It’s Time for Rapprochement Between Turkey and the United States
Recent events from Afghanistan to Africa require us to revisit the entire transatlantic partnership—together.
Recent developments unfolding in the Middle East, North Africa, Black Sea Basin, and Asia have rippling effects that are testing the robustness of the transatlantic alliance. Political, social, and security fractures are triggering mass refugee flows and increased asymmetrical threats that require us once again to revisit our partnership.
But transitioning transatlantic security priorities to an era of great power competition inevitably will necessitate exploring venues of gradual rapprochement between Turkey and the United States.
Already the transatlantic community is complex and delicate. If left unchecked, seemingly stand-alone crises and conflicts across “Greater Eurasia” would trigger a chain reaction politically, socially, economically, and security-wise with global repercussions.
We need optimal alliance and partnership engagements if we are to continue operating together in non-permissive and semi-permissive environments. Any recalibration of those transatlantic engagements in the region must include capable, willing, and reliable allies and partners if they are to produce timely and lasting solutions.
Turkey remains one of those allies and partners.
Consider Turkey’s contribution in Afghanistan. In this era of great power competition coupled with asymmetrical threats, the Afghanistan case reaffirmed that transatlantic actors must continue to operate as mutual security providers. The fall of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals in less than 10 days, which led to the rapid collapse of the Afghan government, caught the world by surprise. The unexpected turn of events and images of desperation coming from Kabul International Airport will haunt the international community for a long time.
Turkey—the capable, willing, and reliable NATO ally—played a vital role in Afghanistan and now leads the transatlantic community by example. Here’s how.
Turkey engages with the Taliban to encourage them in the right direction, including to form an inclusive government, keep promises on countering terrorism, and upholding the rights of every segment of the Afghan society, women and girls in particular. Turkey has already resumed its humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. Turkish technical teams have been on the ground to reopen KIA. Under certain circumstances, we would consider favorably operating KIA jointly with Qatar.
This once again showcased Turkish unique capacity that cannot be substituted by or sub-contracted to any other state or non-state actor in “Greater Eurasia”.
Most importantly, Turkey’s increased contributions to the transatlantic community’s efforts opens a window of opportunity for a newly defined alliance relationship between Turkey and the United States that can still operate under extreme duress, no matter what the diverging opinions are.
Any strategic calculus laying ground for multi-dimensional outreach towards Greater Eurasia—whether military, stabilization, counterterrorism, or humanitarian efforts—should take the following facts into full account. Turkey is at the epicenter of a complex web of fault lines throughout Greater Eurasia. Turkey stands as a reliable ally that can deliver at the moment of crisis—a friend in need. The lack of reliable and sustainable allies outside of the transatlantic community—with genuine legitimacy and long-term potential—is proven to be the ultimate challenge.
Turkey and the United States must work together.
What Turkey can offer is multifold: Merging Turkey’s ability to mobilize grassroots support for stabilization efforts and its security-related efforts, such as those in Libya and Syria, would help boost continuity of transatlantic endeavors. The Turkish Armed Forces’ rapid preparedness and maximum readiness allow for measured, effective, and innovative use of transatlantic military capabilities, which in turn would further enable and sustain collective operational actions against common threats.
Turkey also helps tilt the balance of power in favor of the transatlantic community in Greater Eurasia by denying access for malign actors into strategic landscapes. In particular, enhancing the Turkish-American relationship will offer long-term and durable planning opportunities for decision makers within transatlantic community, and prevent any single adversary or rival from exploiting intra-NATO discussions.
To navigate the waters of the Eurasian riddle in a stable and secure way, the transatlantic community needs role models. Turkey enjoys a military scale that is unique in the region and ranks high within NATO, and an equally unique democratic and social fabric. Turkey will continue to offer the best practice for merging democracy with globalization, urbanization, and modernization in the “Greater Eurasia”.
Turkey’s centuries of insight and experience in Greater Eurasia will surely help the transatlantic community, in whatever reimagined form it takes, establish realistic end-states and—if and when needed—viable exit strategies.
Hasan Murat Mercan is the ambassador of Turkey to the United States.