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The ‘New Turkey’ and American-Turkish Relations

The United States has to deal with a very different Turkey today than the Turkey during the Cold War. The disappearance of the Soviet threat has reduced Turkey’s dependence on the United States for its security and deprived the U.S.-Turkish security partnership of a clear unifying purpose. At the same time, Turkey’s geographic role and interests have expanded. Turkey now has interests and stakes in various regions it did not have two decades ago. It is thus less willing to automatically follow the U.S.’s lead on many issues, especially when U.S. policy conflicts with Turkey’s own interests. This does not mean that Turkey is turning its back on the West or the United States. Turkey still wants—and needs—strong ties with the United States. But the terms of engagement have changed. Ankara is a rising regional power and is no longer content to play the role of junior partner.

The New Turkey and American-Turkish Relations
Turkey still wants—and needs—strong ties with the United States. But the terms of engagement have changed.
 

In recent years, U.S.-Turkish relations have been plagued by significant difficulties and strains. The U.S. invasion of Iraq contributed to a sharp deterioration of U.S.-Turkish relations and a visible rise in anti-American sentiment in Turkey. 2More recently, differences over Turkey’s ties to Iran and the problems in Turkish-Israeli relations have created tensions in relations with the Obama Administration and raised concerns in Washington and other Western capitals that Turkey is drifting away from the West in favor of strengthening ties with the Muslim world.

Strains in U.S.-Turkish relations are nothing new. The U.S. withdrawal of Jupiter missiles in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis precipitated a serious crisis regarding the credibility of the U.S.’s commitment to defend Turkey against outside attack. U.S.-Turkish relations also suffered a sharp downturn as a result of the 1963–1964 Cyprus crisis. The crisis prompted Ankara to broaden its security ties and reduce its dependence on Washington. The Turkish invasion of Cyprus in l974 precipitated an even more severe crisis. In response to the invasion, the U.S. Congress imposed an arms embargo on Turkey, which resulted in a sharp deterioration of U.S.-Turkish relations.

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