Losing Turkey

OXFORD -- Turkey has long been a haven of geo-political stability. But, since 2003, Turkey’s virtually unquestioned alliance with the United States has undergone a profound re-evaluation, due to the Iraq War, and the Turkish consensus on its decades-long EU candidacy has begun to wobble, owing to EU dithering.  Given Turkey’s central role not only in maintaining peace in the volatile Caucasus region but also in promoting peace in the Middle East – the talks now underway between Syria and Israel are, after all, being conducted with Turkish mediation – neglecting Turkey is not only foolish, it is dangerous.

Both the dominant Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its secular rivals remain publicly committed to pursuing EU membership, but in practice doubts have emerged. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s insistence that a referendum should be held on Turkey’s admission suggests that years of painful adjustment to EU norms will never produce the payoff of membership.

The US and the EU are evidently convinced that Turkey has nowhere else to go. The Turks, they think, will fatalistically accept any snub. But this cozy assumption overlooks a tectonic shift in Turkey’s geo-political position.

Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkey looked to the newly-independent central Asian states in a mood of pan-Turkic romanticism. These ancestral homelands exercised a hold on Turkish imaginations, but today it is business opportunities, energy resources, and other practical matters rather than ethnic unity that are creating a loose Turkic “commonwealth.”