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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


Turkey's Transformation and American Policy
Morton Abramowitz (ed.)

New York: The Century Foundation, 2000. Distributed by Brookings Institution Press
298pp. Index. Hb.: $24.95; ISBN 0-87078-453-6.



This study provides a useful examination of US policy towards Turkey and the key issues that are involved in this somewhat fraught relationship, including developments within Turkey, and its foreign policy problems. Morton Abramowitz provides a useful overview of these areas in the introduction. Heath W Lowry looks at the development and weaknesses of Turkey's political structure in Chapter 2 and argues that the Ataturk legacy is now outdated and the cause of many of the problems of the state. Philip Robins then examines the Kurdish issue and argues that there is now a golden opportunity for a solution. Ziya Onis looks at Turkey's economic prospects in Chapter 4 and makes the case that there are now some grounds for optimism. Cengiz Candar looks at Turkish perspectives of US policy in Chapter 5 and points out that Turkey has not felt sufficiently appreciated by the international community or US in the past, and indeed has been particularly suspicious of the west's interests in the country. Morton Abramowitz looks at the complexities of US policy towards Turkey in the following chapter, and in particular how Turkey can be aided to reform. In the penultimate chapter, M. James Wilkinson examines the importance of Greece in this relationship and calls for a more decisive US stance on the issues which dog Turkish foreign policy with Greece and Cyprus. In the final chapter Alan Makovshy examines different scenarios for US policy issues and Turkey, including a deterioration in Turkish democracy, a return to power of the Islamists, conflict with Greece, the emergence of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, and a decline of US interests in the region.

This is an excellent contribution to the literature on Turkey and the various problems it faces for a number of reasons. Firstly, it highlights in a detailed and careful manner the fraught relationship between Turkey and its neighbours, as well as its internal weaknesses in the context of western and particularly US foreign policy goals. Secondly, though clearly sympathetic to the problems that Turkey faces and to the generally accepted need of the US to court and support Turkey, it also does not ignore Turkey's propensity for self-aggrandisement and indeed is critical of its internal and external policy making machinery. Thirdly, it does much to undermine the myth that the US cannot afford to alienate Turkey and thus cannot push too much in an attempt to force it to comply with western norms vis--vis relations with neighbours, human rights and press freedoms.

This is clearly with the proviso that, as Morton Abramowitz points out in the introduction, many Turks are not interested in the west and not least the EU because they fear a loss of sovereignty that heightened relations may provoke which they fear may lead to an internal break-up. However, while he is of the opinion that the EU will have to court Turkey (p.4.), this merely seems to reflect a US preoccupation with Turkey's strategic position rather than obligations as a member of a regional community and global society of states. Turkey has been a thorn in the side of European regional stability for quite some time, particularly vis--vis its relationship with Greece and Cyprus. Its other borders also provide cause for concern, as does its historical relationship with Russia and the Turkic world more generally. It is for these reasons that this book argues for a balanced relationship between the US and Turkey, between reform and support. It is clear that facilitating change in Turkey and in its foreign policy requires sensitive handling and a long term view, given the internal proclivities of Turkish politics.


Dr. Oliver Richmond
Department of International Relations




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