Turkey’s Relations With NATO and EU

The present-day Republic of Turkey is a legal successor state of the former Ottoman Empire (Sultanate). The Republic was founded and proclaimed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on October 29th, 1923 as a result of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the lost WWI. The republican Turkey originally was based on the following six principles:

  1. Republicanism – Republic instead of a monarchical sultanate.
  2. Nationalism – An aggressive anti-minority policy within the state especially against the Kurds.
  3. Populism – It was attended in the atmosphere of the absence of a multiparty democracy to gather as much as popular support for the one-party political system.
  4. Statism – State was the focal instrument of political life, change, and Kemalist reforms being above the nation, people and citizens.
  5. Secularism – Separation of the religion from the state, reducing the power of Islam to only religious functions, while at the same time, education system and cultural life were intended to be freed from Islamic influence (at least on the direct way).
  6. Reformism – Introduction of new, usually Western, methods in state governing, political life, society, and military affairs.[1]

Today, Turkey is drawing an international attention because of its disputes with both the US’ and the EU’s administrations over several political and economic issues to such a degree that even Turkey’s membership to the NATO became questioned. Therefore, it is of an extreme worth to take a glance at Turkey’s position in and its role within the NATO – the most powerful military organization ever existed, and its relations with the EU.

Turkey NATOTurkey became an important member of the NATO in 1952 when Greece joined the same organization as well. Turkey brought to the NATO its extraordinary global geopolitical significance as the organization’s easternmost member state connecting Europe with Asia, with its also important additional advantage of being potentially able to control the sailing of the USSR’s Black Sea Fleet via Bosporus toward the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, we can not forget that from 1952 Turkey is the NATO’s outpost in both Asia Minor and the Middle East. In sum, Turkey has geopolitically and from a geostrategic point of view, the most important role on the “Southern Wing” of the NATO from the very beginning when both Turkey and Greece became the members of this military pact in 1952 as Turkish Asia Minor together with the Balkans is a bridge between Europe and Asia.

Turkey is both European and Asian country having an exit to two seas being a part of both Near and the Middle East. The geostrategic and geopolitical advantages of Turkey have been very visible and of extreme use by the US administration in both Gulf Wars in 1990-1991 and 2003[2] after which the position of Turkey among the other NATO’s European allies became much stronger and respectable.[3] Finally, Turkey’s great importance for both the US’ administration and NATO is and in the very fact that this country is becoming a pivotal state in the Muslim world – the only involved into the Western political and military structures.[4] Turkey’s NATO’s membership, in turn, was for a longer period of time of the crucial security importance for the country and its bridge towards further Euro-Atlantic integration (a membership to the EU).[5]

However, during the Cold War the Greek-Turkish relations became the main problem on the “Southern Wing” of the NATO for Washington and Brussels. It was exactly Turkish clash with Greece over the Cyprus issue in 1974 to be the only open friction between two member-states of the NATO pact during its history (est. in 1949). The US attitude toward both countries in the conflict during the period of the Iron Curtain was officially equal. Nevertheless, Turkey became much more privileged by both the USA and Great Britain in comparison to Greece or much more “equal”.[6] The reason was and is of a simple nature: Turkey was and is much more important in a strategic point of view for the “Southern Wing” of the NATO in comparison to Greece. In fact, according to the NATO’s Cold War strategy, in the case of Soviet (today Russian) expansion in the Mediterranean Sea area through the Black Sea and the Straits, the crucial defensive military action should be played by Turkey because of its geopolitical position. In addition, Turkey could be used very well against the Arab and Iranian challenges in the area of the Middle East.[7] It is a fact that Turkey’s position within the “Southern Wing” of NATO seriously increased after the Islamic revolution in Iran at the end of the 1970s.

Ankara’s foreign policy was and is pointed toward both the East and the West. In regard to the Turkish Western policy, the crucial aim by Ankara is to include Turkey as an equal member into the EU. However, in this respect, the crucial EU’s requirement to Turkey during the long process of accession negotiations from 1999 onward is to radically change its Cyprus policy followed by solving the “Kurdish Question”[8] and the formal recognition of the 1915−1916 Armenian genocide within the Ottoman Empire.[9] It means that Ankara is obliged to recognize the territorial integrity of whole Cyprus island and to open sea and air borders to it. Of course, in this case, the price is the abolishment of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1981 that is recognized only by Turkey.[10] The Turkish eastern foreign policy is dealing primarily with the Middle East and with the Islamic and Arab countries in the region. Turkey formally applied for entrance into the EU in 1987 and received a status of candidate state in 1999. However, up today the process of Turkey-EU accession negotiations is going very slowly for different economic, political, demographic, cultural, financial, minority rights, the question of democracy and religious reasons.[11] From the Western political-military point of view, Turkey has to be a NATO’s member, but regarding the Western economic point of view, Turkey should stay not completely incorporated into the Western structures (the EU). In fact, several internal armed conflicts in Turkey, the military cups and a strengthening of the parties with Islamic fundamentalist orientations are the most significant reasons why Turkey is not acceptable to the EU yet.

The Gulf Wars were the crucial military-political events after the dissolution of the bipolar world for the Turkish emancipation within the NATO, particularly in regard to its relations with the USA. Giving its territory for the military actions against Iraq, Ankara made stronger her relations with the USA and the UK and made firmer Turkey’s position within the NATO. Generally, the strategic position of Turkey during and after the Gulf Wars was and is more consolidated, particularly in the American eyes. Turkey is encircled with both the unstable regions and the regions of the “high risk”: the Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia, Middle East and Central East. In general, a real value of Turkey for the West is founded on the expectation that this country can be a good example for the other Islamic states as a prosperous, secularised, modern and above all pro-Western orientated country, what means a country which creates its economic and political development on the Western values. In other words, there is no other example like Turkey of so westernized country in the Islamic world.

An external political situation of Turkey after the collapse of the USSR is better than it was during the Cold War. A neighboring Iraq’s military power is weakened after two lost wars, with Iran in the 1980s and the Western coalition during the Gulf Wars. Syria, currently involved in a bloody civil war, is as well as not a dangerous military threat for Turkey and it is not going to be for a longer period of time. With Russia, Turkey has not even the common state borders and Russia is not posing any security challenge to Turkey. Even more, Russia can play a very constructive policy of the protection of Turkey in its struggle against the EU and especially the USA. With Greece, Turkey has all the time bad relations, but Greece cannot be a firm military danger for Turkey without support by some of the great powers what Greece today does not have.

However, the internal political problems are the crucial challenge to Turkey’s state security and even territorial integrity and one of the fundamental barriers on the Turkish road to the EU. A large scale of the state economy alongside with enormous corruption are making time to time a high inflation and unemployment in Turkey. Probably, the crucial internal political problem which is the barrier for Turkey to become a full member of the EU is its military friction with the Kurds, and their own national PKK party,[12] who are not recognized as a national minority by the Turkish authorities.[13] Actually, the question of the Kurds is seen by the EU throughout a prism of the question of the people’s self-determination and protection of the human and minority rights.[14] However, any Western anti-Turkish attitude is surely inclining Ankara’s foreign policy toward the East – Russia and the Muslim world.

A rising challenge of the Islamic fundamentalism is another internal problem for Turkey’s security. This problem became visible after the electoral win of the pro-Islamic Party of Prosperity in 1995. On one hand, this problem became one of several pivotal obstacles for Turkey’s EU accession, but on another hand, the EU is forced to enlarge and make stronger its own market in a competition with the US, Japanese and Chinese economy. It means that Turkey for the EU (and all Mediterranean Sea area countries) is very important and highly acceptable for the cooperation.

Turkish President Erdogan in BrusselsEastern Turkey’s foreign policy is actually of an alternative nature and a kind of Ankara’s blackmailing instrument on Turkey’s way to the EU. First of all, Ankara is trying to establish as stronger as a position in the Black Sea region. In fact, Turkey is the initiator for the creation of the regional Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (the BSEC) with intended Turkish leading role.[15] It is of extreme importance for Turkish foreign policy an attempt to establish some kind of the Turkish Commonwealth in which the former Soviet republics from Central Asia and the Caucasus with predominant Turkic population would be assembled with a leadership of Ankara. At the Balkans, Ankara is creating a sort of the Ottoman Commonwealth with the Muslim states and people based on the common Ottoman cultural and political inheritance (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia). The Turkish relations with the Islamic Conference are made stronger during the last two decades, particularly during the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-1995) and the Kosovo War (1998-1999). Finally, it cannot be forgotten that Turkey, at the same time, is working on the creation of a common market of Middle East’s region, which is, needless to say, an alternative option for the EU’s market for the Turkish economy.

In conclusion, by nature of Turkey’s geostrategic location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, this country plays a pivotal regional role in the post-Cold War system of states led by Washington. It lies at the epicenter of a series of conflicts, real and potential, in both continents. This very fact gives Turkey a special geopolitical value. It also has enjoyed noticeable growth in both economic prosperity and democracy since 1980. For the reason that Turkey has been up today a faithful US and NATO ally, Washington and Brussels have called upon it to play an important role in the Balkans, Near East, and former Soviet Union republics commensurate with its new-found political and economic development.[16] However, it seems that a wind of change arrived in the room of Turkey’s relations with the USA, NATO, and EU.

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.


[1] Jan Palmowski, A Dictionary of Contemporary World History: From 1900 to the Present Day, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 649.

[2] Isa Eraslan, Turkey-NATO Relations After the Cold War: Ascending Importance of Turkey Within the Changing Mission of NATO After 9/11, Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2013.

[3] Janne Haaland Matláry, Magnus Petersson, NATO’s European Allies: Military Capability and Political Will, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

[4] Graham E. Fuller, The New Turkish Republic: Turkey as a Pivotal State in the Muslim World, Washington: United States Institute of Peace, 2008; Soner Cagaptay, The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century’s First Muslim Power, Potomac Books, 2014.

[5] Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (http://www.mfa.gov.tr/nato.en.mfa).

[6] On this issue, see: Maria Hadjipaulou, “The Cyprus Conflict: Root Causes and Implications for Peacebuilding”, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 44, No. 3, 2007, pp. 349-365; Jan Asmussen, Cyprus at War: Diplomacy and Conflict During the 1974 Crisis, I.B.Tauris, 2008; Andreas Constandinos, America, Britain and the Cyprus Crisis of 1974: Calculated Conspiracy of Foreign Policy Failure?, Central Milton Keynes: Authors House, 2009; Clement Dodd, The History and Politics of the Cyprus Conflict, New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2010; Andreas Constandidos, Britain and the Cyprus Crisis of 1974: “Responsibility Without Power”, Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011.

[7] John Redmond, “Security Implications of the Accession of Cyprus to the European Union”, International Spectator, Roma, 1995, No. 3, p. 34.

[8] On the “Kurdish Question” in present-day Turkey, see: Thomas Jeffrey, Federico Venturini (eds.), Your Freedom and Mine: Abdullah Öcalan and the Kurdish Question in Erdoğan’s Turkey, Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2018.

[9] On the Armenian genocide, see: Geoffrey Robertson, An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians?, London: Biteback Publishing, 2014.

[10] On this issue, see: Mirela Bogdan, Turkey and the Dilemma of EU Accession: When Religion Meets Politics, I.B.Tauris, 2010; Kenan Aksu (ed.), Turkey-EU Relations: Power, Politics and the Future, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012; CRC Report for Congress: European Union Enlargement: A Status Report on Turkey’s Accession Negotiations, March 15, 2011-RS22517, BiblioGov, 2013.

[11] On the question of democratization of the Turkish society and policy and the accession to the EU, see: Binnaz Toprak, “Islam and Democracy in Turkey”, Turkish Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2005, pp. 167-186; Cigdem Kentmen, “Determinants of Support for EU Membership in Turkey”, European Union Politics, Vol. 9, No. 4, 2008, pp. 487-510; Alper Kaliber, “Contextual and Contested: Reassessing Europeanization in the Case of Turkey”, International Relations, Vol. 27, No 1, 2012, pp. 52-73.

[12] On the question of PKK party, see: Ali Kemal Özcan, Turkey’s Kurds: A Theoretical Analysis of the PKK and Abdullah Öcalan, London-New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2006; Aliza Marcus, Blood and Belief: The Kurdish Fight for Independence, New York-London: New York University Press, 2007; Abdullah Öcalan, Prison Writings: The PKK and the Kurdish Question in the 21st Century, London: Transmedia Publishing Ltd, 2011; Charles Strozier, James Frank, The PKK: Financial Sources, Social and Political Dimensions, VDM-Verlag Dr. Müller, 2011.

[13] On the question of Kurdish identity in Turkey and Turkish policy toward Kurds, see: Metin Heper, The State and Kurds in Turkey: The Question of Assimilation, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007; Cenk Saraçoglu, Kurds of Modern Turkey: Migration, Neoliberalism and Exclusion in Turkish Society, Tauris Academic Studies, 2010; Michael M. Gunter, The Kurds: The Evolving Solution to the Kurdish Problem in Iraq and Turkey, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011; Noah Beratsky (ed.), The Kurds, Greenhaven Press, 2013; Ramazan Aras, The Formation of Kurdishness in Turkey: Political Violence, Fear and Pain, London-New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014.

[14] Doygu Bazoglu Sezer, “Turkey in the Post-Cold War Era: Evolving Domestic and Foreign Policy Trends and Challenges”, The Southeast European Year Book, 1994-1995, p. 527; Kerim Yildiz, The Kurds in Turkey: EU Accession and Human Rights, Pluto Press, 2005.

[15] Lambert M. Surhone, Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, Betascript Publishing, 2011; Markus Philipp Vogtenhuber, Analyse der Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), GRIN Verlag, 2012.

[16] Stephen J. Blank, Stephen C. Pelletiere, William T. Johnsen, Turkey’s Strategic Position at the Crossroads of World Affairs, Strategic Studies Institute: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.

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One Comment
  1. Walter DuBlanica

    Starting with Turkey eastward through Syria/Iraq/Iran/Pakistan/India U.S. influence is receding rapidly.

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