Turkey's Shifting Dynamics

Implications for U.S.-Turkey Relations

For more than half a century, a sound relationship with Turkey has been central to U.S. interests in Eurasia and the Middle East and to creating new strategic opportunities for the United States and its NATO allies. Yet, fundamental changes in that country and neighborhood have altered how Turks view and pursue their interests. The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), supported by a new middle class from the Anatolian heartland, has eclipsed traditional Kemalist parties. However, the AKP's moves to reduce some of the strictures of state-enforced secularism have raised fears of creeping Islamization among the old elite and the military guardians of Ataturk's republic. With a case before the Constitutional Court that could result in the closure of the AKP and ban its key leadership from politics for five years, Turkish politics are poised to enter a period of turbulence and unpredictability.

At the same time, Turkey's relations with the United States have been strained by the Iraq War and its aftermath. Ankara's relations with its neighbors are in flux. Turkey's bid for membership in the European Union has slowed, and relations with Russia have warmed. These developments in Turkey's domestic and external affairs have led some to question whether Turkey will drift from its Euro-Atlantic moorings over the next decade. Avoiding further strains and revitalizing U.S.-Turkey relations will require a new strategic framework that reflects the changing geopolitical dynamics and allows both more effective pursuit of enduring common interests and management of areas where policy preferences and interests diverge. This framework should also bolster Turkey's ties with the United States and Europe, including in the context of NATO and the EU. This report reviews the major shifts in U.S.-Turkey relations since 1989, with particular focus on events of the past year. It offers an assessment of Turkey's evolving internal dynamics, worldview, and relations with its neighbors. It then advances some preliminary recommendations for managing U.S.-Turkey relations over the coming decade.

This report has been updated: Turkey's Evolving Dynamics.

Kaley Levitt, Bryan Shea, and Cassandra Smith

Stephen Flanagan and Samuel J. Brannen