Economics: the United States and Turkey
Until recently, the United States and Turkey have always had a strong, close relationship. The two countries have been NATO allies since 1952, but the increasing tensions between the Trump Administration and the Erdoğan government are now turning the once friends into foes. According to Jim Zanotti and Clayton Thomas, Turkey’s military operations in northern Syria, its intention to purchase an S-400 air defense system from Russia, the arrest of more than a dozen Americans, and Erdoğan’s authoritarian style of ruling are all “current points of tension in the U.S.-Turkey relationship” (2019). Despite the disagreements and crises between the two counties, both nations have been trying to work with each other for the sake of their strategic partnership.
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The origins of the ongoing conflicts between the two powerful nations can be traced back to when President Barack Obama made the decision to support the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG. Obama made this decision despite the fact that the organization had connections to the known terrorist group, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This became a problem in more recent years, as the United States came up with the idea to use the Turkish-based terrorist group to fight ISIS, despite Turkey’s opposition (Arslan et al. 2018). This infuriated Turkey, and Erdoğan announced that his military would attack the YPG in the Afrin providence. Evidently, the U.S. was not fond of this action, and frictions with Turkey began (Zanotti and Thomas 2019).
Another key point of tension in the U.S-Turkey relationship is Turkey’s plan to purchase an S-400 air defense system from Russia in addition to 100 U.S.-origin F-35 aircrafts. Many NATO allies have warned Turkey that the S-400 deal would not be beneficial, as it might compromise sensitive technology and actually weaken Turkey’s geopolitical position (Dempsey 2017). The U.S. even offered a Patriot air defense system as an alternative at one point. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ignored NATO’s suggestions/efforts and finalized the deal with Russia; as a response, the United States Congress passed a bill that may prevent the delivery of the F-35 jets to Turkey. Some people are concerned that Russia may take advantage of the U.S.-Turkey tension and try to weaken the NATO alliance as a whole.
The arrest of over a dozen Americans, specifically Andrew Brunson’s arrest, was the climax of conflicts between the United States and Turkey. Brunson was a pastor who lived in Turkey for a significant period of time; he was arrested and charged with aiding the failed military coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Arslan et al. 2018). Brunson and the U.S. denied the charges and demanded he be released; when Turkey refused, President Trump imposed sanctions on both the interior and justice ministers of Turkey for their roles in Brunson’s arrest. Shortly after these sanctions were imposed, Erdoğan imposed some himself on the U.S. Attorney General and Secretary of the Interior. Eventually, Brunson was released, but Turkey still suffered from all of the sanctions. As a result, the value of the Turkish lira has fallen almost 40 percent against the dollar, causing an economic crisis in the country (Dwyer and Kaplow 2018).
Many citizens in Turkey consider Erdoğan to be a dictator because of his obsession with power. The most concerning thing that he has done for more power was change the Turkish Constitution. Erdoğan used to be the Prime Minister of Turkey, but his reforms allowed him to become the country’s first directly-elected president in 2014. He ran for reelection in 2018 and won; some say the only reason he was victorious was because he manipulated many citizens’ votes. The reason why this is causing problems between Turkey and the U.S. is because Erdoğan is trying to become more powerful than Trump by leaning towards an authoritarian style of ruling. Turkey’s parliament has even signed off on a controversial reform package that would allow President Erdoğan to become the head of the state, government, and ruling party, which could extend his presidency until 2029 (Zanotti and Thomas 2019).
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Despite all of the points of tension between the U.S. and Turkey, both leaders believe that their relationship will strengthen with more investments and trade. President Obama worked with Turkey on energy efficiency projects and even invited them to his Global Entrepreneur Summit. As another effort to strengthen their partnership, Turkey made plans to open the “New York State Istanbul Trade Office—the first U.S. state to have an office in Turkey” (Podesta 2010). Today, America continues to provide upwards of $3.8 million in foreign aid for Turkey for two main reasons: Turkey has the second-largest military out of every country in the NATO alliance and it has great geographical significance; the two tie together to make Turkey a vital partner. Turkey is connected to Europe, Asia, as well as Middle Eastern counties including Iran, Iraq, and Syria. This is important because the U.S. can station troops in Turkey and attack ISIS quickly (Dwyer and Kaplow 2018).
America continues to invest in and trade with Turkey because it is beneficial for them, but Turkey also benefits from this partnership. As said earlier, Turkey receives $3.8 million in foreign aid from the U.S., which strengthens their military drastically. The foreign aid also helps Turkey deal with the Syrian refugee crisis by allowing them to “organize a response to the growing number of refugees and preventing further destabilization in the country that might open a door to exploitation by extremist terrorist groups or Russian influence” (Summers 2018). Overall, the U.S. and Turkey will remain strategic partners regardless of the levels of tension among them; neither country can look past the advantages of coming together to face the challenges of the political and economic worlds.
- Arslan, Defne, et al. “US-Turkey Relations: From Alliance to Crisis.” Atlantic Council, 7 Aug. 2018, www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/us-turkey-relations-from-alliance-to-crisis.
- Dempsey, Judy. “Judy Asks: Is Turkey Weakening NATO?” Carnegie Europe, 20 Sept. 2017, carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/73174.
- Dwyer, Colin, and Larry Kaplow. “What’s The Deal With The Deepening Dispute Between U.S. And Turkey?” NPR, NPR, 13 Aug. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/08/13/638162581/whats-the-deal-with-the-deepening-dispute-between-u-s-and-turkey.
- Podesta, John. “The Unique Importance of the Turkish-American Relationship.” Center for American Progress, 19 Oct. 2010, www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/news/2010/10/19/8562/the-unique-importance-of-the-turkish-american-relationship/.
- Summers, Shane. “How the US Benefits from Foreign Aid to Turkey.” The Borgen Project, 27 Mar. 2018, borgenproject.org/u-s-benefits-from-foreign-aid-to-turkey/.
- Zanotti, Jim, and Clayton Thomas. Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief. Congressional Research Service, 8 Feb. 2019, fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R44000.pdf.