of isolationism probably combined with self-righteousness that permeates all strata of Turkish society (in this as in many other such variables the Turks are more similar to the Americans than they are to core European countries). A healthier relation with the allies of the transatlantic alliance will necessitate shedding this outlook and inclination. Transatlantic Trends also shows that 55 percent of Turks do not consider themselves Western, on the basis of having different values. This is an assessment that is shared by many if not most Europeans. The survey does not specify exactly what these values are. Other surveys taken in Turkey at different times showed that Turks identified themselves mostly with Europe and the West and to a much lesser extent with Middle Eastern countries or Central Asian republics. This result may therefore reflect less the commitment of Turks to democracy than the disenchantment with the Western security system. In fact, the desirability of U.S. or EU leadership in world affairs remained at 8 percent and 22 percent respectively and those who saw NATO as essential were just 38 percent of respondents. What is one to make of these results? Is the West losing Turkey? It is too early to jump to conclusions. While it is true that many Turks see the Western alliance as detrimental to Turkish security and the enthusiasm for EU membership seems to have waned considerably, there is enough reason to think that these are not unalterable conditions. To start with EU membership, Turkish polls show that during the recent political crises in the country support for EU membership rose considerably. Some of that rise may not have been reflected in Transatlantic Trends. The real problem concerning the sentiment about EU membership is the absence of vocal political support for it. In fact Turkey’s main opposition parties are

“The real problem concerning the sentiment about EU membership is the absence of vocal political support for it.”
staunchly anti-EU, or find it politically expedient to be so. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), as a result, feels no pressure to revitalize the comatose accession process. It sees no political payoff from the EU process, certainly not until the all important municipal elections are out of the way. Consequently Turkey’s substantial pro-EU public is without a voice. Under these circumstances, the level of support for EU membership should be considered solid. As in the rest of the world the excessive negativism concerning the United States and American foreign policy is more a reflection on the Bush administration than the United States per se. This year’s Transatlantic Trends data shows that antipathy for the United States has already bottomed out. The visible change in American policies vis-a-vis the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was a major factor in turning the tide. The Turkish public deeply resented what it perceived to be American support for an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq, and was infuriated by U.S. reluctance and foot-dragging in fighting the PKK and convincing the Kurds in Iraq to deny them cover. It was only after President Bush called the PKK “an enemy of the United States” and the U.S. military began providing actionable intelligence that the mood changed significantly. In this case as well, some political actors exacerbated the situation by vilifying the United States. For a long time since the Iraq war some in particular influential circles, many of them former military commanders, questioned the viability and the benefits of the transatlantic alliance for Turkish national security. Instead they proposed a so-called “Eurasian” alternative that favored closer cooperation with Russia, Iran, and possibly China as well. The most prominent proponents of such a line of thinking were pacified or neutralized within and without the military, partly as a result of the so-called “Ergenekon” trial. More importantly, perhaps, the new

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Analysis

“In the wake of the Russian aggression against Georgia... the United States and the European Union would be well advised to treat Turkey as a valued member of the alliance and communicate to the Turkish public their intentions and policies in a more direct and constructive fashion.
military top brass reiterated its commitment to the transatlantic alliance and judged the relations between the Turkish and the American militaries as excellent. The government, as well, has a much closer relationship with and much better understanding of American concerns and the full dimensions of that relationship than was the case at the beginning of its term. How relations will evolve will be as much a function of how the transatlantic alliance reformulates itself and the choices Europe makes as the ability of Ankara and Washington to properly define their common interests, goals, and limitations. In the wake of the Russian aggression against Georgia and the recognition by Moscow of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the importance of the transatlantic alliance will be further highlighted although Turkey and the Turkish public do not wish to needlessly antagonize the Russians. In short, as the geostrategic picture changes and the Turkish national security elite once more owns up to Turkey’s transatlantic commitment, the public’s opinion and attitude are likely to change for the better. To secure this the United States and the European Union would be well advised to treat Turkey as a valued member of the alliance and communicate to the Turkish public their intentions and policies in a more direct and constructive fashion.

Soli Ozel, Lecturer, Bilgi University; Columnist, Sabah
Soli Ozel teaches at Istanbul Bilgi University’s Department of International Relations and Political Science. He is a columnist for the national daily Sabah and is senior advisor to the chairman of the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association. Additionally, he is the editor of TUSIAD’s magazine Private View.

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. GMF does this by supporting individuals and institutions working on transatlantic issues, by convening leaders to discuss the most pressing transatlantic themes, and by examining ways in which transatlantic cooperation can address a variety of global policy challenges. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. 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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