Building a new future for Turkey

By Madeleine K. Albright and Stephen J. Hadley
May 15, 2012

The crisis in Syria and the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program have highlighted the renewed importance of one of the oldest and most enduring relationships of the United States: its alliance with Turkey. The U.S.-Turkey partnership was forged during the Korean conflict and the Cold War, and Washington and Ankara stood shoulder-to-shoulder to confront the Soviet challenge. Now, the two countries have an opportunity to work together to help shape the Middle East, ensure the stability of Iraq, contain Iranian ambitions, end the Assad regime in Syria and ensure reliable energy supplies to Europe.

In the past decade, Turkey has become the 17th-largest economy in the world and undertaken far-reaching political reforms. It has gone from being a cautious actor in international affairs to being an influential player in its neighborhood and beyond. In a new Council on Foreign Relations report, a bipartisan panel we chaired makes the case that the two countries should define a new partnership of close coordination in confronting today’s challenges.

There are, however, questions raised about Turkey’s commitment to the West. This is a function of three factors: the rise of the Islamist-oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP); the broadening of Turkey’s foreign policy ambitions under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan; and the failure in the West to understand the dramatic changes in Turkey over the last decade.

By most indicators, Turkey today is more representative, modern and economically successful than when the AKP first came to power in late 2002. Although it has pursued a more active foreign policy, Ankara’s outreach to Syria, Libya and Iran began well before the AKP came to power – indeed, before the party even existed.

Turkey’s evolution is not all good news, of course. Washington and Ankara remain divided over the Arab-Israeli conflict. And while Turkey’s position toward Iran is evolving in a direction more consistent with that of the United States, between 2008 and 2010 the Turkish government pursued its interests there without regard for American policy. Turkey’s initial reluctance to host an early-warning anti-missile radar station on its territory aroused concern that it was distancing itself from NATO, but Ankara ultimately decided to honor its security commitment to its traditional allies.

There is also continuing friction over how to characterize the mass killings of Armenians in 1915, the division of Cyprus and Turkey’s relationship with Hamas. The Turkish government has its own views of these issues, and while Washington should help Turkey and Armenia improve their relations, support a resolution to the Cyprus conflict and seek an end to the estrangement between Turkey and Israel, these matters should not preclude the deepening of U.S.-Turkey relations.

On the domestic front, Turkey may be more democratic, but it is not yet a full-fledged democracy. Democratic change is a process that in any country will result in both steps forward and reversals. Turkish leaders have at times manifested a majoritarian view of democracy, without due regard for minority and individual rights, making them appear no more liberal than their predecessors. Turkey’s detention of almost a hundred journalists is inconsistent with a country that aims to deepen its democratic practices.

There is, however, an opportunity for Washington to capitalize on its good relations with Ankara and to encourage Turkish leaders to follow through with their commitments to write a new, democratic constitution, seek a solution to the Kurdish problem, establish a formal and healthy balance in civil-military relations, and safeguard personal and political freedoms.

To make the vision for a new U.S.-Turkey partnership a reality, Ankara and Washington should observe the following principles in their relationship: equality and mutual respect for each other’s interests, confidentiality and trust, close and intensive consultations to identify common goals and strategies on issues of critical importance, avoidance of  foreign policy surprises, and recognition and management of inevitable differences between them.

In the politically dynamic Middle East, Ankara and Washington can collaborate on development projects through the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Turkish International Cooperation Agency. Working together, the United States and Turkey can help generate economic growth in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. To support this effort, Washington should extend financing, guarantees and political risk insurance to Turkish and American businesses that partner in seeking to invest in the Middle East.

Indeed, the U.S.-Turkey economic relationship is underdeveloped and should be upgraded through a new bilateral investment treaty, the intensification of discussions under the 1999 Trade and Investment Framework, and the exploration of a Free Trade Agreement. More broadly, the United States should incorporate some of the principles of its Trans Pacific Partnership into its economic relations with Turkey, especially the emphasis on market access, regulatory compatibility, business facilitation, assistance for small and medium-sized enterprises, and promotion of trade in cutting-edge technologies.

Overall, the story in the past decade is a good one. For the United States, Turkey has always been an important, if at times complicated, ally. Challenges in the bilateral relationship surely remain, but there is an opportunity for Washington and Ankara to forge a genuinely new partnership. To do otherwise would be to miss an historic chance to set ties between the United States and Turkey on a cooperative trajectory in Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and Africa for a generation.

PHOTO: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti at Villa Madama in Rome, May 8, 2012


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Well,attracting FDI is another important factor and establish sustainable and well equiped infrastructure such as skyscrapers,modern advanced technical factory areas around all cities are benefactors for angel industry investors.Only Istanbul possess this kind of infrastructure.

Posted by ahakan | Report as abusive

We have become so economically desperate that we are now dealing with such primitive & barbarous countries.

Posted by GMavros | Report as abusive

@GMavros: That sort of idiocy is exactly the sort of mindset that promises that nation to go into a period of decline. And your blatant racist undertones — it being a Middle Eastern Moslem nation — is also a terrific commentary on the shortsighted stupidity the right thrives upon, with the ignorant swine like yourself comprising the inferior segments of American society that are, indeed, holding the country back. But good luck with it all; I’m sure it’s been successful for ya.

Anyways, the idiots aside, Turkey’s economic emergence and active foreign policy are exactly what’s needed as the Arab political landscape changes (with it’s rise an important feature thereof) and there’s a nation with some say. As it was with Iraq, Iranian influence is beginning to have a serious counter in the region — aside from the West’s imperialist conduits, be it Saudi Arabia on to Israel. A marquee difference is its status as an advanced democracy, more so than any other country in the region, and its ability to stand independently, economically and politically — also, unlike Iraq or Saudi Arabia, the regime is actually democratic and a service to its people. Regardless of its ties to the US, its standing, both globally and especially regionally, will only continue to grow so future US interests can be maintained by aligning ourselves with a burgeoning power. With the Middle East being such a vital energy source for the world market, Turkey’s rise could aid in stability for the region, check US belligerents, lift the regional economy, and (possibly most important) provide a model for the newly democratic nations following the Arab Spring.

The only question is: will Israeli interests, if not bondage, blind policymakers and can fools like GMavros impede sound foreign affairs? I’m not too optimistic; I’m sure it’ll be a unilateral proclamation of following US, probably Israeli, whim that thrashes any sound policy and today threatens war with Iran.

Posted by Archinosin | Report as abusive

“There is also continuing friction over how to characterize the mass killings of Armenians in 1915, the division of Cyprus and Turkey’s relationship with Hamas. The Turkish government has its own views of these issues,”

Washington should help Turkey to admit what they have done to the Armenian people and ask for their forgiveness, while stopping to send to jail the people who state the truth about this.

The only way to prevent genocide is to admit and teach the truth, no matter how shameful or grievous it sounds.

Posted by Brazilian1 | Report as abusive

Kurdish, Armenian & Greek massacres & exterminations have been committed by the Turks for hundreds of years and are continuing to this day. As recently as 1974 Turkey invaded the NATO member nation of Cyprus where Turkish atrocities have been rampart.

Genocide has been the foundation of the Turkish tribe since they invaded and massacred the Middle East & a good part of Europe many years ago.

There is more than one good reason the Europeans will never forgive them.

As recently as 1974 Turkey invaded the NATO member nation of Cyprus, established its own Turkish Cypriot sector and is presently in the process of ethnic cleansing.

Thousand-year-old western cultural monuments & artworks in Istanbul and all over Turkey & Cyprus are being routinely pillaged & looted by the Turkish government to this very day.

Hundreds of small Arab nations & millions of people have ‘disappeared’ from the land that is today’s Turkey. The Turks are the only people that have contributed absolutely nothing to world civilization.

“Turkey’s detention of almost a hundred journalists” says it all.

The USA is paying the Turks billions every year on ‘ransom’ leases for its military bases on Turkey’s borders with the former Soviet Union and now for the nearby supposedly ‘Terrorist’ Muslim Nations, like Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq etc.

Yes, Turkey is a great country to do business with…..

Posted by GMavros | Report as abusive

be careful what you wish for – a childlike naivety regarding turkish politics and geopolitics

a free trade agreement with america – the mexicanisation of turkish foreign policy? forget it

turks are too shrewd to fall for gringo cowboys arriving with gifts of barb wire and guns

turkey has a significant strategic interest in central asia with ECO and the SCO treaty arrangements with Russia and China

the natural geopolitical axis for turkey is iran, pakistan, afghanistan and central asia – either resource-rich in metals, oil or nuclear capable

Posted by scythe | Report as abusive

I was amazed when I read GMavros.He says Cyprus has being ‘member of NATO’.On the other hand, Brazilian1 want to Turkey not to send people to jail in terms of expressing their recognition of so-called Armenian genocide.

First of all Cyprus is not the member of Nato.Please update yourself. The turkish penalty code Article of 301 on “Insulting Turkishness” is invalid since 2008.Also You can’t show only one example of being locked up in the prison under Turkish penal code 301 before 2008.On the other side.Some European countries have racist laws which banning and criminalizing the rejection of so-called Armenian Genocide.Fortunatelly,the decision by France’s highest legal authority invalidates the law this year.Bacause there has been no kind of court decision about what the Armenians call a ‘genocide’ nor has the Armenians ever applied to any court.Moreover, International Court of Justice or domestic courts are the only authorities reserved to prosecute and proclaim genocide according to the 1948 UN Convention. Therefore, the Armenian allegation of genocide lacks evidence and legal support.
I call the readers of the forum to ask themselves these questions:
Did the Jews urge the parliaments to pass resolutions to recognize that the events which took place in WWII were genocide?
Did they bargain with the politicians of the country they live, to write their history and pass resolutions as they wished it to have been in exchange of Jewish votes? 977
Did the Jews close their archives and prevent the historians from making research?
Did the Jews threaten the historians, sue them or bomb their houses to prevent them talking all the details about their history, like the Armenians did?

Posted by bennu | Report as abusive

(quote, CPR Report) “As a matter of principle, however, the United States should continue to support Turkey’s bid for EU membership as it works to further institutionalize a Washington-Ankara partnership.

As part of this support, the United States should press its EU partners to remove the obstacles for Turkish citizens to obtain Schengen visas.

Easier movement of people across borders could improve relations between Turks and the EU and potentially change European attitudes toward Turkey’s EU membership.”

corporate america using schengen borderless movement to leverage a Washington-Ankara partnership ….

mendacious ugliness

on the other side is a view hosted by the Wall Street Journal:

Erdogan and the Decline of the Turks 052748704875604575281392195250402.html

(quote) Foreign Minister Davutoglu is challenging the U.S: “We expect full solidarity with us. It should not seem like a choice between Turkey and Israel. It should be a choice between right and wrong.”

“No American should be deceived as to the true motives of these men: They are demagogues appealing to the worst elements in their own country and the broader Middle East.

The obvious answer to the question of “Who lost Turkey?” — the Western-oriented Turkey, that is — the Turks did. The outstanding question is how much damage they’ll do to regional peace going forward.”

Posted by scythe | Report as abusive

The USA is incapable of acting independently in the Middle East. All we do is what Tel Aviv tells us to do. We are a slavish colony of Israel.

In addition, the anti-Muslim propaganda in the USA continues without let up. How can anyone posit a positive relationship with Turkey? For a long time now, having “improved” relations with a Muslim land means our rulers invade it and militarily install a puppet government. And use our Social Security taxes to do so while claiming we “cannot afford” to pay any social insurance benefits.

Get ready for more of the same. There is only one Party here, only one policy. Just two faces.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive

There are few generalizations that can be made about Turkey which are accurate across the entire population. Turkey is a land of contradictions.

However, the rise of nationalism in a country where far to few people have access to outside media sources is a serious concern. There is a dangerous fervor among the populace which is compounded by a near total ignorance of opposing viewpoints. Many grossly factually incorrect beliefs about the modern history and current events of the world are taken as articles of faith. It is virtually impossible for an average Turk to find information which contradicts the prevailing narrative and even if he does, he would have to swim against an irresistable tide of opinion to change his own thinking. Herein lies the greatest danger to this nation’s future. I state this from personal experience and despite my own dearest wishes for the continued success and prosperity of the people of Turkey.

I would like to offer another observation about Erdogan and the AKP party. They are not quite the political Islamist threat they are feared to be. I have come to realize that the danger posed by Erdogan more closely resembles that of Putin than the Ayatollah. He uses Islam and nationalism and Ottoman nostalgia the way Putin uses Russian wounded pride and wistful remembrances of the greatness of the Soviet Empire; namely, for personal gain above any ideology.

However, there is indeed a lurking concern regarding an Islamist threat to the secular Turkish state. It is the Fethullah Gulen movement. This dangerous man, who controls his vast global network from a Pennsylvania compound, has certainly provided support for the AKP, and has countless followers who have quietly infiltrated every level of the Turkish government…including the recently emasculated secular military.

I predict that one day, when the Fethullacik become entrenched enough, they will tire of Erdogan’s embezzling ways and then the true nature of things will become apparent.

I have spent much time in Turkey. I know and love many wonderful, intelligent, secular Turks. I write all this with a very heavy heart. Insallah, none of this will come to pass.

Posted by BajaArizona | Report as abusive

One further bit of evidence, I have personally been investigated by Fethullaciks. They are very, very slick. Do not underestimate these people. And do not believe what they say about themselves. Their hidden agenda is obvious to any who look long enough.

Posted by BajaArizona | Report as abusive

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