The U.S. - Turkish Relationship: Blueprint for the Future

 Turkey is now at an important crossroads.

 Turkey is now at an important crossroads. There are worrying indications that Turkey will miss the opportunity to reclaim its rightful position on the world stage if the AK Party continues to make the same kinds of mistakes it has made already with the United States and Europe. Turkey must respond with a full-fledged and sincere attempt to repair the damage.  

There is no question that the military alliance should continue. Some of those furious with Turkey have raised the prospect of replacing Incirlik with a base in Iraq. This would be an enormous error on our side, and one that I hope we do not make. There is no question that the economic partnership should be revitalized. However, it is time for the United States to seriously consider ways in which it can deepen its relationship in other areas, most notably education, with this most important ally. Turkey should lead the way, set the example, for the many countries of the world struggling to emerge from poverty and oppression. 

Speaking of Washington's view of Turkey in the late nineties, former ambassador to Turkey Mark Parris recently stated: "If Turkey could be modern, democratic, and prosperous, and a responsible player on the world stage, so arguably, could other countries with Muslim traditions. Even before 9/11, that was a powerful fact. In a very real sense, Turkey's success would be our success." 

There are a number of ways in which Turkey and the United States can work together to restore the high level of trust that has existed for the past fifty years: 

---Turkey should be involved in the reconstruction of Iraq. It is very important that the Turkish leadership be encouraged to take a positive view of the implementation of a democratic system in this neighboring country. Turkey has a great deal to contribute as a role model and trading partner. Turkey should be a real player in the reconfiguration of the Middle East. 

---Turkey should work to maintain its strong ties to Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom visited Turkey on April 14th. In his meetings with President Necdet Sezer, Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, there were serious discussions about regional stability. As two democratic states in the region, Turkey and Israel have many shared interests. In many ways, Israelis have a better understanding of the dilemmas facing Turkey than do many Americans. 

---Turkey should continue to pursue membership in the European Union. After the U.K. and France, Turkey is certainly the most serious military power in Europe. Turkey has a great deal to offer Europe in terms of security. Turkey's dynamic young population, if appropriately educated for the modern technological world, can make a great contribution to a Europe with aging populations and low birth rates. 

---Turkey should take an active role in the resolution of the Cyprus issue. Cyprus should belong to the Cypriots. Both Greece and Turkey have to let go. The young people of Cyprus, whether ethnic Greeks or ethnic Turks, deserve to make a good future for themselves and their children by working together. France and Germany reconciled after centuries of war, why not Greek and Turkish Cypriots? 


When trust and mutual understanding have been allowed to erode, both sides have to make an extra effort to repair the damage. It is obvious that Pentagon - Turkish General Staff contacts should intensify. It is clear that economic cooperation between Turkey and the U.S. should be amplified.  

Most important, in terms of the long term investment in the relationship, it is essential that a true intellectual dialogue be established through academic and cultural contacts so that Turks and Americans are able to successfully communicate with one another. There is no question that there will be areas of disagreement in the future, but differences between friends are more easily resolved when those friends understand one another. We must encourage academics, journalists and government officials from Turkey to visit the United States. Turkey should similarly encourage such visits from Americans. Years ago, when the Peace Corps was active, a number of the returned volunteers, having acquired fluency in the Turkish language, went on do their doctoral degrees in Turkish or Ottoman Studies, some here in the Near Eastern Studies Department of this great university. These individuals provided an enormous resource for the United States by interpreting developments in Turkey and explaining Turkish history and culture to our university communities and our government policy making officials. 

When an American Fulbright scholar spends a year in Turkey, he or she will provide an opportunity for countless young people to have direct contact with American ideas and values. When a Turkish Fulbright scholar acquires a doctoral degree in the United States, he or she will provide a similar opportunity for Americans. This is a very important investment in the Turkish - American relationship. 

Turkey is indeed at the crossroads. By making right choices now, it can proceed to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of the Turkish Republic. We hope that those choices will include a conscious decision to reestablish the strategic partnership with the United States, and to deepen and expand our friendship of the past fifty years so that it will endure over the coming decades of this new Millennium.


Helena Kane Finn is the Cyrus Vance Fellow in Diplomatic Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.  She delivered the Ahmet Ertegun Lecture for Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University on April 22, 2003.