WASHINGTON, DC – The Turkey that German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits this week is a very different place from the Turkey that began European Union accession talks five years ago. For, with those talks seemingly going nowhere, Turkey has begun to broaden its international horizons. Indeed, Turkish foreign policy is now far more proactive and multi-dimensional than at any period since Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey is now a major player in its own right, in the Middle East and far beyond. This has caused consternation in both the United States and Europe, leading to growing concern that the West is somehow “losing” Turkey.
Yet Turkey’s “distinctiveness” in the Middle East is not necessarily detrimental to the West. On the contrary, Turkey could represent an important asset to its European and American partners.
But this does not mean that Turkey’s potential influence in the Middle East is automatically of benefit to the West. Turkey’s promise in the region hinges on its consistent pursuit of democratization at home and a rules-based foreign policy. Moreover, the benefits of Turkey’s influence in its immediate neighborhood can be realized only if the EU proceeds in a more honest and robust way with the accession process, and if the US begins to treat Turkey as an indispensable partner in the region.