A   CONSPECTUS[i] 


Seyfi Taşhan


          This essay will attempt to analyze Turkish-American relations from the onset of the Cold War and how various leaders and international conjunctures have led to fluctuations in this relationship



During the Cold War,   US played the role of leadership for the Western nations with dignity and even magnanimously. With the exception of few small incidents US leadership was unchallenged and US was able to both defend its own interests while supporting those of her allies who did not squabble about their own problems that appeared to be not so important in relation to the perceived security threats and considerations.

Eventually, the combined efforts of the Western nations and the military-economic competition between the two blocs led to the downfall of the Soviet Union. As Fukuyama (1989) had prophesized, the final victory of liberal democracies over communism, the age of American unipolarity had come about. This unique period in world history has brought along some problems.


America and her allies no longer had a mutually perceived threat and there was little incentive for America’s allies to cooperate with US on the same level as before. The ideological vacuum left by the collapse of communism was replaced, chiefly, by religious fundamentalism and nationalism. While the former led to a consolidation of American unilateralist policy and thus increased resentment towards US, the latter proved to be a security challenge and became another basis of resentment of America.

This essay will attempt to analyze Turkish-American relations from the onset of the Cold War and how various leaders and international conjunctures have led to fluctuations in this relationship. We will conclude that security concerns and potential threats are vitally important in this relationship; so much so that the effects of other factors and events can be subordinated. In this light, we may observe that Turkish-American relations were best when their mutual threat perceptions were high and low when both countries felt secure. It is just like the principle of nations not having permanent allies or enemies, merely permanent interests – or as Lord Palmerston once said about British foreign policy, “We have no eternal allies or permanent enemies”, and, “our interests are eternal and we have a duty to follow them.”[1] So, in this particular case, security concerns were the dominant factor.

Early Configurations

The nuclear race began at a time when the relations between the two superpowers were beginning to deteriorate. The second half of the 20th century did not witness wars of global scale, fought between great power states. However, conflict was ever present and the ideological conflict manifested itself as proxy wars between the allies of USA and USSR; as the subordination of small states to the two superpowers; and as small scale wars in newly created states. Turkey and US have had some degree of contact before this era but these were limited in scale and scope; usually minor trade arrangements and missionary activities.

Bearing in mind the vivid experiences of the First World War, Turkey’s decision making elite were not enthusiastic about the prospects of participating in another major power war.[2] Under the strict guidance of İsmet İnönü, Turkey managed to steer clear of the Second World War and managed to retain decent relations with all the belligerents. There were some issues that needed to be addressed though. Namely, what would Turkey’s role be in the post-war world order? More importantly, what could Turkey do to secure itself against an ever growing Soviet bloc? The Soviet Union and Turkey had excellent relations after World War I, with the former providing weapons and money to Turkey in the War of Independence. Yet for historical reasons and the apparent expansionistic tendencies of USSR, especially with regards to a prevailing suspicion that Russia had always wanted to reach warm waters, Turkey saw USSR as a security threat. The logical course of action was to become a member of the Western camp. For this end, Turkey declared war on Germany after the Yalta Conference to be a part of the United Nations and would later become a part of the Council of Europe and NATO.

Turkey’s fears were confirmed in 1945 after a meeting between the Foreign Ministers of USSR Molotov and Ambassador of Turkey  Selim Sarper.[3] It transpired that the Soviets indeed wanted a revision of the Montreaux Straits Convention and possible territorial rearrangements regarding Turkey’s Eastern borders.[4] In the backdrop, Great Britain was on the verge of bankruptcy and announced in 1947 that it could no longer provide assistance to Turkey and Greece. US took up Britain’s mantle and under the Truman Doctrine, dated March 12th 1947, Turkey and Greece were offered money as military-economic assistance. This aid given as help to “nations fighting against authoritarian regimes” was to be the first of many to be offered by US. Indeed, the Marshall Plan that began in 1948 amounted to some USD 13 billion and given to 16 European countries, which Turkey benefited from. This aid can be interpreted as the resurrection of Wilsonian principles with a distinct military flavor that promoted a practical form of collective security in the form of first bilateral and, later, multilateral alliances. The same year, Stalin was becoming increasingly frustrated with the new developments and West Berlin was soon cut off from the rest of the world. In this first major crisis of the Cold War, US and its allies kept the city alive with airlifts. This first act of hostility by USSR made it necessary for the foundation of a collective security organization, NATO.


The Democratic Party Years

In the meantime, there was pressure outside and within Turkey for a transition to a more democratic system. İsmet İnönü was able to retain power in the controversial 1946 elections but, finally, Turkey had its first proper elections in 1950 with the Democratic Party (DP) winning in a landslide victory. The same year, Celal Bayar, the head of the Democratic Party, became the 3rd President of Turkey. Unlike his predecessor, Celal Bayar did not want Turkish-American relations to be limited to security issues; he wanted to expand the scope of this relationship.

Celal Bayar’s decision to send Turkish troops under UN auspices to participate in the war against North Korea was principally aimed at reaffirming Turkey’s solidarity and alliance with the United States. As expected his act was greatly appreciated, and became the most effective instrument to prove Turkey’s dependability as a prospective member of NATO, quelling all objections of European powers. Consequently, Turkey’s image was greatly enhanced in the West; it was soon seen as the bastion of West against the Soviet Union – an image as a “projector of  Western power”.[5] Thus Turkey, along with Greece, became a member of NATO in 1952.

This episode was led to a close cooperation between Turkey and the United States in areas of defense and economy so much so that in the beginning of 1954 when the then Turkish President Celal Bayar paid a state visit to the United States at the invitation of President Eisenhower, he was given a ticker-tape parade in New York, worthy of only war heroes, and Greek and Armenian diasporas rushed to publicize and welcome this visit in contradiction to their current hostile attitudes and actions towards Turkey.

Many US military bases and systems were established in Turkey and there were strong and long lasting bonds established between the military of the two countries. Yet the relations, even in the heydays of the alliance, were not spotless. George Harris has summarized these trouble spots in his book,”The Troubled Alliance”.

Nevertheless, the impact of the high threat perception of Turkey from the Soviet Union and its strong allegiance to its Western Alliance and particularly its leader the United States had a monopolizing effect on Turkish foreign policy. Turkey did all in its power to conform to the interests of its major Ally even to the negligence of its own regional political interests (Algiers, recognition of Israel). This relationship was characterized as a patron-client relationship as Turkey, as part of the alliance and as a major security dependence on US, followed a policy that would conform to that of the United States in areas where Turkey’s national interest was not in contrast with that of the United States. This trend in Turkish foreign policy dominated the 1950s.

In this respect, Turkey, United States and Great Britain carried out a plan conceived by US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to contain the advance of the Soviet Union in to warm waters of the Mediterranean and of the Indian Ocean. Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan formed the Baghdad Pact. Unfortunately, piece by piece, this pact became impotent as Iraq withdrew after the Ba’athist revolution in 1963. At this point the Baghdad Pact became CENTO (Central Treaty Organization). After the Iranian Revolution, it ceased to exist. However, the economic branch of CENTO, which was transformed into the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD), which later changed its name and enlarged its membership to cover some Caucasian and other Central Asian Countries and assumed the name of ECO (Economic Cooperation Organizations).



The situation somewhat changed in 1960s because of two incidents where US respect and commitment to Turkey’s security became a subject of debate in Turkey. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the removal of the Jupiter Missiles that were placed in Turkey, without consultation with Turkey and as a reward to Soviet Union in return for the conciliation in Cuba. This was considered as Turkey’s security being expendable. The second incident was the nature of the threat that came from President Lyndon B. Johnson, contained in his letter, that was aimed at thwarting Turkey’s possible intervention in Cyprus to protect the Turkish community from the assaults of Cypriot Greeks.  This letter showed that Turkey was not only expendable for US interests but also to protect the interests of Greek lobbies in US.[6] This also led Turkey and Soviet Union to establish improved economic and trade relations.[7] In fact, in 1967, Soviet Union extended assistance for the construction of a major refinery, aluminum plant, iron and steel plant and glassworks in Turkey.

Greece and Cyprus had become an important negative factor in Turkish-US political relations. However, this did not have any significant impact on security cooperation between the two countries. In fact, this cooperation was particularly enhanced following the Prague Spring events and the Brezhnev Doctrine[8] that increased threat perception in Europe, United States and Turkey. Incidentally, this event also facilitated Turkey’s progress from preparatory phase to transition phase, in Turkey’s association process with the EEC.

The turn of the decade began with both blocs realizing the futility of maintaining mutual annihilation threats and there was a strong search for increasing dialogue prospects. The Nixon visit to Moscow in 1972 and resulting agreements between two bloc leaders had profound effects in intra-bloc relations in the Western camp, as imminent threat perceptions were reduced to possible threat perceptions.[9] As a result of this change, Greek and Armenian lobbies began to exert increasing anti-Turkish pressure in US government and Congress circles. The Opium Crisis led to hues and cries in US Congress for imposing economic and military embargoes on Turkey. This campaign was led by such distinguished senators as Richard Mondale, who later became Vice-President, and Armenian and Greek origin senators like Pashayan, Dukakis and Sarbanes. Even though they failed in their first attempt they were to succeed a year later because of the Turkish military intervention in Cyprus in 1974.[10] At this time the US executive was suffering from the Watergate scandal and was not in a position to block the Congress action.

The embargo continued for several years and was finally lifted in 1978 following major campaign by US security and strategy experts who believed that the most appropriate military bases were in Turkey to defend US interests in case of an attack on the Gulf.[11] Moreover, this preceded the religious revolution in Iran. This revolt that brought down a trusted ally of the United States, the Shah of Iran, to flee his country once again changed the US attitude towards Turkey as the second most trusted ally in South-East Europe and the Middle East – the first being Israel.

The Özal Era

Mr. Turgut Özal, who had become the economic Tsar of Turkey in 1980 under Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel, kept his position under the military rule that began in September 1980. Eventually, he formed a political party and won the 1983 elections to carry out an unprecedented economic reform program. He was also very active in introducing a multi-directional foreign policy for Turkey.

All through his Premiership and Presidency he not only succeeded in maintaining excellent relations with the United States, but he liberalized Turkish foreign trade and established good relations with Turkey’s neighbors, including Israel. He wanted to make Turkey an irrevocable partner of the European Union; he tried to promote respect to human rights in Turkey by accepting the right of Turkish citizens to bring their complaints of the Turkish government to the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg. He created the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and cooperated with the United States during the First Gulf War, even though Turkey did not take part in the war. Turkey cooperated, again with the United States to preserve the security of the No-Flight-Zone in Northern Iraq and actively mediated between two major Iraqi Kurdish groups in order to prevent them from fighting each other, even by maintaining a military contingent in Northern Iraq for this purpose. Özal carried Turkish foreign policy from Cold War paradigms to political and economic pluralism that characterized the Post-Cold War era.


Post-Cold War Pluralism and the Difficulties Faced by US-Turkey

The demise of the Soviet Union towards the end of the 1980s created or reactivated the independence of many states in the wide Eurasian region controlled by the Soviet Union. Turkey extended immediate recognition to all of these former Soviet Republics and established diplomatic relations with most of them. In the provision of economic and political support to these new countries Turkey and US had many common interests. Turkey did its best to integrate the Turkish speaking NIS countries in the international system and PfP program of NATO. In this respect Turkey and US had the same mind set as to what was to be done. Turkey became an ardent supporter for the enlargement of NATO as well.

In this section of this article an attempt will be made to analyze comparative policy aims and interests of the United States and Turkey on global and regional issues and their chances of cooperation.

Global issues

In the post Cold War era the United States, sometimes together with and sometimes separately from Western Europe began a policy that would firmly establish the dominant position of US in the unipolar world. Russia had been so weakened that it could hardly cope with even a Chechen revolt. China had just begun its development efforts and was no threat to anyone. It was this period when a French foreign minister (Hubert Védrine) could dub the United States as ‘the hyper-power of the world’[12] The consciousness of its global power may be one of the factors that led the United States with or without the help of its allies, and some times in competition with them, take charge of the problems of the word so long as their solution helped US interests. The America of today is acting increasingly independent of other countries. Some acts of US unilateralism range from the refusing to take part in the Kyoto Protocol, to the controversial invasion and occupation of Iraq.


US conservatives thought that in this Post Cold War era they should pursue to encourage human rights and democracy on a global scale beginning particularly with the Middle East. The European countries also follow a similar policy in their neighborhood through enlargement, in this case, in Eastern Europe; and encouraging the countries of the Mediterranean through an economic program (MEDA). US policy considered a new doctrine for the larger Middle East area and two conferences have been held in Rabat and Oman, aimed at encouraging democracy and economic cooperation. However, American and European soft-pedal policies did not yield any significant results.

For most of the Middle East countries the real problem lied in the Arab-Israeli conflict. These attempts of Europe and the United States did not bring any results; the principle reason being US was squeezed between its unconditional support for Israel and its desire to promote peace and democracy in the Middle East. In this area, politically, what Europe could do went, in reality, no further than the Venice Declaration of 1980, giving support to the legitimate rights of Palestinians. The disappearance of the Soviet Union from the Middle East scene and the failure of the United States to bring about peace and security in that wider Middle East led to problems. These, when coupled with policy errors[13], encouraged the rise and spread of hard-line Islamism, greatly encouraged by such fundamentalist countries as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In the backdrop of all these developments, it became very difficult to combine democracy with the spread of Islam. Free and fair elections that are sine qua non of democracies tended to bring to power Islamist political parties – in many instances, these parties were active fundamentalists. This led the Neo-Cons of the United States to encourage a moral “mild” Islam that could enable the coexistence of democracy and Islam. Therefore, the G8 Group became the instrument to encourage dialogue for peace and democracy among religions. Even though almost all Islamic countries choose to talk about reform of their societies, very little actual progress was achieved.


Iraq and Iran

The revolution in Iran came as a shock to the world because it represented the rise of Islam in its crudest form under a dictatorship of clergymen. This form of Islam defied Western value system and encouraged Islamic revolution in other parts of the world. Coupled with anti-western sentiments rising from Arab-Israeli dispute, the Iranian propaganda found a fertile ground. In order to counter this Iranian ideological threat that could also endanger US energy interests in the Gulf, US chose to encourage nationalist but mostly secular Ba’athist leader of Saddam in his attempts to destroy Iranian Shiism, which was also a threat for the security of Iraq and other Gulf countries. In the Iran-Iraq War, US could not take sides officially, and the war that lasted a long time ended in a stalemate; exhausting the energies of both belligerents. The Iraqi leader, in order to recuperate his lost prestige, chose to invade oil-rich Kuwait. That was too much for the United States because this time Saddam had become a threat to US interests in the Gulf and no one knew where Saddam’s expansionism would stop. This led to the First Gulf War that saved Kuwait but left an embittered Saddam in power.

Neo-conservationism and the Middle East:

The legitimization of US foreign policy is based on a triad concept consisting of supporting democracy, human rights and economic liberalism, even though in many instances these principles have remained only rhetorical where they contradict US interests. As we have seen earlier, US leaders have championed this ideology both at the end of the First and the Second World Wars and have remained part of the US declaratory policies. Until the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon by Al-Qaide terrorists who had made themselves a base in Afghanistan with their Taliban friends, US attempts to promote democracy and human rights were limited as US was constrained by a soft power policy described by Joseph Nye[14]. Yet, the terrorist aggression committed within US territories and the support given by NATO and the Security Council, empowered US to invade Afghanistan. This invasion also heralded the implementation of the Neo-con policies that also involved in imposing reforms and democracies also by use of force on countries whose regimes constituted a threat to international peace. This is a very complicated process. The invasion of Afghanistan was followed by plans to topple Saddam Husseyn in Iraq that demonstrated open hostility towards the United States and together with Iran he could endanger both the security of flow of oil from the Gulf and the security of Israel.

The 2003 war against Iraq was quickly won and Iraq was invaded. But what was not expected was the rise of terror in Afghanistan and Iraq and the chaos particularly in Iraq that could not be remedied by the United States. War against Taliban continues at the time of writing of this article particularly in the South mountainous regions of Afghanistan, while law and order is still to be established in Iraq and no one knows what is in store for the future of Iraq. But it is obvious that the chances of re-establishing a united Iraq are weakening day by day. Contradictions between democratic norms foreseen in the constitutional instruments and the existing traditions and belief systems as well as societal structures, the Neo-con strategies have suffered a failure in both countries. In the United States the Defense Department leaders and Administrators in Iraq have paid the price.

US policy to the region gives the impression that US have eventually realized that it would be nigh impossible to bring peaceful international and domestic law and order in the Middle East before the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved. And insistence on democratic reforms should be subordinated to mellowing Islamic fundamentalism. The greater Middle East Project initiated by G8 group of nations and EU’s neighborhood policies aim at both creating inter-cultural and inter-religion contacts and dialogues constitute a soft pedaling of  reform demands from Middle East countries. Furthermore, US while ardently backing Israel seem to be giving higher priority for an early solution of the Palestine problem and supporting the activities of the Quartet.

This policy makes Iran which is deploying strenuous efforts to develop its own nuclear and missile capabilities and the zeal of its President defying and threatening US and Israel, number one preoccupation of the United States in the Middle East. It is absolutely clear that US, EU and UN desire Iran to reassure the world that its nuclear activities are really peaceful and it would open itself up to international inspections. For the time being soft sanctions are being imposed on Iran to obtain this objective, but it is not clear how long it will take for Iran to respond positively to these pleas and what would be the response of US and Israel if all these pressures do not give a result.

The US policy has witnessed three important shifts during the last Republican Administration under President George W. Bush. In the course of the first years we see a soft power mode entailing good relations with Russia and China and advocating democracy and globalization for the whole world. In the second phase after the 9/11 we witness a belligerent foreign policy evolved and advised by neo-cons. The third period consisting of the Administration’s distancing itself from neo-con policies as they have led US from one failure to another. US now tries to mend ties with Europe and its allies and even under these conditions of severe nuclear challenges by North Korea and Iran it seems to seek international cooperation, dialogue and sanctions acceptable to UN Security Council.

US-Turkish relations in recent decades

Until US invasion of Iraq, Turkish-US relations were at their best. US supported Turkey’s accession to the European Union and in early 2000s, when Turkey fell in to an economic crisis, US supported the reform of the Turkish economy in cooperation with IMF and encouraged social and political reforms in Turkey.

The preparations for the invasion of Iraq created a rift in US-Turkish relations whose effects continued for a long time. US wanted to station troops in Turkey and open a second front by moving into Iraq from Turkey. Remembering how Turkey was left alone when 300,000 Iraqi Kurds sought refuge in Turkey after the First Gulf War and nobody came to Turkey’s assistance, there was a general reluctance not to get involved this time in an adventure in Iraq. Furthermore US was unwilling to protect Turkish interests in Iraq by not promising the integrity of the state of Iraq after the invasion and protect the Turkish minority in that country from pressures by Arabs and Kurds. Low-level negotiations turned into “horse-trading” as coined during a meeting with President Bush. The Turkish Parliament did not approve the project of a second front through Turkey  against the US assumption that Turkey would, anyway, play the game with the United States.[15] This development, coupled with the post-invasion failure of US to stabilize Iraq, created much ill-feeling in the United States towards Turkey. In fact Donald Rumsfeld placed the blame of US failure on Turkey’s lack of cooperation.[16] This in return created an anti-American sentiment in Turkish public opinion, accusing America of disregarding Turkey’s interests in Iraq. However the statesmen of both countries have done their best not to reflect this public opinion phenomenon of hostile feelings in their cooperative relations. US and Turkey worked together to bring Caspian energy resources to the Mediterranean through Turkey. They also worked together within the G8 sponsored “Greater Middle East Project” and Turkey assumed a role-model of a state combining democratic reform in an Islamic country, even though this role is firmly rejected by a section of public opinion and civil society who consider Turkey to be a secular state.

The last phase of the Bush administration after a period of more than four years of dilly-dallying, US has finally shown a greater understanding of Turkey’s positions and interests vis-à-vis Iraq. With the intelligence help from US, the Turkish army conducts air and ground operations against PKK terrorists based in Northern Iraq and has discarded the original plans of dividing Iraq into three states and insist on its future unity. US still supports Turkey’s membership in the European Union and is very happy with Turkey’s cooperation for peace-keeping efforts in problem regions ranging from the Balkans to Afghanistan and even further.


Looking at the history of Turkish-US relations there is no monotony. There have always been frictions, mostly under the influence of anti-Turkish lobbies and their annual attempts to get some anti-Turkish resolutions from the US Congress. However, because of the coincidence of a majority of the basic interests of the two countries in the wide region where Turkey and US are involved in economic, social, political and even military projects and cooperation. These interests always dominate the points of friction resulting from erroneous policies of leaderships of both countries as well as the impact of anti-Turkish lobbies and anti-American propaganda.



Hale, William. Turkish Foreign Policy: 1774-2000. London: Frank CASS Publishers, 2000.

Colton, Kramer, and R.R. Palmer. A History of the Modern World. New York: McGraw Hill Companies, 2007.

International Herald Tribune, “To Paris, U.S. Looks Like a ‘Hyperpower’,” February 5, 1999.

Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. London: Simon & Schuster Ltd, 1995.

Lesser, Ian. Beyond Suspicion, Rethinking US-Turkish Relation. Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson School for International Studies, 2007.

Nye, Joseph. “The Benefits of Soft Power”. Harvard Business School Archives, 2004, http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/4290.html.

Oran, Baskın, ed., Türk Dış Politikası Vol. I. Istanbul: Iletişim Yayınları, 2001.

Shanker, Thom. “Rumsfeld Faults Turkey for Barring Use of Its Land in ’03 to Open Northern Front in Iraq”, The New York Times, 21 March, 2005.


      (*) Based on a presentation made at the Panel organized by the Foreign Policy Institute on “Turkish Foreign Policy Responding to Changes in  International Conditions” at the 8 th METU Conference on International Relations on June 19 th, 2009

[1] Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy (London: Simon & Schuster Ltd, 1995), p. 96.

[2] William Hale, Turkish Foreign Policy: 1774-2000 (London: Frank CASS Publishers, 2000), 79.

[3] Baskın Oran, ed. Türk D ış Politikası Vol. 1. (Istanbul: İletisim Yayınları, 2001),  472-473

[4] Ibid.

[5] Lesser, Ian. Beyond Suspicion, Rethinking US-Turkish Relation (Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson School for International Studies, 2007), 20.


[6] See: Baskın Oran, ed. Türk Dış Politikası Vol. 1. (İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2001),  685-689.

[7] William Hale, Turkish Foreign Policy: 1774-2000 (London: Frank CASS Publishers, 2000), 150-151

[8] Joel Colton, Lloyd Kramer, and R.R. Palmer. A History of the Modern World. (New York: McGraw Hill Companies, 2007), 1008. Note: Basically, the Soviet Union had the right to intervene in any Communist country in the name of the proletarian internationalism to protect socialism against internal or external enemies. Quite basically, an excuse to send in tanks.

[9] See: Seyfi  Taşhan, Foreign Policy-Dış Politika Vol., pp 68-80, “Thoughts on Co-Existence and President Nixon’s Visit to Peking and Moscow, 1972

[10] William Hale, Turkish Foreign Policy: 1774-2000 (London: Frank CASS Publishers, 2000), 160.

[11] Ibid, 161.

[12] International Herald Tribune, “To Paris, U.S. Looks Like a ‘Hyperpower’,” February 5, 1999.

[13] The notable error by the United States was the pursuit of the Green-Belt Project by which militant groups in Middle East countries would be armed and radicalized in order to create a buffer zone of Islamic countries in the Southern borders of the Soviet Union.

[14] Nye, Joseph. “The Benefits of Soft Power”. Harvard Business School Archives, 2004, http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/4290.html (accessed June 7, 2008).


[15] Probably as a residual reflex inherited from the Cold War period when Turkey was perceived as a client state.

[16] Thom Shanker. “Rumsfeld Faults Turkey for Barring Use of Its Land in ’03 to Open Northern Front in Iraq”, The New York Times, 21 March, 2005.


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35. Anniversary Issue – Cold War Years -Seyfi Taşhan

Cold War Years


Seyfi Taşhan

Foreign policy formation in the United States is not always determined solely by military exigencies and Turkish-U.S. relations are affected generally from other overriding variable factors. There are four dates which signify turning points in the Turkish-U.S. relations. A review of what has happened on those dates would indicate the ups and downs of the Turkish-U.S. relations.


 I believe there are four dates which signify turning points in the Turkish-U.S. relations. A review of what has happened on those dates would indicate the ups and downs of the Turkish-U.S. rela­tions and how statesmen of both countries have addressed them­selves to the issues.

The first significant date is January 18, 1927 when the United States Senate, by six votes short, rejected the Treaty of Lausanne under the pressure of strong Armenian and church opposition which prevailed under an atmosphere of partisan political struggle. The Treaty, which ran almost parallel to the other Lausanne Treaty signed between Turkey and her former enemies, sought to regula­rize Turkey’s diplomatic relations with the United States, ended ca­pitulations and brought most favored nation treatment principles. At that time the Turkish reaction was expressed by Kemal Atatürk. As quoted by Ambassador Joseph Grew Atatürk said there was no foundamental reason why the United States and Turkey should not exist in complete harmony. He could not understand, however. «how it was possible in a country where culture and civilization form the keynote of the social fabric of the nation, that a fanatical minority could impose its will on an enlightened majority.»

This Congressional attitude, however, did not prevent the estab­lishment of diplomatic relations, nor did it assume a permanent character of hostility on the part of the U.S. Congress, although anti-Turkish propaganda has continued on and off to blacken the Turkish image in the United States.

In the subsequent years it was possible to maintain mutually satisfactory relations because the basic objective of the United Sta­tes was confined to the protection of its traditional missionary, phi­lanthropic, cultural and economic interests in Turkey. Since U.S. was politically disinterested until the Second World War in the Middle East, there was no conflict of interest. During the same period United States was a good trade partner for Turkey’s traditional agri­cultural products. In the 1923-1941 the balance of trade between the two countries every year favored Turkey. From 1920s to 1939, the political non-involvement of the United States was a factor of great weight in determining the American role in the Turkish eco­nomic development. One interesting constant picture has been the nature of Turkish exports to the United States. Tobacco accounted for 73 % of Turkish exports to the United States in 1938 and in 1976 it accounted for almost  90 % of Turkey’s exports to the same country.

The United States was in the second place as the purchaser of Turkish goods, and seventh as an exporter to Turkey. Capital goods constituted fifty per cent of American exports. Outside one or two still-born attempts, U.S. capital Investments in Turkey, were negligible. The reasons given for this, lies more in the Turkish atti­tude towards foreign capital. The new republic, which was still under the shadows of the Ottoman capitulations, “tended to judge con­siderations of a national character from a political, rather than from an economical standpoint.” I believe this observation still maintains its validity.

In the international political scene there was not any major problem or conflict between the United States interests and those of Turkey. It might be worthwhile to mention, though, the United States attitude concerning the Turkish Straits. This attitude was initially formulated by President Wilson in his program for Peace of January 8 ,1918. In Point Twelve dealing with the Ottoman Empire he said in part: “… and the Dardanelles should be permanently ope­ned as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.” In early 1930s when Turkey be­came rather concerned with the security of the Straits due to the rise of the power of the Axis and informed the signatories of the Lausanne Treaty of its intention to revise the status, it also infor­med the United States. The United States then thought that it had no treaty right, direct or indirect with respect to the Straits Conven­tion or any concern with  the military and political aspects of the

problem. U.S. maintained this position until the end of the Second World War.

The United States attitude towards the Middle East and Turkey began to change somewhat during the Second World War. By the beginning of the War, Turkey had a clear idea of the intentions and ambitions of Stalin concerning both the Turkish Straits and the revival of Tsarist ambitions to reach “warm waters”. Turkey was also threatened by Mussolini and the expansionist danger of Nazi Germany. In order not to be dragged into the war from which Turkey had no chance of coming out intact and independent, Turkish leaders were forced to play the delicate policy of balance. On December 3, 1941 President Roosevelt extended “lend-lease” assistance to Turkey. In 1944 he declared that the United States had vital interests in the Middle East, although the British Government was held responsible for Allied actions in the area. The “lend-lease” was not made subject of an agreement between the two countries but during the War Turkey continued to receive American defense material and services. An agreement was signed only on February 23,1945 which stipulated that the aid would terminate at the end of the War, which was soon to come, and Turkey would be left only to whatever military aid she could get from Great Britain.

During the War, against Turkish worries about Russia, the U.S. interest was focused on the war with the Axis and Japan and a somewhat wishful-thinking prevailed about the Soviet Union. It is for this reason that the U.S. had a benevolent attitude at Yalta and Postdam towards Soviet requests concerning the Turkish Straits. Furthermore, the United States did not favor the entry of Turkey into active war against Germany. In 1944, the United States Chief of Staff indicated their approval in principle but warned that the United States should not be committed to military, naval or air support of any campaign in the Balkans. This was due to U.S. concentration on the Western Front.


The second date which marks another milestone in Turkish-U.S. relations is March 12, 1947 when President Truman announced his famous Doctrine in a joint sitting of the U.S. Congress. The proclamation of this Doctrine not only marked a change In U.S.- Turkish relations but in the global policies of the U.S. as well. I need not outline here at length the details of the developments that led to this change, but refer briefly to several points which culminated in the reassessment of the U.S. policies.

It was as far back as in 1940. Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov had proposed Germany as the Soviet price for collaboration with the Axis, a new regime for the Turkish Straits, with bases and provision of joint defense and had declared that the center of gravity of Soviet policy and interest lay in the area south of Baku and Batum. The Soviet policy did not change after the War.

During the Potsdam Conference, Soviet Union wanted to have the question of Straits and Soviet territorial demands on Turkey to be taken up directly between Turkey and the Soviet Union. While President Truman disagreed with the first, he agreed that the latter could be resolved between the two countries.

The change in the U.S. credulence in peaceful intentions of the Soviet Union did not come abruptly. First, change came in 1945 when the United States came close to Turkish view regarding the Russian demands on the Turkish Straits and in 1946, U.S. began to be interested in the territorial integrity of Turkey. On April 6, 1946 on the occasion of the Army Day, President Truman expressed U.S. interest in the Middle East area where he stressed no country had interests which could not be reconciled with those of other nations through the United Nations. The same day U.S. battleship Missouri was paying a visit to İstanbul. As early as in January 1946 President Truman was convinced that the Soviets intended to attack Turkey. Unless they were “faced with an iron fist and strong language, another war was in making.”

Soviet pressures on Turkey, which were conducted in keeping with Lenin’s famous teaching: “In a bayonet attack when you hit mush continue; when you hit rock withdraw,” did not disappear but res­cinded in the face of the resolute attitude of the Turkish Government and people, and the reaction of the United States and Great Britain. The change of attitude of the United States did not originate from Soviet menace on Turkey alone. The Soviets had probably overplay­ed their hands in the entire area. Greece was immersed in a civil war, where the Communists seemed determined to take over, and in Iran they were attempting to set up pro-Soviet regional governments. It was the regional character of the Soviet challenge that actually led to American action to defend Greece, Turkey and Iran.

For a white there was a division of opinion in the United States concerning military support to Turkey. Britain had expressed its de­cision to abondon their military aid to Turkey. George Kennan, one of President Truman’s major foreign policy advisors was of the op­inion that emphasis should have been placed on “firmness of dip­lomatic stance, not on military preparations.” His fear was that U.S. military aid might provoke Soviet aggression. However, the United States did in the end decide to come to provide military aid to Tur­key. Kennan suspected that “what had really happened was that the Pentagon had exploited a favorable set of circumstances in or­der to infiltrate a military aid program for Turkey in what was sup­posed to be primarily a political and economic program for Greece.”

Nevertheless, in his message to the U.S. Congress on March 12, 1947 President Truman was announcing his Doctrine by declaring that the United States was prepared to assist both Greece and Tur­key in defending their independence. If Greece fell under the cont­rol of an armed minority its effect on Turkey would be immediate and serious and confusion and disorder might well spread throughout the Middle East. For this purpose he asked an allocation of four hundred million dollars of aid to be spent for supporting the shat­tered economy of Greece and provide military aid both to Turkey and Greece. Deterrence against Soviet armed aggression had become one of the general goals of the United States foreign policy. Mars­hall Plan, Korean War, formation of NATO, CENTO and SEATO in the following years might be considered as concrete steps towards this foreign policy goal on which there seemed to be a general public consensus in the United States. As far as Turkey was concerned, Truman Doctrine did not have the effect of an alliance which the Turks felt was necessary for two basic reasons: First, the deterrence quality of the Turkish-U.S. military cooperation would be enhanced, and secondly, the volatility of the U.S. public opinion on matters con­cerning Turkey might once again play a trick and Turkey might have been abondoned. Therefore, Turkey looked on to NATO as an ins­trument that would secure alliance with the United Satetes. Di­sappointment was great when Turkey was left outside NATO when it was formed. The United States undertook only to “accord friendly and careful consideration to the security problem of the Turkish Republic.” European partners of NATO were also against the exten­sion of the Pact to include Turkey. The objections that are being ad­vanced today in some European countries against the inclusion of Turkey in the European Community were put forward between 1949 and 1951 against Turkey’s admission to NATO. These objections ranged from strategy to religion. However, Turkish participation In the Korean War and the skillful diplomacy that was followed culminated in the membership of both Turkey and Greece within NATO. Turkey looked towards NATO membership as establishing a defini­tely Western identity long cherished by Atatürk, considered U.S. al­liance as the greatest and best support for Turkey’s economic and security problems and in fact gave predominance to Allied interests which were considered as Turkish interests as well.

The Americans were given almost a free hand, with bi-lateral executive agreements, in making whatever defense and security arrengements they deemed necessary, including permission to build military bases and allow U-2 flights and station nuclear warheads. The Turkish mlitary forces were standardized on American patterns and the entirety of it were placed at the disposal of NATO. During that period Turkey and the United States cooperated for the conc­lusion of the Baghdad Pact, which became after Iraqi revolution, CENTO. Turkey tried, with the Balkan Pact to provide some security to Marshall Tito. It is admitted that while Turkey provided full sup­port to and laid emphasis on its relations with the United States, it ignored the sentiments and feelings of its neighbours, especially Arabs, and its action to organise a regional defense system under the Baghdad Pact became counter-productive with the extension of Soviet influence to the Arab World by-passing Turkey.

In the economic field, as from 1950, Turkey adopted the principles of liberal economy in the hope that integration with Western economies and the assistance to be provided by Turkey’s allies would enable her to achieve rapid economic development and inc­rease the welfare of the Turkish people who had long suffered eco­nomic deprivation.

While Turkey had obtained the military support and cooperation from the United States both in the form of Treaty guarantees and in actual fact, there was a difference of understanding and concept regarding the sense of alliance between Turks and Americans. As Ambassador Parker T. Hart points out “arkadaş”, the Turkish word for friend and ally, literally means “the one who walks behind you” i.e. to protect your back. «For twenty five years the attachment of the Turkist people to the United States was that of the “arkadaş”, affectionate, grateful and ready for sacrifices. Yet, the United States looked on the alliance with Turkey not in this sense but in the sense of cooperation with a basically alien country for limited purposes. This conceptual difference as well as inability of the Turks to meas­ure politics in terms of economy, created a number of difficulties. The United States was not prepared to underwrite the financial cost of a rapid development of Turkish economy. It was ready to provide whatever economic assistance it had to in order to keep Turkey away from economic collapse. In 1950’s Turkey’s attempts to bring American private capital in substantial quantities failed, and Turkey was led from one foreign exchange bottleneck to another. For vari­ous factors, the United States, instead of providing more assistance on a regular basis, pressured Turkey to reduce the rate of its eco­nomic development and change its priorities from more consumption to more exports and tourism. This basic attitude still continues to be a source of friction in the present decade.



The third date which is from the Turkish viewpoint a milestone and signify a change in the character of the Turkish-U.S. relations is June 4, 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson wrote to Pri­me Minister İnönü “…Furthermore, a military intervention in Cyprus by Turkey could lead to a direct involvement by the Soviet Union. I hope you will understand that your NATO Allies have not had the chance to consider whether they have an obligation to protect Turkey against the Soviet Union if Turkey takes a step which results in Soviet inter­vention without the full consent and understanding of its NATO allies.”

Only seven years ago when Soviet Union was extensively arming Syria, Turkey had taken certain defensive military measures along her frontiers. These measures had infuriated the Russians and in an interview on October 9, 1957 Mr. Kruschev had said that if a war broke out, Turkish resistance would not last even for one day. U.S. State Department has issued a statement the next day in which the U.S. Government had pledged itself that “if aggression took place against Turkey, U.S. would fulfill its obligations within NATO and aid Turkey with all its power.” Much had changed in the U.S. attitude.

Until the end of 1963 Turkey’s leaders had not only maintained their fullfledged and almost blind support of Western Alliance but at the same time had rendered service to U.S. interests in the region even though some of these interests had clashed with Turkey’s regional interests. Johnson’s letter, obviously written in haste, reflected a shift in the U.S. priorities and in assessment of threat resulting from Khruschev’s policy of “peaceful co-existence”, brought certain perplexities to Turkish minds on the very nature of its ties with the West and even on its own identitiy card. Questions began to be asked loudly in the Turkish public opinion whether Turkey had been placing too much reliance on Western and U.S. alliance, There is no doubt that President Johnson’s letter had initiated a chain of course corrections in the conduct of Turkish foreign policy, as well as certain new currents in Turkish domestic policies.

There are arguments that Johnson’s letter might have been given more emphasis than it really deserves. For some people, it is quite clear that on the question of Cyprus, the United States was bent to­wards supporting the Greek case, and Presidnet Johnson had cho­sen to blackmail Turkey to accept a de facto situation. On the other hand, the supporters of his action would claim that a Turkish-Greek conflict would in effect destroy the validity of the Atlantic Alliance in the region. Both arguments have certain justification. There is no doubt that there is a basic difference in the United States attitude towards Greece and Turkey. The existence and influence of the Greek community in the United States and intermingled economic interests, not to mention historical attitudes towards Greece, establish a special bond of relationship between Americans and the Greeks. This added dimension had been neglected by the Turkish public opinion since many years. Turkey and Greece were included together in the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, NATO and even were made associate members of the European Economic Community and they were treated equally. As regards Cyprus, Turks had expected equal treatment, too. Until 1964 U.S. attitudes had been equitable. Turks were realizing that Western attachment to Greece was so dear that they might even put the position of Turkey into jeopardy.

Later on, I will take this subject once again within the frame­work of principles guiding the relations of Turkey and the United States.

The realization that both the United States and West European powers would not take concrete steps in resolving the Cyprus ques­tion in an equitable way, brought a shift in the conduct of Turkish foreign policy. By perceptible degrees Turkey abondoned its mono­lithic pro-U.S. and Western stance and entered into a phase of a multi-faceted policy. Turkey decided to respond favorably to Soviet overtures which had been continuing since Stalin’s death in 1953 for a rapprochment between the two countries. Turkey tried to improve its ties with the Third World countries, the Arab World and the Socia­list bloc. I would call the period after 1964 a phase of disengage­ment in Turkish-U.S. relations. While NATO adopted the flexible res­ponse strategy, the United States began its low profile policies. In the process of detente that actually began to encompass relations in Europe, the American debacle in Vietnam, the advent of EEC, China and Japan, the changes in weapons technology, the rise of Soviet naval power were factors that changed the international cli­mate and led to reassessment of international relations and strategic doctrines. In 1967 the renewed Cyprus crisis and the Vance mission partially satisfied Turkish objectives but these did not bring a solu­tion to the question which flared up once again in 1974. I distinctly remember talking to an American diplomat on the day President Nixon signed Moscow declarations which initiated detente process in 1972. He asked me, “Now, that U.S. and Soviet Union ended the Cold-War what will Turkey do?”

The last turning point I will mention is 1974. Not July and August 1974 when Turks landed and carried out two military operations in Cyprus, but December 18, 1974 when the United States Congress im­posed an arms embargo on Turkey effective from February 5, 1975. Once again clock had been turned back to 1927, The United States Congress under the influence of the Greek lobby had dealt a heavy blow on Turkish-U.S. relations. Atatürk’s incredulity in 1927 once again dominated Turkish minds. This time though, more effectively, because in 1927 there were no security relationships between Turkey and United States, and the two countries were not allies. In any event, the two situations had certain similarities. The Turkish reac­tion to the Congress’ action this time was more profound also for another reason. That is the pluralist nature of the Turkish society. This character had reduced the freedom of action of statesmen In Turkey in overcoming the harmful political implications of the em­bargo. Nevertheless, it was up to the statesmen of both countries to overcome the effects of the embargo motivated crisis in our re­lations. I would say they have succeeded by their sober and far-sighted actions and cooperation to eliminate substantially the crisis stage of our relationship, although it must be admitted that it will never be possible to return to the days of euphoria that prevailed during the fifties and early sixties.

By referring to four dates which marked substantial changes in the Turkish-U.S. relations I tried also to give a rough idea of the history of these relations during the past fifty years. To put it briefly, these relations turned from friendly relations between two distant countries, into a partnership and alliance which in turn became as George Harris termed it a “troubled alliance”. There is no dispute in both countries on the vital necessity of this alliance, but outside that, there seems to be many differences. It would be necessary therefore, to dwell  briefly on the nature of national aims and coin­cidence of interests, point out divergencies and try to explain inhe­rent and artificial influences that cause distortions in our relations.

In a Congressional document in mid-seventies the fundamental national security aims of the United States in the Mediterranean and the Middle East were explained on the basis of the following constants: General Goals: – Deter Soviet armed aggression against the United States, NATO, Europe and the Middle East-Project sufficient power to defend effectively if deterrence fails. Specific Goals: – Secure NATO’s south flank – Encourage stability in the Middle East – Support Israel – Maintain free world supply lines in the Mediterranean – Ensure continued access to Middle East oil.

From the United States point of view what is the roie of Turkey for the pursuit of U.S. national security objectives? Out of the de­bates complicated by lobby influences and public ignorance on de­tails what should be clear ideas are somewhat blurred from time to time. I would like to quote a few excerpts from a speech delivered by Vice President Mondale when he was a senator in 1974. Senator Mondale was speaking in the heat of the opium debate. Proposing a total economic and military embargo on Turkey, Senator Mondale invited the U.S. Administration to give reconsideration to the strategic situation : “Our relations with the Arab countries have markedly improved” he said. “We are no longer clinging to the Northern edge of the Eastern Mediterranean. We are homeporting naval vessels in Greece which enables us to offset the expansion in the Soviet Navy’s Mediterranean deployment. Our alliance in NATO has done nothing to curb the Soviet naval build up in the Mediterranean even though their life-line runs right through the Bosporus…. It is impor­tant to recognize that we cannot use our bases in Turkey except when Turkey is at war with the Soviet Union. Otherwise they are worthless. During the Arab-Israeli war of October 1973, the Turks permitted the Soviet Union to overfly Turkey to resupply the Arabs, but would not let us use our bases to refuel our reconnaissance aircraft. This example of favoritism to the Soviet Union provides a measure of how much our so called strategic position in Turkey Is worth. In the remote case of a conflict with the Soviet Union, our bases would be used to support the Turks. We apparently do not consider this threat imminent since a good portion of the U.S. air­craft in Turkey are based half of the time in Spain. We do not plan to mount strategic attacks on the Soviet Union from Turkey. In terms of overall strategic nuclear deterrence our bases there are obsolete. Their real utility is to deter local aggression against Turkey. The Turks are not doing us a favor by letting us have the bases. It is other way round. The alleged strategic value of Turkey should no longer control our decisions in this age of strategic missiles, intelligence satellites, detente with the Soviet Union and rapprochement with the Arabs. It is not worth the kind of bargain in which we give Turkey almost a quarter of a billion dollars in economic and military assis­tance.” On the question of opium, Senator Mondale and his collea­gues did not succeed but at the end of the same year they succee­ded to impose a military embargo on the occasion of Turkey’s in­tervention in Cyprus using more or less similar reasoning.

In the military terms, the value o! Turkey for the U.S. is evalua­ted in a different way by military circles. Prof. Albert Wohlstetter considers Turkey’s presence in NATO useful at least for the follo­wing reasons: Turkey’s participation in NATO sharply increases Soviet force requirements for Bulgarian or combined Bulgarian-So­viet attacks on Greece. Even if Turkish forces were less actively involved, they would tie down considerable strength in the Black Sea, Balkan and Caucasus fronts. This could be true so long as the Soviets could not be sure of Turkish neutrality. As regards NATO’s southern flank, he says, if flanks are neutralized by political or mili-tary action, an adversary can concentrate more massively against the center. The defense of the center cannot be separated from the flank. Referring to potential role of Turkey in the case of a U.S.-Soviet conflict in the Middle East, Professor Wohlstetter points out that if the Soviets can overfly Turkey at will, they can cut out in half the time needed to deploy forces by air to an objective near the Gulf. Roughly the same time is true for deployments to Lebanon and Israel. Regarding the military and intelligence bases in Turkey, Professor Wohlstetter says: “lt should be stressed that we should not regard it as a choice so to speak, between technology and Tur­key. Many advanced and continually improved technologies can be used to great advantage from facilities in Turkey.” Military circles also point out that Turkey’s presence in the Alliance, makes Russian supply lines to Middle East insecure.

From these two arguments which I tried to quote emerge some conclusions:

While there is some controversy regarding the continued value of Turkey to strategic interests of the United States, the primary cause of U.S. involvement is nevertheless a military one closely related to  U.S. security  objectives in the region, as well as those  of NATO.

The motives that lead the United States to support Turkey within the context of the global and regional U.S. objectives may thus be summarized as follows :

  • From the military point of view Turkey’s cooperation with the United States is essential for the defense of the South flank of NATO.
  • From the point of view of S. interests in the Middle East i.e. defense of Israel and access to oil routes, unlimited Soviet passage rights over Turkey must be prevented.
  • Since intelligence equipment and possibilities in Turkey are as yet needed for observing Soviet compiance with SALT ag­reements and for other military intelligence, Turkey represents another asset which the S. military establishment wishes to preserve.
  • Finally, Turkey’s place within the Alliance makes Soviet supply routes to client states in Africa and the Middle East

These are the principal U.S. military and security interests in Tur­key and others may be added by the experts. However, foreign policy formation in the United States is not always determined solely by military exigencies and Turkish-U.S. relations are affected generally from other overriding variable factors. These could be summarized as follows:

  1. a) Perception of Threat:

The euphoria of detente of late sixties and early seventies passed away with the post-Helsinki Russian attitudes and increasing Soviet mi­litary potential. But it is obvious that the Soviets are still upprepared to risk a major military confrontation with the West, even though they ore nearing supremacy in strategic and conventional weapons Short of direct and overt menace it is not possible to secure a con­sensus in the United States on political aspects of military require­ments especially under post-Vietnam conditions. In the case of Tur­key, political opinion differs widely; so much so that the anti-Turkish lobby even challenges the military value of Turkey for the Western alliance.


  1. b) Changes of Strategy :

In the global confrontation between the Soviet power and the West, new weapons, technological developments, political conside­rations, international climate have caused continuous changes in strategies of both the United States and the Soviet Union. As a consequence, Turkey’s role in the United States strategies also keep changing. I will not get into details of these changes because of the scope of this paper; but, let me suffice by mentioning the fact that the U.S. military thinking consider some Turkish military postures which were assets in the past no longer so, to the disappointment of Turks.

  1. c) Perception of Turkey and the Turks:

Again there is no common perception of Turkey and the Turks in the United States. For the people of the United States, Turks and their aspirations, character and culture are little known. Their image is continuously blackened by traditionally anti-Turkish forces which have ways of influencing U.S. public. In the absence of an effective Turkish lobby and propaganda in the United States and since the U.S. people do not consider Turkey as a «parent» country like the rest of Western Europe, the task of defending Turkey and Turkey’s image is generally left to the executive branch of the U.S. Govern­ment in the hope that they will be able to defend Turkey because U.S. needs Turkish alliance. However, as we have seen in the past U.S. executive branch may often be over-ridden under tense domes­tic political climate or when anti-Turkish lobbies may become effec­tive also in the executive branch.

  1. Another negative factor has been the absence of a thorough appreciation of Turkey’s non-military role and capabilities in the region. The fact that Turkey has maintained a democratic form of go­vernment, respecting human rights, with an active free enterprise system, devoted to its economic and social development and full of peaceful intentions for her neighbours have received little atten­tion in the United States, despite the fact that U.S. support of un­popular regimes in the world has led from one debacle to another.
  2. S. has shown a definitive interest in the economic deve­lopment of Turkey and has provided substantial assistance which I will refer later; but neither in the economic sense nor in the military sense policies recommended, the amount and quality of aid were adequate to meet actual requirements for rapid development. I am ready to admit that on this subject a great part of the blame falls on the Turks for not having followed rational economic policies.
  3. f) There has never been, in the U.S. public and for a certain period in the U.S. Administration, too, an appreciation of the cons­traints imposed on Turkish foreign and security policy by the history and geography of the region, and Turkey’s objectives which became time to time counter-productive in Turkey’s relations with her neigh­bours or caused resentment in the Turkish public opinion. Some of these constraints are still not appreciated by the S. public and when these are translated into political action, there is an uproar in the U.S.

Having referred to the advantages and the negative aspects of Turkish-U.S. relations from U.S. standpoints, I would tike to tackle these relations from a Turkish stand point. I must caution, however, that the assessment I will present may be considered controversial by other Turkish participants.

At the end of the World War II, Turkey was faced with the follo­wing situation : Soviets were threatening Turkey with their territo­rial and political claims; the country had come out of the war im­poverished, even hungry, although it had not actually fought; the Western type institutions which Atatürk had introduced into the country had begun to take roots; Turkey’s Western allies and the United States were the victors and they were destined to lead in reshaping the post-war world.The U.S. had committed itself under the Truman Doctrine  to support Turkey against the Soviet menace.

All these factors led the Turkish leaders to search for military and economic cooperation with the United States, which was very eager and with Western Europe, even though they were not so eager. Turkey was ready to make every sacrifice in order to achieve full admission into the Western camp and pay for this purpose wha­tever political price imposed on it, in the hope that thanks to assis­tance to be received such sacrifices would be more than compen­sated with rise of standard of living of the Turkish people and se­curity obtained. Turkey was also eager to turn its economy and political regime into Western patterns despite the reticense of the Turkish bureaucracy and historically rooted public opinion objec­tions. U.S. advisors were brought in and U.S. military and eco­nomic aid  was  made  available.  Turkish  Army  was  well  equipped and trained on American standards and it was integrated in the NATO military structure. Turkey was admitted to the Council of Europe and NATO as a strong partner. Turkey was looked on as a bastion of the West.

In the field of economy, however, Turkey was constrained by several priorities she felt politically necessary to follow : with the exception of a brief period in 1930’s and in 1950’s Turkish «etatism» was the dominant economic concept which worked against and li­mited the growth of the private sector. This conceptual difference between Turkey and the United States may be considered as the primary obstacle for further development of economic inter-depen­dence between Turkey and the United States. I do not intend to try to explain the causes of Turkish «etatlsm» which has remained so strong and even grown until now. But, its use or misuse has substantially reduced the participation of foreign capital in the development of Turkish economy. In any event, the Turks have al­ways maintained their suspicion and dislike for foreign capital.

Until mid-sixties there was a complacency in Turkey regarding Turkey’s alliance with the West and military and economic coope­ration with the United States. It was taken for granted that  Western aid would continue and the standard of living would keep rising in Turkey. This complacency and euphoria was so prevalent that Tur­key ignored Russian overtures, cast a benevolent eye to what little advantages Greeks were trying to secure in the Aegean and took a distant view of the Middle East crisis to the chagrin of the Arabs.

In 1963 Turkey had signed the Ankara Treaty which, if faithfully carried by everyone, would give Turkey the right to become a member of the European Economic Community in 1995.

U.S. economic aid to Turkey began to phase out as from 1965. The Johnson letter which I mentioned earlier cast serious doubt in the Turkish minds regarding the automatlcity of U.S. support and help in case of an aggression by the Soviet Union. The honeymoon period was over but our alliance had to go on basically for two reasons: The alliance still had an appreciable deterrance value; and Turkey was so much integrated with the West and relied so much on economic support of the West that a major shift of its fo­reign policy orientation was not feasible without traumatic domestic results nor such a change was desired by the Turkish public. The «multi-faceted» foreign policy pursued after 1965, by its nature, began to bring several new constraints into Turkish-US. relations in areas where objectives of Turkey and the U.S. did not coincide. Turkey began to respond to Soviet attempts to improve relations by signing a cultural agreement and by accepting Soviet credits in order to maintain its industrial development as a supplement to phasing-out Western credits. Turkey began to give political support to the Arab cause and prevented U.S. military bases In Turkey to be used for the support of Israel in an effort to improve its relations with the Arab world. While the developments during the decade that followed 1965 did not cause a major change of course in Turkey’s objectives, the trauma of the military embargo which was imposed in 1975 and the ensuing alienation from the West in terms of political perception, led to an «identity» crisis in Turkey which is still continuing. The political spectrum in Turkey is sharply di­vided in the assessment of Turkey’s place in the Western camp. While extremist parties are vehement on taking Turkey out of the West, the center parties, at least for public image purposes do not wish to appear as ardently pro-Western. Consequently, the follo­wing differences have become vocal in specific Turktsh-U.S. security and political objectives in the region.

Security – NATO’s Southern Flank : There seems to be an identity of view in both countries as to the validity of the purpose. However, there are various conceptual and practical differences between the two countries. Several of these differences can be summarized as follows :

  1. a) The defense of Turkey : In the Turkish view point forward defense in Turkey is the most efficient way of achieving the purpose of securing NATO’s southeast flank. This can be obtained by maintaining an all round modernized and highly capable Turkish armed forces which could act as a deterrent. The allies therefore are expected to provide the necessary weapons Turkey need and assist Turkey in developing its arms industry. Otherwise, Turkey’s contribution in this regards can be only in the measure its economy permits.

The Western support for Turkey in this regard has suffered a shock with the embargo and has been sparing ever since. This may have been caused by the U.S. political constraint to keep Turkish armed strength in par with if not inferior to those of Greece; to force Turks to a settlement with Greece on their dispute in Cyprus and the Aegean, and to their belief that an attack on Turkey is not the first item on the Soviet agenda.

  1. b) Ever since automatism of NATO’s support for Turkey has become problematical as a result of Johnson letter of 1964 and the military embargo which is an action not in conformity with alliance rules but hostile in character, Turkey looks on to NATO as a factor of balance to the evergrowing Soviet power. Only such a balance can preserve conditions needed for the development of detente. Consequently, this concept constrains Turkey in supporting actions (a) that may not be fully attributable directly to NATO interests, and (b) may be considered harmful and provocative for the Turkish policy of detente and cooperation with her neighbours.
  2. S. Policy in the Middle East: The declared U.S. policy objectives in the Middle East, i.e. support Israel, encourage stability and maintain access to Middle East oil are not entirely identical with those of Turkish objectives and unqualified Turkish support for these policies cause a number of problems for Turkey. Turkish policy in the Middle East since 1965 is based on political support to the Arab cause by insisting on the evacuation of all Israeli occupied Arab lands, recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians to set up their own state. Turkey does not want to become involved in problems among the Arab states, in their domestic issues. In order to ensure her oil supplies Turkey heavily relies on cooperation with Iraq and Libya. It is known that these two countries are the oppo­nents of US. policies in the Middle East. Today, the existence of Turkey’s diplomatic relations, even at a low-key level, with Israel is subject of criticism in the Arab world. As a result, if U.S. oil interests and support of Israel in the Middle East involve confrontation with the Arab states .such a development is bound to adversely affect Turkish-U.S. harmony.
  3. S. policy to supply free world supply lines in the Mediter­ranean is in confirmity with the Turkish interests also. However, there are several differences between Turks and Americans as to the role each must play. Turks feel that they must not rely solely on the 6th Fleet but they must also have a fairly strong open sea navy to carry out their missions while politically oriented U.S. stra­tegists tend to confine the Turkish Navy to coastal defense capa­bility. Furthermore, political thinking in U.S. differ on the role Cyprus has for keeping Turkish sealanes open. U.S. also seems indifferent to Turkish interests in the Aegean with specific reference for kee­ping Turkish supply lines open.


Before taking up the future perspectives of the U.S.-Turkish relations, I must briefly refer to Turkish-U.S. economic relations.

I believe economic relations between Turkey and the U.S. must be studied under three categories : “trade”, “economic aid” and “investments”.

Earlier in my paper I gave some figures concerning Turkey’s commercial relations with the United States during the period pre­ceding the Second World War. I now wish to refer to current trade pat­terns. The seventy percent of Turkey’s imports are formed by crude-oil and refined products (30 %), machinery (17 %) chemicals (16 %) and iron and steel products (9 %). On the other hand about 70 % of its exports are formed by cotton (17 %) hazel nuts (15 %), textiles (14 %), wheat and other cereals (11 %), tobacco (7 %), raisins (5 %). This traditional pattern of Turkey’s imports and exports finds ref­lection in Turkey’s trade with the United States. The United States received $191,410,000 dollars worth of Turkish products in 1976 which represents 9.8 % of Turkey’s total exports. This share drop­ped to 6.9% in 1977. 1978 estimate is 5 %. U.S. share in Turkey’s imports was 8.5 % in 1976, 8.7 % in 1977 and about 5.5 % In 1978. Turkey’s place in overall U.S. foreign trade is well under 1 %. The U.S. has the third place in Turkey’s imports and second place in exports.

There are significant difficulties in developing trade between U.S. and Turkey. Turkey is not in a position to provide industrial products in the quality and quantity required by the U.S. markets. Since U.S. is an agricultural producer, there are very few basic Turkish agricultural products in which U.S. is interested, chief among which is tobacco. The export of most of these products is also becoming object of competition with other suppliers. As regards U.S. industrial pro­ducts, the American prices are generally 20 to 30 % higher than European and Japanese competition. Therefore, the import of ca­pital equipment from the U.S. is more subject to provision of tied loans unless superior technology is involved. During the period when AID loans were available and Ex-Im Bank loans more readily available Turkish capital equipment imports from U.S. were higher.

In the period from 1946 to 1977 the United States provided Turkey with 2.7 billion dollars of economic assistance of which 1.2 billions were grants and 1.4 billion in credits. So far Turkey has repaid 648 million dollars of the credits. Furthermore, from counterpart funds U.S. enabled Turkey to utilize 1.5 billion Turkish liras for economic development until 1963, when grant aid was stopped. On the other hand, the United States provided Turkey with about 336 mil­lion dollars worth of Ex-Im Bank loans between 1946 and 1977.

In foreign capital investment in Turkey, the United States fo­reign capital invested in Turkey from 1954 to 1976 formed only 17.08 % of the total foreign capital amounting to only about 20 mil­lion dollars under the Encouragement of Foreign Investments Law. Therefore, the amount of U.S. capital in Turkey is rather insigni­ficant and falls far behind European investments in Turkey. In the smallness of U.S. investments in Turkey one may notice several points : first is that Turkey has never been an attractive place for foreign investments despite periodic attempts of Turkish govern­ments to improve the existing conditions and regulations. Secondly, Turklsh-U.S. relations have not been stable for a long period. Thir­dly, the vulnerability of Turkey in the international area have limited private U.S. capital  interest.

One last point, I would like to mention in this context, is the possibility of cooperation between Turkey and the U.S. for military production. There are several areas where existing Turkish facilities may provide excellent opportunity for replacing some Turkish mili­tary imports from the U.S. by local production with U.S. technolo­gical assistance. The economic implications of this cooperation will be  significant.



  • Currently the image of Turkey and the Turks is no so bright in the S. public opinion. This unfavorable image is created by a host of factors among which Greek lobby currently plays the biggest part and takes full advantage of the U.S. media.
  • Similarly, the image of the S. in the Turkish public opinion has also been damaged in the past decade and a half. The principal cause for this damage is the perception of U.S. support of Greece against Turkey. The leftist and pro-Isla­mic political forces in Turkey have been markedly critical of U.S. behaviour all over the world, and embargo and other U.S. acts have also influenced the attitude of center forces in Turkey towards the U.S.
  • S. interests in Turkey is basicaly security oriented and U.S. politicians, expect her in return for minimal economic and military aid to support changing U.S. policies and doctrines

uncoditionally, disregarding Turkey’s own constraints and policy    preferences. On the other hand, Turks expect the United States to provide full economic, military and political support for Turkey because of Turkey’s geopolitical position. In other words, there seems to be over-expectotions from Turkish-U.S. cooperation on both sides of the Atlantic.

  • It is obvious that in the formation of S. policies security considerations do not prove to be the primary factor once public opinion and the U.S. Congress becomes involved. In any event, security considerations and concepts are not static and subject to the degree of threat perceived. This perception, in turn, is basically a combination of military and political assessment. Under the influence of domestic political factors, potential threat is sometimes ignored or given low priority. This argument is valid both for Turkey and the U.S. In Turkey, security considerations still predominate, but they are now debated more than ever in Turkey’s history.
  • In view of the existence in the public opinions of both countries, of hostile influences which affect public policies when issues are presented to them, and since delicate se­curity relations must be maintained a heavy burden falls on the statesmen, and diplomats of both countries to keep the relations on their track. It is necessary to recall the spirit that guided the Turkish and S. statesmen in 1927 and to accept the role of quiet diplomacy.
  • While it is necessary to increase the Turkish public relations efforts in the S. it is also incumbent on U.S. administra­tion to assist Turkey which does not have an effective lobby in the U.S. For example, in 1930’s when Armenians in the United States wanted to prepare a film out of an anti-Tur­kish book, the U.S. Government could quietly pressure the film company to drop the idea. Today a “Midnight Express” is even awarded an Oscar.

Let me now turn to the future of our relations :

The most likely trend is the continuation of Turkey’s Western orientation  which may eventually guide the Turkish destiny and give their identity to Turkey of the coming decades.

The most likely trend is the continuation of Turkey’s Western orientation. This trend may succeed only if Turkey becomes part of the European Community. In such a case it will be possible to give a healthy character to U.S.-Turkish relations on a long term basis, and increase the dimensions of our relations with the West.

What would happen if Turkey ceases to become a member of Western camp?

Ambassador Parker Hart thinks that if and when the sipirit of NATO alliance is dead «Turkey gradually will turn leftward because only a regimented philosophy and discipline will be open to it. In the age of socialist polycentrism, it could decide to become a Yu­goslavia, seeking accomodation with the USSR and security by neutrality and strengthened Third World ties. It would be counting on the U.S. to recognize this that is far preferable to complete absorption into the Communist bloc.”

Dr. Scott Thompson of Tufts University, on the other hand, thinks that by the middle of 1980s Soviet Union might be able to take over Turkey by indirect means.

The third alternative discussed is that Turkey may be dragged into Islamic revivalism aligning itself with the Arab world.

I believe these observers are influenced by the tragedy of eco­nomic conditions and increasing political violence prevailing in Turkey. Although, both factors constitute bad omens for Turkey, the clock is not irreversibly advanced.

The greatest part of the Turkish people are determined to pre­serve their democratic and secular way of life and independence. If the United States and Western powers decide to show understan­ding for the assets that Turkey constitutes for Western interests and translate their understanding into political and material action by helping to ease Turkey’s economic and security problems, they will increase their own power in this region and at the same time will make it easier for Turkey to continue to share common values with them.


Mehmet GÖNLÜBOL, et al. Olaylarla Türk Dış Politikası. Cilt  I   (1919 1973) Ankara Universitesi Siyasal  Bilgiler Fakültesi Yayınları  No. 407.

Feridun  Cemal   ERKlN. Türk – Sovyet   İlişkileri ve  Boğazlar  Meselesi, Ankara, 1968

M.W. THORNBURG, et  al. Turkey,  An  Economic  Appraisal, Greenwood Press, New York ,1968

Nuri  EREN. Turkey.  NATO and Europe :  A   Deteriorating  Relationship? The Atlantic Institute for International Affairs, Atlantic Papers No. 34

John M. COLLINS. Greece and Turkey: Some Military Implications Related to   NATO   and   Middle   East,   February   28,   1975   U.S.   Government

Printing Office

Foreign   Economic  Trends  and   Their  Implications  for   the   United  States, TURKEY, U.S.  Department of Commerce.  March  1979

Roger   R.   TRUSK.   U.S.   Response   to   Turkish   Nationalism   and   Reform. 1914 – 1939

Metin  TAMKOC, The  Warrior  Diplomats,  University  of Utah  Press, Salt Lake City, 1976

Morton KODRRACKE, ”The Greek Lobby”, The New Republic,  April 29, 1978

Geerge S. HARRIS, “Troubled Alliance” AEI and Institute on War and Peace,  Washington, D.C.

Harry  N.  HOWARD, “The Bicentennial in  American-Turkish  Relations”,  Middle East Journal, Summer  1976

NATO, TURKEY and UNITED STATES INTERESTS, American Foreign Policy Institute, Washington D.C. 1978

Jacob M, LANDAU, Johnson’s  1964 Letter to İnönü and Greek Lobbying of the While House, Jerusalem  Papers on  Peace Problems, 1979

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