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Ted Galen Carpenter Assesses U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Turkey At AHI Capitol Hill Briefing
July 3, 2001 No. 36/01 (202) 785-8430

Ted Galen Carpenter Assesses U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Turkey At AHI Capitol Hill Briefing

WASHINGTON, DC -- On Thursday, June 28, 2001, the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) held a briefing on Capitol Hill, featuring Dr. Ted Galen Carpenter,vice president, defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. Dr. Carpenter's topic centered on "United States Foreign Policy Toward Turkey: Assessing the Relationship." The briefing drew more than 45 attendees, mostly Congressional staff members and policy analysts for the Balkan region.

In his analysis, Dr. Carpenter evaluated the conclusion that Turkey is one of the United States' most important strategic partners on four assumptions often made in U.S. foreign policy circles:

  1. that Turkey is a stable country;
  2. that Turkey is a democratic country;
  3. that Turkey is a reliable ally of the U.S.; and
  4. that Turkey is a status quo country;

According to Dr. Carpenter, each of these four assumptions is, at the very least, questionable.

  1. Pointing to the banking and financial meltdown in recent months, Dr. Carpenter asserted that the assumption regarding Turkey's stability has received a major blow. Furthermore, "if the [most recent IMF and World Bank] bailout does not work, if the financial meltdown continues to worsen, then...we have to look at the probable social and political ramifications, and those are not good." Economic instability within Turkey may spark social instability in the direction of radical Islamic or radical nationalist, pan-Turkish trends.
  2. On the second assumption, Dr. Carpenter pointed out that Turkey is often characterized as a democratic country by U.S. officials. However, "when one examines the actual practices...that premise becomes shakier." Citing counter-democratic trends manifest in the press, in the electoral process, and regarding minority issues, the speaker determined that "at best, one must conclude that Turkey is a strange mixture of authoritarian and democratic institutions and practices, and at worst, Turkey is an authoritarian state with nothing more than a democratic façade.
  3. Regarding the assumption that Turkey is a reliable ally of the U.S., examples laid out during the Cold War era seem to affirm this conclusion. However, during the post-Cold War era, the number of examples in which Ankara has charted its own course separate from the U.S. occur on an increasing basis. Overall, whenever the interests of the U.S. and Turkey do not coincide, "Ankara is perfectly prepared to chart its own course, and if Washington doesn't like it, then that's just too bad." Dr. Carpenter warned that, at the very least, the U.S. must go into this relationship understanding this fundamental fact.
  4. Finally, Dr. Carpenter pointed out that Turkey is a revisionist power rather than a status quo power. The collective examples of the current military occupation of Cyprus, Aegean territorial disputes with Greece, the economic embargo imposed on Armenia, and rocky relations with Syria affirm this. In other words, in each of these cases, Turkey is attempting to change the established order to better suit its own interests.

A question and answer session followed Dr. Carpenter's presentation, during which time he offered recommendations for future U.S. policy toward Turkey. Specifically regarding what U.S. policymakers should do to nullify Turkey's 27-year occupation of Cyprus, Dr. Carpenter suggested that they strongly endorse Cyprus' accession to the European Union (EU). Furthermore, Washington must send a very clear message that "the occupation of Cyprus is an unacceptable act....that the Turkish troops ought to be withdrawn from Cyprus....and that the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities ought to negotiate a settlement, but free from the Turkish occupation."

Dr. Carpenter's overall recommendation to U.S. foreign policymakers is to view Turkey more critically and to avoid being Turkey's "enabler when it comes to aggressive or irresponsible policies." While the potential exists for Turkey to play a stabilizing and democratic role in the region, that is not the Turkey that exists today. It is up to U.S. foreign policymakers to push Turkey in that direction.

As vice president of defense and foreign policy studies, Ted Galen Carpenter is in the forefront of efforts to develop a new U.S. security strategy that minimizes costs and risks to the American people. His articles have appeared in such prestigious journals as Foreign AffairsForeign Policy, and Mediterranean Quarterly. Dr. Carpenter, who joined the Cato Institute in 1985, holds a doctorate in U.S. diplomatic history from the University of Texas, and has written and edited numerous books and appeared on television shows around the world.

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