The U.S.-Turkey relationship has been tested through some of the most serious crises in recent years. The continuing strength of the relationship, despite all the tensions which have resulted from some difficult strategic disagreements and diverging interests, requires a closer look. The two NATO allies appear to have learned to ‘agree to disagree’ and compartmentalize some of the seemingly most deal breaking issues. As Turkey sought to protect its national interests, some in Washington have tried to depict Turkey as a bad actor working against U.S. interests in the region and beyond. The recurring theme of Turkey, somehow leaving the West and aligning itself with the East, has convinced many in the U.S. that Turkey cannot be trusted. However, the U.S.-Turkey relationship has survived despite years of mutual mistrust, strategic divergences, and policy differences. Explaining how this has been possible is not simple by any means, but it is worth exploring.
The Assad regime has been playing all the diplomatic, political, and security cards it has accumulated over the past several decades. While keeping the violence under a certain threshold on a daily basis so as not to provoke immediate international action, the regime has benefited from the entangled and often conflicted international interests in Syria. The opposition has been unable to deal a serious blow to the regime and international pressure has so far yielded no major results. Though calls for international and regional action have recently intensified, there exists no clear international leadership or consensus on how to handle Syria. The Arab League and Turkey, along with other countries, have created the “Friends of Syria” group after the failure of the UN Security Council resolution on Syria, but Russian and Iranian backing for the Assad regime is seriously limiting options. Given its support for the people against authoritarian regimes during the Arab Spring and its anti-Assad stance, expectations for Turkey to “do something” are increasingly more pronounced. So, what’s holding Turkey back?
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed the fourth round of sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran on June 9, 2010. Turkey, along with Brazil, voted in opposition to sanctions while Lebanon abstained from the vote. Turkey and Brazil’s votes were particularly critical because they demonstrated a lack of unity within the international community. The rationale behind Brazil and Turkey’s votes derived from the fact that the nuclear swap deal signed by Iran is, so far, the only concrete deal. It represents the only legal basis that the international community can build upon and hold Iran accountable. Although both countries’ “no” votes were consistent with their diplomatic efforts, many analysts are criticizing Turkey in particular for not voting with its traditionally strong allies such as the US. Turkey’s vote against the new round of sanctions represents an important milestone not because Turkey is abandoning its long-time allies but because Turkey is learning to make its own foreign policy calculations and decisions.