U.S. needs cunning to prevent major rift with Turkey – Rand Corp

The global policy think tank Rand Corporation has released a report on Turkey’s increasing turn to independent, nationalist foreign policies, predicting that the country’s relationship with the United States can with agile leadership be spared a major breach, but will likely remain volatile.

Tensions have flared up between the United States and Turkey over the last year over the Turkish purchase of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia and a military operation that Ankara launched against Syrian-Kurdish partners in the U.S.-backed fight against Islamic State.

The Rand Corporation’s report said that over the next five to 10 years there was a strong possibility of similarly “assertive foreign and defence policies that are contrary, in varying degrees, to the interests of the United States and other NATO allies and that undermine long-standing aspects of defence and security cooperation”.

This is because the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has played to nationalist, religious and ethnic tensions to advance its political agenda at home, and is seeking foreign policy options with its far-right Nationalist Movement Party partners that will further its consolidation of power and Turkey’s interests, the report said.

Turkey’s recent assertive foreign policy moves include support for political Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood – a group viewed as terrorists by Gulf monarchies and Egypt – and its bid to claim a share of the eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbon wealth. 

This and complications around its relationship with Israel stemming from the AKP’s support for Palestinian groups such as Hamas is likely to continue the strain on Ankara’s relations with Washington.

Turkey is also likely to work at cross-purposes with NATO on some issues, as with the S-400 deal, and its relations with the European Union have reached a low point.

Nevertheless, the Western alliance remains important for Turkey’s security, and the United States can minimise the damage caused by rifts by continuing its military engagements with its ally.

It must also pursue a long-term strategy to buffer its relations with Turkey against disruptive incidents and to continue initiatives that could reignite cooperation if a more cooperative democratic opposition is able to win power in Turkey, the report said.