Turkey’s Western connection

Turkey’s Western connection

Turkey’s relations with the West and its organizations have been turbulent and ambivalent ever since the Republic was established in 1923. Independence was won fighting against Western proxies, and Turkish leaders have never forgotten that Western countries previously tried to divide the country.

Although early Republican leaders were able to turn the table around and develop closer relations with Western countries, to the extent that Turkey actually became part of the West at the end of the Second World War through its membership to Western organizations, the so-called “Sèvres Syndrome” – a sense that external forces are continually trying to destroy and divide Turkey – has never healed.

From the other side of the looking glass, several Western countries and their leaders have never fully accepted Turkey as part of “the West,” mainly because of prejudices stemming from a long history of confrontation and a sense of “otherness.”

The end result is that Turkey and the West share the same political, economic and strategic international system, but differ in terms of philosophical and civilizational organization. They are together but not united.

The latest wedge between Turkey and the West was an incident during the Trident Javelin drill, held on 8-17 November at the NATO’s Joint Warfare Center in Norway. When a photo of Turkey’s founding leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, along with an image of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, were listed among “Hostile Leaders Biographies” and depicted as “enemy collaborators,” Turkey reacted immediately by withdrawing its participating soldiers. Subsequent apologies from NATO and Norwegian officials have not yet calmed Turkey’s righteous indignation in the face of this unacceptable blunder that verges on deliberate sabotage, which went against the spirit of the 65-year-old alliance.

While public calls for Turkey to withdraw from NATO may seem exaggerated, Turkey’s Western connection has recently been marred by an undeclared embargo on weapons sales to the country. This apparent embargo is being applied while weapons are delivered in abundance to groups in Syria affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkey’s principal terrorist challenger.

The list of woes does not stop there. Turkey also accuses the U.S. of complicity in the failed coup attempt of July 2016, to say nothing of mutual visa restrictions between Turkey and the U.S., harsh exchanges between Turkey and various European countries, Turkey’s search for third party long-range missiles, and the EU cutting accession funds to Turkey for political reasons. The list goes on.

Although Turkey has been able to patch up its relations with the West over the years through various ups and downs, each quarrel has excited public displeasure and even enmity on both sides. Interestingly, distrust of the West in Turkey seems to recover after each period of crisis. Recent research on Turkish foreign policy conducted by Kadir Has University’s Center for Turkish Studies showed that 61.8 percent of the Turkish public still supports Turkey’s NATO membership, despite the unstable relationship over the years.

While this figure could easily be dismissed as an expression of public fears concerning Turkey’s dire security needs, a similar response emerged for Turkey’s EU membership. While the overwhelming majority (81.3 percent) believe that Turkey will never become a full member of the EU, almost half of the population still support its membership bid. Some deep-rooted beliefs must surely underpin such figures, as a measure of Turkish attitudes towards Westernization and a Western alliance.

On the basis of such persistent support, no one can justify driving Turkey away from the West. The unprecedented pace of change in today’s highly volatile international security system forces all NATO allies to be extra careful about preserving the alliance. While there is no doubt a life for Turkey outside the alliance, and NATO can survive without Turkey, Turkey’s inclusion is surely the best option for all concerned parties.

As such, while Turkey needs to recalibrate its general outlook and strategic place in the world, its Western allies need to stop constantly questioning Ankara’s reliability as partner.