Why the US Needs Turkey
Which countries are the most important allies of the United States?
This may seem like a simple question. Japan and South Korea anchor the US in East Asia. Germany, France, Italy, and the UK stand steadfastly between Russia and Europe. Canada is an extremely close friend of the US, and a great ally to have on our northern border. Most importantly, all of the above nations are strong, rich democracies, which have embraced free market capitalism and secularism.
Yet, there is one country that is often forgotten about. A country so important, and so strong, that the US is willing to take back weapons given to the Kurds in the interest of keeping the aforementioned country as an ally. This country is the Republic of Turkey, which rose from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire following World War I.
Turkey is a NATO member, and has arguably one of the most powerful militaries on Earth. With around 750,000 active military personnel, Turkey has the second largest army in NATO. Turkey possesses around 1000 aircraft, including modern F-16 fighter jets that are extremely advanced. Turkey also has thousands of tanks, and is the most powerful force in the Middle East. Turkey, therefore, can act as a stabilizing force in the region, especially as it turns its attention away from Europe and towards the Muslim world.
Turkey also occupies an extremely important position geographically. It is the bridge between Europe and Asia, and borders Iraq, Iran, and Syria, who are all extremely important in terms of the Middle East as a whole. Turkey also controls the Bosphorus, an extremely vital waterway that connects the Black sea and the Mediterranean. Therefore, Turkey essentially controls Russian access to the Mediterranean, and therefore, the Atlantic Ocean.
It is true that Turkey has slid greatly from being a secular, western democracy. Recep Tayipp Erdogan greatly consolidated power and is near dictatorial, especially considering his treatment of journalists. Additionally, Turkey has forgone secularism in its education curriculum, which has removed classes on evolution. Furthermore, Turkey has committed numerous human rights abuses against the Kurds, not only under Erdogan, but during its entire history.
From a political standpoint, Turkey is not a “traditional” US ally, at least in 2017. The authoritarian, Islamic Turkey of today cannot be compared to the UK, France, Japan, Canada, or other western style, secular democracies. However, this certainly does not mean that we should forego Turkey as an ally all together. Turkey is still much more free than the rest of the Middle East, and relative to other US allies such as Saudi Arabia, is a beacon of freedom.
The fact that Turkey is a NATO member is actually the strongest factor that maintains Turkey as a democracy. NATO “promotes democratic values”, and as such, is putting pressure on Turkey to not slide further into a dictatorship. On the contrary, if the US were to lose Turkey as an ally, the results would be devastating. Turkey could ally itself with Russia, as it has already been attempting to do. This would result in Turkey becoming an authoritarian, Islamic dictatorship-Russia would not apply any “democratic pressure” as NATO does. Additionally, NATO would lose an extremely powerful ally, give up control of the Bosphorus, and lose a land border with the Middle East.
It is clear that the US must retain Turkey as an ally. The consequences of losing Turkey are far too dire. While the US is more comfortable allying itself with democracies, Turkey is too important geopolitically. Furthermore, if Turkey leaves NATO and joins up with Russia, Turkey will only become more authoritarian.