Turkey: Flirting with New Friends

by Adam Lukszo

             Over the past decade Turkey has slowly drifted away from its close relationship with the West and come to pursue a more independent foreign policy. There are a number of reasons why this relationship has deteriorated and brought about this drift.

            First, accession talks between the European Union and Turkey have been stalled since 2005 and Turkey is not expected to join in the next 10 years partly due to opposition from countries such as France. Also, Turkey’s unwillingness to recognize Cyprus, European concerns regarding Turkey’s treatment of its Kurdish minority, and movement by the Turkish government’s perceived tilt away from secularism have all become roadblocks. Meanwhile, the Turks’ anger has been stoked by a slow EU accession process tinged with racism, anger over American and European declarations about the Armenian genocide, destabilization in Iraq as a result of the 2003 U.S. invasion, and Israeli policy in the Middle East, particularly toward the Gaza strip. 

            As a result, Turkey has embarked on a new foreign policy of “zero problems with the neighbors” intent on creating and improving ties in the region. Recent improvements include Syria, Iran, and Russia. Syria and Turkey in particular have grown close after conducting join military exercises and the signing of several bilateral trade and cooperation agreements. The economic growth between the two is driving this renewed relationship as Turkey provides Syria an access point for Western consumer goods and Syria provides cheap labor and a large consumer market eager to spend. (The economic relations are so good that Syria actually supports Turkish EU accession.) Turkey has also stepped in and attempted to negotiate a resolution to the Iranian nuclear program. Finally, Russia and Turkey are jointly patrolling the Black Sea; Turkey has become a major consumer and transit point for Russian energy; and increased trade and travel ties have strengthened this relationship as well.

            These changes in Turkish foreign policy have not been lost on some in the West. On his first visit to Turkey, UK Prime Minister David Cameron came out in strong support of Turkish membership in the EU citing its increased growth and economic prosperity. Mr. Cameron emphasized Turkey’s current role as a member of NATO and Turkey’s ability to act as a critical bridge to build links with the Middle East. He stated that for the EU Turkey was “vital for our economy, vital for our security and vital for our diplomacy.”

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