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Turkey is poised on the threshold of a new era in its internal dynamics and its external relations.

Turkey is poised on the threshold of a new era in its internal dynamics and its external relations. The country is being governed by an Islamist party which has an absolute majority in parliament. Long-standing relations with the US are being reviewed in light of the differences over the US invasion of Iraq to oust the regime of Saddam Hussein, while Turkish prospects of joining the European Union (EU) have not improved. This comes at a time when the situation on the country's borders is in a state of flux with potential for regime collapse among neighbouring countries.

The Turkish economy is facing an increasingly complex set of difficulties, and without external assistance - mainly from the US and the EU, via the World Bank and the IMF - the outlook for recovery is not bright. In this environment, the Bush administration is demanding that Turkey rejoin the campaign against terror more enthusiastically - against potential targets like Syria or Iran, both of which are Turkey's neighbours. Ankara will face difficult decisions in the months ahead as it will have to choose between its economic well-being and US demands for greater co-operation in American efforts to shape a new Middle East.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, having entered national-level government for the first time in November 2002, will have to take these tough decisions - and the implications for domestic stability would determine whether or not there will be another intervention by the Turkish military establishment, which sees itself as the guardian of Kemalism, the secular ideology of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Much will depend on how Turkish-US relations develop in the months ahead. After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the role of Turkey in the war against terrorism was virtually taken for granted by the US. Being a secular state, with its secular credentials enforced by a Kemalist military, the US expected that Turkey would stick to the traditional role it had played during the decades of the cold war and through the 1990s - i.e. as a regional policeman ready to enforce or facilitate American policies.

However, the neo-conservatives and others driving policy in the US failed to perceive that Turkey has been changing since the end of the cold war, in response to (a) domestic changes that have been brought about by increasing democratisation, (b) regional geo-political shifts and the emergence of new countries out of the former Soviet Union, and (c) the fact that a unipolar world order is emerging in which all poles of power other than the US are capable of competing only a lower level.

Washington was, therefore, surprised when Ankara refused to permit American forces to launch a military front from the Turkish border into northern Iraq. There were also problems with the transit of US military materiel through Turkish territory. Opinion polls had shown that the Turkish people overwhelmingly opposed war against another Muslim country, saying that it would destabilise the economy and the region. Many Turkish observers also claimed that Turkey's military did not believe that Washington was taking its security concerns into account in launching Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Turkey was surprised when - despite its refusal to co-operate - the US opened the northern front by air and secured the Kurdish areas with limited resistance from remnants of Saddam Hussein's forces; the implication was that Turkey would consequently have a minimal role in the future of the Kurds of northern Iraq, something which Ankara regards as highly sensitive security issue. The Turkish government, like most other governments worldwide, was equally surprised when the Baghdad fell within less than a month of Operation Iraqi Freedom. For its part, the US has become even less tolerant of those who oppose any aspect of the war against terror.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Strategic Balance in the Middle East
Geographic Code:7TURK
Date:May 12, 2003
Words:630
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