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

Eurasia is now the premier competition ground for all major international actors vying for power, influence and resources. The importance and the meaning of the magnitudes of broader Eurasia, which for the purpose of this article refers to Asia, Europe plus the Middle East put together, need no elaboration. Most of the world’s population, wealth and energy resources are there.

Russia and China are contenders for super-power status. In addition to France, Germany and the United Kingdom, other states such as India, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey have joined the competition for spheres of influence. Issues of security, economy and energy beset the region. There are ongoing conflicts, so-called frozen conflicts and potential conflicts. Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in 1997, "Eurasia is the world's axial super continent. A power that dominated Eurasia would exercise decisive influence over two of the world's three most economically productive regions, Western Europe and East Asia." Clearly, the stakes are high, making future balances and power relationships in the region of critical importance for the overall stability and prosperity of the entire globe.

It is therefore important to explore the subject of whether and how Turkey and the United States can join their assets toward common ends in this vast region. This would also enable us to understand the meaning of U.S. President Barrack Obama’s concept of the "model partnership" he used in describing his country’s relationship with Turkey.

Let us first establish why Turkey and the U.S. are suitable partners. Their suitability, I propose, emanates from the foundational pillars of their relationship. One pillar is their bond of shared values and principles of society: namely democracy, the rule of law, human rights, gender equality and separation of religion and state. Turkey is still unique in espousing and nurturing these standards in its region and among Muslim countries. Undoubtedly, neither Turkey nor the U.S. has perfect scores in any of these domains, but they both commit to these ideals as the norms they want to attain. The similarity of their aspirations provides a functional capacity for them to join their resources for common ends. This allows them to similarly perceive, analyze and approach the challenges they face.

Another pillar of Turkish-American relations is somewhat uneven, but still stable and established. This is the general convergence of their interests, concerns and priorities. Their agendas invariably comprise mostly the same items, whether it is terrorism or energy, Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan, the Middle East, the Caucasus or the Balkans or the future of NATO, just to mention a few. This is not to say that they see eye to eye on any given issue, but their margin of agreement is mostly large enough for them to act together on most matters. They are allies in NATO and have a tested friendship.

In the past, these foundations have enabled Turkey and the U.S. to join hands. Their soldiers fought together in Korea in the early 1950s. They have contributed to stability and security operations over a vast geography extending from the Balkans to Indonesia, from Georgia to Somalia. Most recently, the joint declaration issued at the end of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s March visit to Turkey reaffirmed these strong bonds of alliance, solidarity and strategic partnership and their commitment to the principles of peace, democracy, freedom, and prosperity. The timing and substance of President Obama’s April visit to Turkey confirmed there are meeting points of values, interests and goals between the two nations. His "model partnership" reference emphasized the relationship’s distinctive character and potential.

As we test the validity of our proposition, I suggest that there are at least five broad areas for Turkish-American cooperation in the broader Eurasia region. These are: a) regional and transnational issues, b) security, c) sociopolitical issues, d) economy and e) energy.

Regional and transnational issues

The Euro-Atlantic community is still the leading entity that has the power and influence to shape the evolution of the broader Eurasian region. This is why it is critically important to strengthen the cohesion of the community and its institutions, and bolster its claim for moral and ethical leadership. As its two outermost poles, Turkey and the U.S. have a special responsibility, and the strategic depth, to help NATO pursue its transformation into the premier security provider of the 21st century. The two must also help the European Union evolve from its current standing as a Judeo-Christian club into a genuine union of civilizations. The first step required is to make Turkey an EU member. A related objective is the strengthening linkages of the rest of Eurasia with Euro-Atlantic institutions.

The Balkans is still unstable and prone to renewed violence. Kosovo, Bosnia and Macedonia are in need of continuing assistance and attention from the Euro-Atlantic community. Turkey has been a significant contributor to the United Nations, NATO and EU operations in the region. Turkey and the U.S. can help by maintaining their cooperation there.

Regarding Russia, Turkish-American collaboration can focus on the limitation and control of weapons of mass destruction as well as of conventional forces, given that their policies on the matter coincide. Turkey is also poised to become a stable, secure and viable hub for oil and natural gas transmission and distribution from Central Asia, the Caspian region and the Middle East to the rest of the world. A U.S. lead in this respect would help reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas and enforce the independence of the former Soviet satellites.

In the Caucasus, helping Georgia stabilize and restore its territorial integrity and the resolution of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia are issues on which Turkey and the U.S. have long collaborated. There is need for a better coordination and focusing of their ongoing efforts, whether bilaterally or in multilateral forums, to achieve the resolution of these thorny problems.

Afghanistan and Pakistan, however, have become the new fulcrum of international concern. President Obama has made these issues top priority. Turkey enjoys close relations with both and is highly active on the front. Turkey is organizing a new summit in November with the leaders of the two countries. Turkey and the U.S. already collaborate extensively in this regard and should continue to do so in the near future.

Turkey enjoys ties with Iran

Meanwhile, Iran’s activities in Iraq and the Gulf and its nuclear program continue to preoccupy both Turkey and the U.S. Turkey supports Obama’s proposed engagement of Iran and is also against Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. However, Turkey enjoys substantial economic and social ties with its neighbor Iran. We also have a steady dialogue with the Iranians and contacts at the highest levels of leadership. After the recent elections there, we need a better-calibrated approach toward Iran to meet its concerns and to encourage it along the path of democracy. Turkey can assist such a process by guiding and counseling the U.S. as it engages with Iran.

Perhaps the most promising area for result-oriented Turkish-American cooperation is the Middle East. The Ottoman Turks ruled the region for a number of centuries. After recognizing its independence from the start, today Turkey has a robust relationship with Israel richly textured with political, economic, military and cultural components. We have close relationships with all the Arab states. This puts Turkey in the position of a trusted facilitator. This is why Turkey is significantly involved in the Palestinian-Israeli dimension and plays hosts to Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

The future of Iraq remains uncertain. That future depends largely on how much Turkey and the U.S. can remain on the same track. Despite some conflicting views in certain areas, both Turkey and the U.S. want to see a united, single Iraq. During and after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the U.S. will seek and need Turkish help and cooperation. Turkey must act within consistent policies toward the future of Iraq and concerning its relations with the different components of a united Iraq.

Among the transnational issues, I should mention the fight against terrorism and violent extremism. Turkey and the U.S. are natural allies in this respect. They have both experienced the worst of terrorism and extremism. Their cooperation in combating them is of critical value. Turkey, with its secular democracy, is indeed a "model partner" for the U.S. as they try to address the sources of extremism in both the East and the West.

* Dr. Loğoğlu was Turkey's former ambassador to Washington D.C.