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Turkish-American cooperation in the broader Eurasian region (2)

- SecuritySecurity is a highly prized and scarce commodity amid the contemporary setting of asymmetric threats, ethnic, sectarian and tribal conflicts, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, pandemics and natural disasters.

Turkish-American cooperation in this area should first aim at strengthening NATO. Consequently, success of the NATO mission in Afghanistan should be a priority as NATO’s future hinges on its outcome. The two allies should also strive to develop closer NATO links with countries in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Gulf along the lines of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative signed at the 2004 NATO Summit. That agreement aims to contribute to long-term global and regional security by offering countries of the broader Middle East region practical bilateral security cooperation with NATO.

In this connection, we must not overlook Russian sensitivities. The Russian invasion of Georgia last August was in part a result of Tbilisi’s miscalculation that NATO would come to its aid against Russia. A promise of early NATO membership to the countries in the Caucasus is not likely to enhance stability and security there. The better alternative might be to encourage closer ties with the EU and for Turkey and the United States to encourage both sides in this direction. Turkey and the United States have already engaged in security and defense cooperation in certain countries of the region. The two NATO allies have provided training and equipment to the armed forces of Georgia. Turkey’s General Staff has military training programs in several other countries of the region. Here there is room for the expansion of Turkish-American cooperation.

At the same time, it will be necessary to work with Russia and China on the development of new security architecture for Eurasia. There are already security groupings clustered around Russia and China. The Euro-Atlantic community must develop security strategies for the future, taking into account all interested parties, including of course Russia and China.

- Sociopolitical issues

Under the rubric of sociopolitical issues, I dwell on democracy, the rule of law, human rights, gender equality and education, and on secularism. In the Middle East, the Caucasus and Asia, these values are still very scarce. However, progress, prosperity and more broadly, advances in civilization depend on them, particularly on the attainment of equality between man and woman and on the quality of education. The singularly important concept of relevance here is secularism. For the full exercise of all freedoms, including religious freedom, there has to be a thorough separation of the affairs of the state and the law from matters of religion. Secularism acts as the connective tissue of these end values we uphold so dearly.

Turkey and the United States, given their commitment to these values and principles, can join their respective experiences and wisdom in their promotion and in developing bilateral or trilateral programs in countries that are willing to host them. There is, of course, no set prescription for their effective diffusion. However, we can tell how critical and accurate such initiatives are from the reaction of the Taliban in Afghanistan to stop Afghan girls from going to school. The Taliban knows that knowledge and education are its enemies. The approach should be modest and incremental, but sustained. Change is always difficult but what is important is to make small starts in the right direction. The crucial dimension in this respect is the encouragement and support of civil society. President Obama in his Cairo address emphasized women’s rights, education, science and youth. Turkey and the United States have the assets and the capacity to engage in useful and effective schemes of cooperation in these areas.

- Economy

Turkey has extensive economic, commercial and investment relations in most of the broader Eurasian region. The newly independent states of Central Asia are especially ripe for further economic activity. Their economies will do much better if they connect with European and global markets. Turkey has now become a donor country on its own and has created a special agency that administers aid to many countries in the region. Economic development is a cushion providing security, prosperity and a sense of confidence and well-being to individuals. President Obama identified it as a major challenge. The surest way for nations to advance as peace-loving and politically stable partners is sustained economic and social development. Turkey and the United States can together undertake economic projects aiming at economic development, the reduction of political tensions through joint economic activity between adversaries and providing opportunities to women. I remember from my days as Turkey’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, how many American companies started their investments and operations there from their existing bases in Turkey. Turkey is thus a reliable and experienced partner for joint ventures with the United States and a convenient transfer point into Asia and the Middle East.

- Energy

Finally, energy is an area where Turkey and the United States have very concrete converging interests. For reliable access to oil and gas from the Middle East, the Caspian and Central Asia, Turkey, for political, strategic, economic and environmental reasons, is the ideal conduit. Turkey is turning into a major energy hub. There are now multiple gas and oil pipelines in Turkey, carrying Russian, Azerbaijani, Iranian and Iraqi oil and gas. There are new projects underway that will provide Europe with energy. Turkey can help diversify the energy market and reduce the temptation to use energy as a tool of power politics. It is important to reduce Russia’s dominance in this sphere. This is necessary not only for providing a margin of comfort for the European consumers, but also for bolstering the independence and the economy of the newly independent states.

The United States is the biggest energy consumer in the world and is increasingly dependent on foreign oil and gas.

In the context of rising competition for energy with the entry of rising economies like China and India into the market, energy is going to be a major determinant of international relations in the 21st century. This is why the United States helped the realization of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. This is why energy has always been an area of close cooperation and coordination between Turkey and the United States I believe this will continue well into the future.

- Conclusion

This then is what I think Turkey and the United States can do together in this vast geography. I know this is not an exhaustive list. I also know much of it will probably not materialize. My hope and expectation, however, is that Turkey and the United States, having the potential, will devise ways and means to enhance security, stability and prosperity in the broader Eurasian region. We will all be better off if the two succeed.

* Dr. Faruk Loğoğlu was Turkey's Ambassador to Washington D.C. between 2002 and 2006.