Turks warming to the idea of transatlantic cooperation

Turks warming to the idea of transatlantic cooperation

The results of the Transatlantic Trends 2012 Survey can be used as a good indicator to highlight whether or not the Turkish public supports the recent trend in Turkish foreign policy to realign with transatlantic allies in general and the United States in particular.

The Arab Spring, which was triggered by the self-immolation of Mohammad Bouazizi, an Egyptian street vendor, has created a turbulent strategic environment in the Middle East and North Africa leading Turkey to once again seek strategic assurance even at the cost of strategic autonomy. Perhaps the most important sign of this realignment was Turkey’s agreement to host the radar component of NATO’s missile defense system, allegedly as a precaution towards Iran’s nuclear program. Ever since then it has been widely accepted that U.S.-Turkey relations are going through a warm period. One might wonder if the Turkish public shares this warmth. The Transatlantic Trends 2012 Survey results present some significant signs that the Turkish public is also warming to the idea of closer cooperation with transatlantic allies.

According to Transatlantic Trends 2012 results 38 percent of Turks believe NATO is still essential to Turkey’s security as opposed to 39 percent who believe it is not. What is noteworthy is that this represents an increase of 8 percentage points compared to 2010 (pre-Arab Revolution period), when just 30 percent of Turks believed NATO was essential.

A similar increase can also be observed in the low, but increasing support of Turks for U.S. leadership. According to Transatlantic Trends 2012 results, 26 percent of Turks find US leadership in world affairs desirable, creating an increase of 8 percentage points compared to last year. While 26 percent voiced low support for U.S. leadership. The 8 percentage point rise may point to a new trend.

One of the most striking changes in Turkish public opinion has been about Iran’s nuclear program. When asked if they are concerned about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, a plurality of 48 percent of Turks said they were concerned as opposed to 41 percent who said they were not concerned. This result is significant not only because it represents a 10 point increase in Turks concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, but also because for the first time in three years a plurality of Turks are concerned.
The increasing trends in support of U.S. leadership, essentiality of NATO and being concern for Iran’s nuclear ambitions all point to a parallel between public opinion in Turkey and the Turkish government’s approach to realign with its Western allies in response to the Arab Spring. However, there are also areas where Turkish public opinion is not so supportive of recent foreign policy initiatives in Turkey.

The most important case is the approach to the bloody conflict in Syria. When asked, 57 percent of Turkish respondents said they were against Turkey’s involvement in a military intervention in Syria as opposed to 32 percent who were supportive of Turkey’s involvement in such an operation. Furthermore, when reminded about the Russian and Chinese vetoes in the UN Security Council, the percentage of Turks against Turkey’s involvement in a military intervention in Syria increased to 63 percent, while those who support involvement in such an operation falls to 22 percent. This picture forms a stark contrast to Turkey’s calls for a military intervention in Syria and coalition building efforts to make such an intervention possible.

Although the nature of the interaction between foreign policy and public opinion is still a matter of debate, governments, and particularly those in democratic countries, are increasingly taking public opinion into consideration when formulating their foreign policy approaches. Therefore it is interesting to watch the convergences and divergences between Turkish foreign policy and Turkish public opinion as Turkey reacts to the revolutionary environment in the Middle East and North Africa.

Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı is the Ankara Office Director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States