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Analysis

Summary: The Transatlantic Turkey and Transatlantic Trends:


Trends Key Findings Report sum- How Distinctive?
marizes the Turkish story in 2008.
Recent conversations about the by Dr. Ian O. Lesser*
results in Ankara and Istanbul
suggest some intriguing observa- WASHINGTON — For the last few on perceptions of international actors
tions and open questions. The years, the findings from GMF’s Transat- and issues. It does, however, make a
key divide in the Turkish debate is
lantic Trends have included a significant big difference in Turks’ perceptions of
Turkey story. For the most part, this has Turkey. The 18 percent of Turks who
between those who remain been a narrative about growing public self-identified themselves as “never”
attached to the active and suspicion toward international part- praying five times a day (admittedly a
“balanced” AKP foreign policy ners. This core story has not changed rough and ready measure) are much
and those who wish to set more substantially with the 2008 results. The cooler toward today’s Turkey than
findings of Transatlantic Trends suggest their more observant counterparts.
deliberate priorities, looking east
that Turks remain inward looking, if This will hardly be surprising news to
or west. Many in Europe are not xenophobic, and inclined toward observers of the Turkish scene. But the
weighing the Turkish case in light unilateralism in foreign affairs. Turk- finding is reinforced in other areas.
of past enlargement experience, ish perceptions of global challenges are Turks are, for example, just as inclined
broadly in the transatlantic mainstream, as Europeans to see Turkey as cultur-
with a sense that process and
but in other respects, Turkey looks less ally distinctive from the West, and
momentum are likely to outweigh European and perhaps more American distinctive enough to call into question
public reservations. As almost half in its policy preferences—an ironic whether Turkey fits into the West at all.
of Turkish respondents favored result in light of continued, highly
a unilateral approach to interna-
negative views of the United States. Discussions with a wide range of of-
ficial and unofficial Turks underscore
tional issues, it is worth asking The Transatlantic Trends Key Findings the deepening polarization affecting
whether Turkish perspectives are Report (see www.transatlantictrends.org) Turkish society. The immediate crisis
not closer to those most often summarizes the Turkish story in 2008. of the closure case against the rul-
ascribed to in Washington. Recent conversations in Ankara and ing Justice and Development Party
Istanbul on the results suggest some (AKP) may have passed, but Turkey’s
intriguing observations and open post-verdict debate about the future
questions. of the country and its foreign policy
choices is now even more pointed and
Echoes from a polarized society polarized. Moreover, the debate is only
This year, for the first time, Transatlan- partly about the question of secular-
tic Trends asked some basic questions ism in governance and daily life. As
Offices
about religiosity in Turkey, with a view many observers have noted, there
Washington, DC • Berlin • Bratislava • Paris
toward understanding the implications are now much sharper divisions and
on Turkish foreign policy preferences. resentments concerning the role of the
Brussels • Belgrade • Ankara • Bucharest
As it turns out, religiosity does not media, the private sector, and the state
www.gmfus.org appear to have a significant influence in an economy that still depends heav-
*
Dr. Ian O. Lesser is a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). The views expressed
here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GMF.
Analysis

ily on the government as a customer and source of credit. democratic deficit in European decision-making (“we may
object, but in the end, Brussels will do as it likes...”). The
In foreign policy, the divisions are equally striking. Lack of likelihood that Turkish accession will face critical public
forward motion in Turkey’s EU candidacy has coincided referenda is not necessarily reflected in these responses.
with the rise of a nationalistic and sovereignty-conscious Turkish audiences rightly voiced interest—and skepticism—
outlook among many Turkish elites. These views now paral- about the implications of this apparently encouraging result
lel those current in Turkish public opinion, where attitudes for Turkey’s membership prospects.
toward NATO and the United States remain the most
negative on both sides of the Atlantic, and views of Europe More like the United States?
remain mixed at best. To be sure, important actors within
the Turkish establishment do not share this perspective and It would surprise and perhaps dismay many Turks to learn that
remain attached to a Western-oriented and multilateral Turkish public attitudes may be more in line with the United
strategy for Turkey. States than Europe in several respects. The survey shows that
publics on both sides of the Atlantic express very similar public
The key divide is not really between pro-Western elements policy concerns, with economic security increasingly promi-
and “Eurasianists” looking toward Russia and Central nent. Yet, with almost half the Turkish respondents favoring a
Asia. As Transatlantic Trends makes clear, Turkish attitudes unilateral approach to international issues, it is worth asking
toward Russia had cooled even before the crisis in Georgia whether Turkish perspectives are not closer to those most often
(the survey was conducted in June 2008), and a more asser- ascribed to Washington. Certainly, a go it alone posture would
tive Russian policy around the Black Sea and the Mediter- be eccentric in Europe. On questions of hard security, includ-
ranean poses clear risks for Turkey. Rather, the key divide in ing national sovereignty and homeland security, Turkish stra-
the Turkish debate is between those who remain attached to tegic culture often seems in closer alignment with the United
the active and “balanced” AKP foreign policy—a policy that States than with Europe’s preference for soft power and diffuse
includes but gives no overwhelming priority to relations sovereignty. Admittedly, this can slip into strategic caricature.
with Europe and the United States—and those who wish to But the contrasts are worth pondering as Turkey faces harder
set more deliberate priorities, looking east or west. From the foreign policy choices, and as public opinion weighs ever more
perspective of public opinion, there has also been a potent heavily in Turkish strategy—a point of clear convergence with
third way of inward-looking nationalism, and this is fully realities on both sides of the Atlantic.
reflected in the survey findings.
Dr. Ian O. Lesser, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, GMF

Contradictions in European views of Turkey Dr. Lesser is a GMF senior transatlantic fellow in Washington, DC,
where he focuses on Mediterranean affairs, Turkey, and international
As with last year’s Transatlantic Trends results, there is an security issues. Prior to joining GMF, he was a public policy scholar
unusual facet to European public attitudes on the question of at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Dr. Lesser
Turkish membership in the European Union. Not surprising- is also president of Mediterranean Advisors, LLC, a consultancy
ly, a majority of Europeans are unfavorable toward Turkish specializing in geopolitical risk.
membership. But a substantial majority also believe that
About GMF
Turkey will ultimately join the European Union. Clearly,
many Europeans who dislike the idea of Turkish membership The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is a nonpar-
also feel it is inevitable. In discussing this finding with Turk- tisan American public policy and grantmaking institution dedicated
ish audiences, several explanations are offered. It might to promoting greater cooperation and understanding between North
simply be that Europeans are taking the long view and America and Europe. Founded in 1972 through a gift from Germany, on
accounting for flux in the evolution of Europe as well as the 25th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, as a permanent memorial to
Turkey. More likely, many in Europe are weighing the Turkish Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides
case in light of past enlargement experience, with a sense that of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF
process and momentum are likely to outweigh public has seven offices in Europe: Berlin, Bratislava, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade,
reservations. Or it may be a statement about the perceived Ankara, and Bucharest.
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