How the US and Turkey can get their relationship back on track

How the US and Turkey can get their relationship back on track

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created the greatest geopolitical crisis in the transatlantic region since World War II. It is not surprising that NATO is rethinking its role in the world in light of the new reality in Eastern Europe.
Turkey’s role is central to almost everything NATO does. Since the early days of the alliance, Turkey has played a leading role in transatlantic security. Ankara’s control over the Turkish Strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, was crucial for regional security during the Cold War. During the Balkan crisis in the 1990s, Turkish troops played an important role in peacekeeping operations. And during NATO operations in Afghanistan, Turkey remained one of the largest troop-contributing countries and stayed until the very end to help with the evacuation of Kabul.
However, after more than 80 years of strong bilateral relations, US-Turkish relations have stalled in recent years. Since Ankara’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, Turkey’s withdrawal from the F-35 program, US support in northern Syria for the YPG group that Turkey considers terrorist, and the leader of the Gulen movement, Fethullah Gulen, currently residing in rural areas. Pennsylvania, there is no shortage of big problems in the relationship.
Even with these differences, the current geopolitical situation in Europe demands that US-Turkish relations get back on track. It is time to take real and modest confidence-building measures between the two parties. Instead of focusing on the main sticking points in bilateral relations, such as the situation in northern Syria, the purchase of S-400 or the extradition of Gulen, the two parties should focus on areas of smaller and more achievable cooperation.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will travel to Washington next month for talks with his American counterpart, Antony Blinken. This meeting will follow a series of lower-level engagements between US and Turkish officials. Both parties need to focus on realistic and achievable goals to improve the relationship. There are three areas in particular.
The first is Ukraine. Since Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Turkey has been one of the most vocal supporters of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. On the one hand, Turkey has cordial relations with Moscow for reasons that can be described as geopolitical pragmatism. On the other hand, Turkey has been one of the most vocal critics of Russia’s latest aggression against Ukraine.

Instead of focusing on major sticking points in bilateral relations, the two sides should focus on smaller and more achievable areas of cooperation.

Luc Coffey

Ankara has also supplied Ukraine with the Bayraktar TB2 drones which have proven effective in places like Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. Drones are also proving very successful in Ukraine against Russian forces. In fact, overall, Turkish defense sales to Ukraine for the first three months of 2022 were 30 times higher than the same period last year. No doubt Ukraine will be at the top of the agenda when Turkish and US officials meet next month. Both parties should use this question as a way to build trust in the relationship.
Second, both parties share a common interest in a prosperous future for NATO. Even with the problems of US-Turkish bilateral relations, cooperation has continued within the framework of NATO. For example, there is a lot of agreement between Washington and Ankara on the importance of NATO enlargement at a time when many others in Europe are hesitant on this issue. NATO is currently drafting a new Strategic Concept document, the first in more than a decade. This document will guide the strategic direction of the alliance for the next few years. Ankara and Washington should also work together during this important process.
Finally, the United States should work with Turkey regarding European energy security. The South Caucasus, Caspian, and Central Asia are regions where the United States and Turkey have overlapping common interests. Both are wary of the growing involvement of Russia and China in these areas. The United States wants European countries to tap into the region’s energy resources to reduce their dependence on Russia, with Turkey aiming to be the energy hub that makes this possible. Specifically, the United States should ask Turkey to use its influence to get Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to agree to the construction of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline to bring natural gas from Central Asia to European markets.
In recent weeks, there has been a major shift in Turkish foreign policy to focus on diplomacy and reconciliation. Whether it is improving relations with the United Arab Emirates and Israel or a possible normalization with Armenia, it is clear that Ankara wants to improve diplomatic relations which were previously strained.
Since Turkey joined NATO in 1952, bilateral US-Turkish relations have helped ensure the security of the transatlantic community. It is not only in the interest of Washington and Ankara to get their relationship back on track, but also of the EU, NATO and their partners in the region.
In the interests of transatlantic security, let’s hope that Washington and Ankara can find areas of cooperation and rebuild their relationship.

  • Luke Coffey is the director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Twitter: @LukeDCoffey

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News

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