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HomeGeopolitical CompassWest & Centeral AsiaTurkey (Türkiye): Background and U.S. Relations In Brief (Updated)

Turkey (Türkiye): Background and U.S. Relations In Brief (Updated)

Author: Congressional Research Service

Affiliation: Congressional Research Service

Organization/Publisher: Congressional Research Service

Date/Place: February 15, 2023/USA

Type of Literature: CRS Report

Number of Pages: 27

Link: https://sgp.fas.org/crs/mideast/R44000.pdf

Keywords: Turkey, USA, Sanctions, Russia, Missile Defense Systems

Brief:

This report examines the relationship between the United States and Turkey, with a focus on their domestic policies and foreign affairs. Despite occasional disagreements, both countries recognize the importance of collaborating to maintain regional security. The Biden administration has expressed concerns about Turkey’s purchase of a Russian defense system, while also acknowledging positive developments such as Turkey’s support for Ukraine and efforts to enhance relations with other nations. Members of Congress have the potential to take actions that may impact the relationship between the two countries, including options related to military and political affairs in the region, Turkey’s financial well-being, and its foreign policy. The possibility of the United States selling F-16s to Turkey is also mentioned.

Since 2003, President Erdogan has consolidated power and control over Turkish institutions, and following the failed coup attempt in 2016, his government adopted a more nationalistic approach to domestic and foreign policy. This shift has raised concerns among officials from the US and the EU regarding civil liberties and the rule of law. The government has also conducted military operations in Iraq and Syria to target the PKK.

Two major earthquakes struck southern Turkey, resulting in over 35,000 deaths and more than 100,000 injuries. This crisis is impacting Turkey’s politics, society, and economy, prompting the government to coordinate a humanitarian response with significant international assistance. The earthquakes have sparked speculation about their impact on support for President Erdogan and his government.

The ongoing economic problems in Turkey significantly worsened in 2022, as the lira depreciated by approximately 28% against the US dollar, following a decline of nearly 45% in 2021. By January 2023, annual inflation had reached 58%, with unofficial estimates suggesting that actual inflation may exceed 100%. The surge in inflation is linked to the Turkish central bank’s repeated reductions of its key interest rate since September 2021, along with external factors such as Russia’s conflict with Ukraine and interest rate hikes in major economies like the US. Despite calls for financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund, Erdogan has publicly rejected this option. The government has implemented measures to combat or mitigate inflation, including tax cuts, increases in the minimum wage, and subsidies for basic expenses. However, the earthquake crisis, disruptions to economic activity, and ongoing humanitarian assistance are likely to further strain Turkey’s economy. Preliminary estimates place the cost of rebuilding and damage at around $84 billion, and due to Turkey’s strained relations with the West, international development banks are expected to provide only limited financial assistance.

The United States has concerns about Turkey’s strategic orientation and its relationships with other global and regional powers. Turkey has sought greater autonomy as a regional power within a more multipolar global system, resulting in some coordination with Russia in Syria and the acquisition of a Russian S-400 defense system. However, significant differences persist between Turkey and Russia regarding political and military crises involving Syria, Ukraine, Libya, and Armenia-Azerbaijan. Bilateral cooperation on regional security issues remains important for both the US and Turkey.

The upcoming 2023 elections in Turkey have raised questions about potential shifts in foreign policy if an opposition candidate were to win the presidency. Despite strong nationalist sentiments, a new president may be more inclined to change certain ongoing policies that reflect the ruling party’s preferences. These changes may include granting more autonomy to central bankers and other officials in economic policy decisions and reducing support for Sunni Islamist groups. The foreign policy statements of some opposition parties suggest that a different president may be less willing than Erdogan to take actions that could harm relations with Western countries. However, despite these potential shifts, a new Turkish government may still feel compelled to project strength or appease various domestic groups, which could result in continued assertive foreign policies or a lack of consensus within a coalition leading to a more passive approach to foreign policy.

Additionally, the report discusses the potential sale of F-16s by the United States to Turkey, which is an important matter for both countries. Turkey has expressed interest in purchasing F-16s for several years, but the United States had previously denied these requests due to concerns about human rights violations in Turkey. However, given the recent earthquake crisis and Turkey’s strategic significance in the region, some policymakers in the United States are reconsidering this decision.

The ongoing economic challenges in Turkey are a significant concern for both Turkey and the United States. The report highlights that the recent earthquake crisis, disruptions to economic activity, and ongoing humanitarian assistance are likely to further strain Turkey’s economy. President Erdogan has implemented measures to address inflation, including tax cuts, increases in the minimum wage, and subsidies for basic expenses. However, these measures may not be sufficient to tackle the underlying economic issues, and the United States may need to provide financial assistance to help stabilize the Turkish economy.

The upcoming 2023 elections in Turkey raise questions about potential shifts in foreign policy if an opposition candidate were to assume the presidency. A new president may encounter challenges in altering policies related to core security concerns such as Kurdish militancy, refugee issues, territorial disputes, and conflicts with Russia and Ukraine. However, there could be a greater inclination to change ongoing policies aligned with the ruling party’s preferences, such as granting more autonomy to central bankers and other officials in economic policy decisions, giving greater consideration to rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, and reducing support for Sunni Islamist groups. Despite these potential changes, a new Turkish government may still face pressures to demonstrate strength or appease various domestic groups, potentially leading to continued assertive foreign policies or a lack of consensus within a coalition resulting in a more passive approach to foreign policy.

In conclusion, the relationship between the United States and Turkey is intricate and multifaceted, with both countries recognizing the significance of collaboration for regional security. The ongoing economic challenges in Turkey, coupled with the earthquake crisis and impending elections, introduce uncertainty regarding the country’s future trajectory and foreign policy. The United States will need to navigate these issues carefully, working alongside Turkey to address shared concerns while respecting each other’s sovereignty and interests.

By: Ruby Clayton, CIGA Research Associate

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