The New Era in Turkey-US Relations: The End of the Cold War Alliance

From the second period of Obama administration, Turkey-US relations began to experience one of the worst periods of its history. In this context, the relations between the two countries were constantly characterized as crisis. The Erdogan-Trump meeting on 16 May revealed that the main nature of the relations between the two countries has altered. After the first face-to-face meeting, the leaders expressed their views on bilateral relations in the press conference. What is interesting is that President Trump gave examples of Turkish-US cooperation during the Cold War, but did not define the nature of present nature of bilateral relations. In other words, he did not use any concept to identify the relations between the two countries, as previous US presidents. For instance, bilateral relations between US and Turkey were defined by President Clinton as ‘valuable ally’, by President Bush as ‘strategic partnership’, and by President Obama as ‘model partnership’. The different stand of Trump means that the essential nature of the relationship between the two countries has now dramatically changed. In other words, President Trump’s reference to the past when characterizing relations between two countries indicates that alliance relations, which started with the Korean War in the Cold War era and coined with NATO membership in 1952, are now a past history of relations between the two countries.

On the other hand, President Erdogan emphasized the strategic partnership level of Turkish-American relations and pointed out that this alliance is also linked to international institutional mechanisms beyond the relations of the two countries, referring to close cooperation in platforms such as the UN, NATO, G-20. Again, although President Trump never mentioned Turkey’s most critical agenda, YPG, President Erdogan’s particular emphasis on that issue. This difference once more revealed the different viewpoints of two leaders. Moreover, even when defining bilateral relations between the two leaders, a difference in approach is now remarkable.

In this context, it can be argued that Trump-Erdogan meeting on 16 May was a milestone in the sense that the fundamental nature of relations between the two countries changed.

However, it is also evident that the Turkish decision-makers have understood that the central nature of relations has shifted and that it is not too easy to accept them. It is clear that the Turkish delegation is in search of a persistent framework for bilateral relations in talks. It is because Turkey has historically set its foreign policy in the Balkans, Caucasus-Central Asia, and Middle East in the 1990s upon the basis of Turkish-US relations. In this sense, US foreign policy continued to be the main dynamics of Turkish foreign policy in the post-Cold War era.

In the new era, it can be thought that the relations of the two countries will only proceed under the ad-hoc alliance system. From now on, it can be foreseen that the temporary conjunctural alliance system will be the subject of a more resilient position in Turkish-American relations, depending on the situation and areas of cooperation. On the one hand, in the Syria crisis, while conflicts between Turkey and the United States over YPG will continue, it is highly probable that the establishment of ad-hoc alliance relations in areas of cooperation such as Iran and Iraq will come to an agenda. It can therefore be argued that in the upcoming period the balance between conflicts of interest and temporary alliances in areas of cooperation will determine Turkish-American relations.

However, it can be predicted that this new characteristic feature of Turkish-American relations will facilitate Turkey’s multidimensional foreign policy monitoring by making it more flexible. Because now the US, as it used to be, has begun to make no voices about the rapprochement of Turkey with Russia and China except NATO. As a matter of fact, when Turkey tried to get a missile defense system from China in 2013, the US and NATO reacted, even Turkey’s membership had begun to be questioned and eventually Turkey had to cancel the bid on 2015. However, it is now clear that the United States has not made a clear sound as Turkey seek to purchase the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. Moreover, the fact that Turkey is acting together with Russia in the process of Astana on the Syria crisis where the US is excluded did not cause any problems in bilateral relations.

Therefore, with the transformation of the fundamental characteristics of Turkish-American relations, it can be said that the new modalities are determined according to the situation and cooperation areas. According to this, a new era in which the relationship style to be shaped according to the issues and cooperation areas such as cooperation in the field of PKK, intelligence sharing in the Turkish-American relations, cooperation in the fight against terrorism on ISIL/DEASH and cooperation in the field of arms sales is beginning.

In conclusion, it is not a state of crisis between Turkey and the US, but the change/transformation of the nature of the relations. In this context, US policy on Syria y to establish an alliance with the local power YPG instead of NATO allies, and the policy of making the Raqqa operation with YPG instead of Turkey, has broken the alliance relations of the two countries. In fact, the reaction of President Erdogan which is expressed in his question to the US ‘Is it me or YPG your ally’ reveal that Turkish decision makers have not yet understood or do not want to comprehend the transformation in relations.  However, after the Trump-Erdogan talks, it can be suggested that Turkish decision-makers will have to reformulate the Turkish foreign policy according to the new term. Because, Turkey’s Syria policy, particularly in the Middle East, is still shaped by Turkey-US axis.

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