What Will Happen to Turkey?

Despite the diminished Russia, it still is much more powerful than Turkey...

What Will Happen to Turkey?

In the past, Turkey assisted the US in defeating its enemies. Things have changed. Military disputes between Turkey and other NATO members are causing a huge distrust of Turkey from the West. This is nothing new. Going back to the Iraq invasion, Turkey did not allow the US military to stage its operations within Turkish borders. Many have questioned why Turkey is even still in NATO. Yet there are no motions to remove Turkey from NATO as of this time.

Turkey is one of America’s most important allies, but it presents more challenges to the U.S. than any other member of NATO. The secular, Westernizing, staunchly anti-Soviet Turkey of the Cold War is now led by a populist Islamist. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently rebuked by the Biden administration for anti-Semitic remarks, engages in military interventions from Libya and Syria to Azerbaijan, appears to be drifting from many democratic and European values, and buys weapons from Russia in defiance of American sanctions. As President Biden prepares for a bilateral meeting with Mr. Erdogan later this month, he needs to develop a new way of thinking about this important relationship.

It isn’t only the fact that Turkey is purchasing the S-400 antiaircraft system from Russia. Practically this is not a big deal, but it makes Turkey un-trustworthy. From Iraq until now, Turkey opposes the Kurds who have been a reliable U.S. ally. The U.S. backed the Syrian Kurds and they defeated ISIS. Turkey is afraid that the Kurds will build a semi-independent zone in Syria’s Northeast right along the Turkish border. Yet, this is not a huge issue for Turkey as it has been battling Kurds within its borders for decades.

The next biggest issue for Turkey is its neighbor to the North, Russia. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is much weaker than the Soviet Union was. Today, Russia does not have the ability to pressure Turkey like it once did. Also, Turkey has less of a threat from the U.S. than it once did. Turkey once tried to be a part of the West. The European Union did not allow Turkey to become a member. The EU has very limited power over Turkey. If anything, Turkey has the upper hand against the EU because of the huge number of refugees in Turkey. At the same time, Turkey still has pressure from all surrounding nations.

Despite the diminished Russia, it still is much more powerful than Turkey. Its other neighbor Syria, has hurt the Turkish economy because of terrorism and large number of refugees entering the country. The EU has taken in refugees also, but it has less pressure since it doesn’t border Syria. In addition, the EU is a humungous economy that Turkey depends on for trade and finance. Thus, there is still hope that Erdogan will lead Turkey to become more modern and democratic. Turkey’s reforms are likely to occur, but that does not mean it will become exactly like the West.

President Biden should not try to bring Turkey back into its prominent role in NATO. U.S. foreign policy should work to create a different, yet successful, relationship with the new Turkey.