Turkish president Reccep Erdogan’s recent visit to Washington has confirmed the view which supports that although US-Turkey relations are on the one hand cold, on the other warm, in the end they are stable despite the crises that break out.
An important factor in Donald Trump’s decision not to completely disrupt his relationship with Ankara is geography. Turkey’s geographical importance is enormous and, of course, this is not absent from Washington’s policy-makers.
Turkey covers an area of 783,356 square kilometers, which ranks it 36th in list with the largest countries in the world. Firstly, its coastline is much extended. It begins from the outermost margin of the Black Sea, it continues to the straits of Dardanelles, it covers a part of the Aegean Sea and it reaches the Turkish-Syrian borders covering a large area of the eastern Mediterranean. Only examining its access to waterways, can each Turkish government intervene not only in maritime demarcation issues, but also in energy policies in the most neuralgic areas, namely the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean. It is no paradox that due to its general rise of power there are tensions in its relations with neighboring states. This fact does not discourage the White House from cooperating with it. Especially in Bosporus, the Middle Eastern country can act as a counterweight to Russian expansion, as NATO has increased its presence here. Turkish ports along with those in Bulgaria and Romania offer increased operational capabilities to NATO vessels. Any developments, therefore, in the wider maritime region will necessarily include Turkey.
Concerning its land mass, its importance is growing steadily. From the West it has access to the Balkans and in particular to countries that are members of the European Union. Its European part allows it to access and influence both individual states and the European policies. The peninsula of the Aimos and thus European affairs concern it. In the South, it borders with one of the most important countries in this moment, Syria. As a consequence, the Turkish Armed Forces was a matter of time to invade into the Syrian territory. As its land mass crosses Anatolia it reaches the border with two other important countries, Iran and Iraq. So, as those two countries are very important for the US foreign policy, Turkish value is being upgraded. Turkey is becoming a useful “link” and player in the Middle East and it is no wonder that it seeks to influence developments in the region.
The proximity of the Anatolian territory to Armenia “opens” the door for the Caucasus as well. By nature an area of high importance to Washington because of the Russian presence and energy games, the Caucasus has been a post-Cold War source of turmoil with the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Russia’s policy in the region cited the prelude to its re-emergence as a powerful country in international politics. Therefore, a Baku-Ankara axis can act as a counterweight to Russia’s expansive influence.
Turkey’s geographical location also allows it to be “culturally’ bordered with people of Turkish descent leaving in Central Asia. In the 1990’s with the break-up of the Eastern bloc, for many analysts and policy-makers in the West, Turkey could play the role of a “bridge” that would favor the Western world’s rapprochement with these populations. Whether this targeting failed and Ankara sought to play a role of the “mother-land” for those people, it is indicative of how the West treats the Turkish side.
From the above summary of Turkey’s geographical value, the author considers that it is understandable why the American governments – that of Trump could not be an exception – are very much in favor of Ankara and maintain generally a conciliatory attitude towards it.
Turkey, because of its size, can act as both an intermediary and a US partner, but also as a counterweight to the increased power of neighboring countries such as Russia and Iran. That is why he did not pursue a dynamic policy towards Erdogan during the last Turkish invasion of northern Syria.
As a consequence, it seems that Washington is likely to continue to hold an alternative stance to Ankara because the latter has multiple roles in American political plans. This attitude is not limited to Trump, but has been characterizing American foreign policy for decades.