There has ever been changes in the world order in the sense that either a country whose economic, social and political spheres are much more advanced that they have a lot more say in the global environment than other less advanced countries. Or it could be that after winning in the battle field the winners come together and work on how the new world order should be shaped (usually done through international organizations like the United Nations or formally known as the League of Nations). The world order can either be unipolar (the dominance of the world order by a sole nation), bipolar (the dominance of the world order by two nations, could be an ideological war such as during the Cold War era), or it can be a multipolar arena where more than 2/3 countries have influence on the world order and have a lot more say than other countries. While speaking about the world order, USA`s dominance comes in mind due to them being an exceptional country in almost every field such as their power capacities and core political values. However, under the Trumps administration, we can clearly observe a different foreign policy approach compared to what we were used to under the Obamas administration. Trump pursues a more strait forward approach towards making foreign policies as he is more confident on applying personal diplomacy and he is usually on good term bases with other populist leaders like Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But luckily, Trump is not even backed by his own foreign policy elites. Such differences of ideas came in place with the dramatic actions that Trump made such as showing his misbelief in the efficiency of multilateralism and universalism by pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and the efforts he put in building a wall to protect US boarders and strengthen the nationalistic identity among his own citizens, by putting America first.
This paper will first define what the US’ foreign policy is like under the Trump administration, if it is in a broader sense successful or not. This paper will analyze the current debates on the relations between USA and its allies, focusing on the United States - Turkey relations with regard to the Operation Peace Spring which was conducted by Turkey in the goal of creating a so-called safe zone in order to create a breathing space in the immigration problem which Turkey is currently facing and with the same stone, eliminating the PKK threat to Turkish sovereignty. This paper will later on give light to the significant debate topics under the current united states – Turkey relations with regards to problems like Turkeys commitment to NATO, 2019 incursion to northeastern Syria and the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense system. In conclusion, other possible US actions and NATO implications together with possible Turkey/US actions are debated to find a common solution for the turbulent relationship between the two states.
USA Foreign Policy Under Trump
The administration of President Donald Trump does not seem to have established an efficient approach to dealing with relationships with the world. Even after almost three years in office, US foreign policy under Trump does not seem to be thought through properly as they seem based on random factors and decisions often seem to be based on the ability and perspective of an individual. Trump made a promise of ‘America first; which he later pursued by criticizing America’s traditional allies, breaking down international institutions and trying to cut foreign aid. He tried to impose sanctions on Mexico unless Mexican authorities dealt with the increase number of Mexican flow of immigrants across the United States and this hurt the US economy.
In the field of diplomacy, even though Trump entered the office with high confidence on his skills as a negotiator, he has shown a clumsy approach to diplomacy. After withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran, the USA has not been able to figure out a way to reopen negotiations with them again. On the other hand, negotiations on denuclearization between North Korea and the United States failed to reach on mutual ends. While Trump is persisting on using tariffs as a blunt weapon in his diplomacy, he has turned away from foreign aid as he has threatened to cut US aid programs to Africa and at the same time, he has repeatedly accused his democratic allies as taking advantage of the USA’s exceptionalism. Donald Trump’s foreign policy decisions are chaotic, rash and very randomized as they are not based on the advice of his cabinets as he even may not be consulting them at all. He insults many of the leaders of America’s closest friends including Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Emmanuel Macron of France etc. (Garfinkle, 2019).
According to Garfinkle’s arguments, “the main issue is that there is a harmful attitude, which shows in the radical de-funding of the state department, the general lack of both consultation and genuine negotiations with other governments with respect to everything but trade, and the basic freezing out of the secretary of state from most key foreign policy decisions. Its substitute for diplomacy much of the time is the application of intemperate language and sudden sanctions. But the real damage that has been done, which is already cumulatively quite serious”.
Turkey-US Relations: Involvement in Syria
In 2019, Turkey’s Operation of Peace Spring and gaining surface-to-air defense system (S-400) from Russia had brought bilateral tensions between US-Turkey relations raising questions about Turkey’s commitment to the United States, the NATO and vice versa. Turkey started to show signs of being closer towards Russia and Putin after the agreement of buying the S-400’s. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had started to act more independently from the United States and developed closer ties with Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. Turkey’s economy is highly dependent on maintaining a diversified global trade partnership with different countries as they cooperate with the United States, Russia and other neighboring countries to satisfy their security, economic and energy needs. However, keeping close ties with multiple countries who might at one point have conflicting interests may leave Turkey undecided on whose side to pick (Zanotti and Thomas, 2019).
Almost since the establishment of the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party), there has been an on-going tension between the republic of Turkey and the party to an extend that the Turkish government including the EU recognize it as a national threat and a terrorist organization. The tensions between the Turkish state and the PKK eroded during the 1980’s after a violent conflict occurred, killing tens of thousands of people. After the start of the Syrian civil war, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) seized control of territory in northeastern Syria which is bordering Turkey. Turkey, as well as most exports on the region believe that the YPG is associated with the PKK and are on close term even though the YPG claim that they are not directly linked with the PKK. With the YPG gaining control over northeastern Syria, Turkey felt threatened as the PKK could easily hide and attack Turkey easily. To deal with such a threat, Turkey conducted Operation Peace Spring, with the aim of pushing the YPG fighters at least 30 kilometers away from its borders and establishing a safe zone to be able to provide homes for the 3.5 million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.
The US involvement in Syria was based on two reasons, one being to defeat the Islamic State which had territorial control in some parts of Syria and the second reason was to protect the Syrian Kurds in the region. The Islamic State terrorist organization controls operations from Syria. The USA wanted to defeat this group through the use of force like air power to drive out the group and to end its territorial control. By doing so, the USA would have denied a safe haven from where the Islamic State can extract money from residents and at the same time avoid them to plot attacks on the west.
Events in Syria have fed US–Turkey tensions specifically regarding Kurdish-led militias which partnered with the United States against the Islamic State. In August 2014, the Islamic State tried to take control over a territory known as Kobani which is in a town on the Syrian-Turkish border under the PYD control. It was in its interests for USA to defend the city from falling in the hands of the Islamic State, so they defended the city through air strikes and airdrop of weapons to arm the YPG against the Islamic State. Turkey showed its concerns over such actions as it was not in the long-term security interests of Turkey that the PKK are armed as they are seen as a terrorist organization in the eyes of Turkey and some other states (Stein, 2017).
In October 2019, Turkey’s military entered northeastern Syria after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria as he wanted to bring back his troops home and focus on starting to rebuild their own nation. Such a decision was not welcomed by the Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and other medias, as they saw this announcement as irresponsible and would not work for the national interest of the USA. This is due to the fact that such a decision allowed Russians and Iranians to have power over Syria. The operation which Turkey conducted was called as Operation Peace Spring and its main aim was to defeat the PKK and any other terrorist organization that they come across like the Islamic State in order to create a safe zone for the return of the approximately 3.6 million Syrian refugees back to Syria (Zanotti and Thomas, 2019).
To analyze the relationship between the USA and Turkey in this period, we have to focus on what has been the US response to the operation. At first, Trump agreed with Turkey’s actions but then threatened it to destroy the country’s economy if it did not cooperate in terms with the USA. However, Turkey continued with the operation as it was not only supported by the supporters of president Tayyip Erdogan but also parts of the opposition together with many other Turks supported the military operation. Trump planned to impose sanctions such as doubling steel tariffs as well as sanctions on the Turkish defense and energy ministries.
The world order has been moving towards a multipolar environment day-by-day due to the decline of US primacy not only in some regions around the world but also from within itself. Growing polarization both in domestic and international politics may have affected the preeminence of the United States of America. In the domestic environment, unlike the cold war era where the democrats and the republicans were on the same page towards an external threat, they are more politically polarized in the sense that both parties have different ideas and policies which each want to implement. For the democrats, even though they are committed to the liberal international mentality the republicans are not in the same page as they wish to bring back the great power politics and try to enforce back the same amount of primacy they possessed; not that their supremacy has declined drastically.
In the international environment, the US’ number one priority has shifted from Russia towards China as they have been having higher percentages of yearly economic growth and Russia’s claim to challenge the global hegemony has declined. We have started to move in a more multipolar world order due to the decline of US supremacy as this started to result in giving more alternatives for middle powers to have options to decide on which side to pick. In the case of Turkey-US relations, we have already have been sensing signs of decline in the emphasis given to threaten relations with the USA. Rather than strengthening its ties with the USA, Turkey has become more independent and showed signs of leaning more towards the side of Russia thus putting its name in the everyday political debates and become more influences as they and other middle power countries start to become more realpolitik. However, middle powers like Canada still believe that the primacy of US and EU should continue.
After analyzing Trumps foreign policies and the events that lead to the weakening of the relations between Turkey and the USA, we can clearly see that the process of settling under agreed upon terms will not be an easy task for both parties to follow. The process of negotiation also starts to fall short and become blurry with the involvement of non-state actors like the YPG, PKK and the Islamic state. It is in most people’s view that the operation from Turkeys perspective is verified and in good conditions to be applied as they would be solving two problems at once; pushing away the groups they recognize as terrorists and at the same time create a 30 kilometers safe zone for the excess about of Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey. On the other hand, things start to get complicated with US’s support to the YPG which is considered by many to be an extension of the PKK. It should also be put in light that the military of Turkey is currently in war with terrorist organizations as which every nation should be and they are in no way in intentions of hurting an armed, peaceful civilians.
- Blackwill, D. R., (2019). Trump’s Foreign Policies Are Better than They Seem. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/CSR%2084_Blackwill_Trump.pdf
- Gardinle, A. (2019). The Real Problem with the Trump Foreign Policy. RSIS Commentary 179/2019. Retrieved from https://www.fpri.org/article/2019/09/the-real-problem-with-the-trump-foreign-policy/
- Stein, A. (2017, February). Re: Reconciling U.S.- Turkish Interests in Northern Syria [Online discussion paper]. Retrieved from https://cdn.cfr.org/sites/default/files/pdf/2017/02/Discussion_Paper_Stein_Syria_Turkey_OR.pdf
- Zanotti, J., & Thomas, C. (2019). Turkey: Background, U.S. Relations, and Sanctions in Brief. Retrieved from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R44000.pdf