The Heritage Foundation: Turkey is pursuing aspiration to become independent pole in multipolar world

The Heritage Foundation: Turkey is pursuing aspiration to become independent pole in multipolar world

Azerbaijan, Baku, Aug.4 / Trend, E.Tariverdiyeva /

The Heritage Foundation's Research Center published an article is prepared by Sally McNamara Senior Policy Analyst, European Affairs, James Phillips Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs and Ariel Cohen, Ph.D. Senior Research Fellow, a leading expert of the Foundation  on Russia, Eurasia, and international energy security, a member of the expert board of the Trend Agency.

For decades, Turkey and the United States cooperated in the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and even Korea. However, Turkish and U.S. interests in the Balkans, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf have recently diverged. On its current trajectory, Turkey's traditional strategic relationship with the West could devolve into a looser affiliation while Turkey enters into a closer alliance with Iran and other Middle Eastern powers hostile to U.S. leadership. The U.S., in concert with its European allies, needs to address the serious differences that are emerging.

Commonly referred to as the West's bridge to the Muslim world, Turkey has long been a key NATO partner and a strategic ally of Europe and the United States. However, Turkish and U.S. interests in the Balkans, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Persian Gulf have recently diverged. On critical issues, especially energy and the Middle East, Turkey currently stands at odds with the United States. President Obama expressed criticism in June when Turkey defied its traditional allies, including the United States and Israel, by voting against a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran. Further, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has displayed growing Islamist sympathies and exercises an undemocratic stranglehold on power. Recent trends have raised legitimate questions about Turkey's commitment to secular democracy as well as to NATO.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently stated that Turkey's strategic drift away from the West is due in part to the European Union's reluctance to grant Turkey full membership in the organization.     

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen echoed Gates's remarks, criticizing the European Union for its "unfair" treatment of Turkey.  Turkey, the EU, and the U.S. should invest significant time and resources into repairing and revitalizing their relationship. The United States, Turkey, NATO, and the EU have shared regional interests, including the stability of the Caucasus, energy security, and increasing economic ties. However, Turkey needs to play its part too. As a NATO member and a key U.S. partner, Ankara should not undermine solid regional allies such as Israel while cozying up to odious dictators such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

By distancing itself from Europe and the U.S. and reaching out to Russia and the Muslim world, Turkey is pursuing its aspiration to become an independent pole in a multipolar world.

This "neo-Ottoman" vision of Turkey in a multipolar world emphasizes Turkey's access to the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf. It also emphasizes a "zero problems" approach to relations with Turkey's neighbors. However, ongoing friction with Armenia and the increasing confrontation with Israel indicate a lack of success in implementing the policy.

Moscow and Ankara are also uneasy about U.S. and Western policies

Significantly, Turkey parted ways with the U.S. when it refused to take sides during Russia's war against Georgia. During the Russia- Georgia war, Prime Minister Erdoğan proposed a "Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform" that would include Russia and the three South Caucasus countries but not the U.S., EU member states, or Iran. This would effectively have created a Russo- Turkish condominium in the region.

Even though Turkey fits into Russia's vision of a multipolar world, Russian and Turkish interests collide in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Turkey wants to become a transit hub for energy from Russia, Iran, Iraq, and the Caspian basin to Europe, but Russia wants to monopolize European markets and transit routes. Russia has no interest in Turkey having an independent presence in Central Asia and the Caucasus because both nations have competing ambitions for restoring their spheres of influence in Eurasia. In the future, these differences may become insurmountable obstacles to a strategic partnership, despite the two countries' current considerable economic cooperation and warm relations.

Turkish policy toward Iran has also undergone a sea change under the AKP. Ankara, once an important ally in helping to contain Iran, has become a friendly diplomatic ally of the Islamist dictatorship in Tehran. Working with the Lula government in Brazil, Ankara aided and abetted Iran's efforts to forestall U.N. sanctions for its long-standing nuclear defiance.

The AKP-instigated backlash against Israel has made it easier for Erdoğan and Davutoğlu to reorient Turkish foreign policy and extend Turkish support for Islamist causes more broadly.

The United States and NATO should not stand idly by, watching this happen. The U.S., in concert with its European allies, needs to address the serious differences that are emerging. The U.S. cannot dictate the terms of Turkish engagement with the West, but it can induce, persuade, negotiate, and confront Ankara where necessary into maintaining its shared interests, traditional alliances, and existing responsibilities. The European Union should also be honest with Ankara about the prospects of Turkish membership and advance tangible projects that will increase engagement between Brussels and Ankara regardless of Turkey's accession status.

President Obama needs Turkey to be a strong regional partner, but Ankara cannot conduct its own regional diplomacy without consideration for its allies and partners. On energy policy, Ankara needs to show leadership on Nabucco, reject ties to Iran, and emphasize its role as a corridor for transporting Caspian, non-Russian energy to Europe.

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