Priorities and Challenges in the U.S.-Turkey Relationship

September 06, 2017

Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

Steven A. Cook testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Wednesday, September 6, 2017, discussing the various challenges to the U.S.-Turkey relationship.


  • Changes in Turkey, the United States, and global politics since the end of the Cold War require a re-evaluation of the U.S.-Turkey relationship. As the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, recently asserted, “Turkey may be an ally, but it is not a partner.”
  • In the fifteen years since the ruling Justice and Development Party came to power, Turkey has seen political stability and economic growth but also considerable political regression that has targeted opposition figures and weakened state institutions as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pursues a transformative national agenda.
  • The U.S.-Turkey relationship today is strained by a number of issues, including Turkey's potential purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system; threats to rescind American access to Incirlik air base, from which the United States conducts operation against the self-declared Islamic State and where it stores ninety nuclear weapons as a symbol of the American commitment to Turkish security; American relations with Syrian Kurdish groups fighting the Islamic State; promises of military operations against the Kurdistan Workers' Party in Iraq; and the venomous anti-American discourse that Turkish officials and media outlets representing the government have employed since the summer of 2016 as well as the treatment of Americans both inside and outside of Turkey.

Policy Recommendations

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There is an opportunity for the United States, especially Congress, to make Turkey aware of Washington’s displeasure with its democratic backsliding, its treatment of Americans, and a foreign policy that is at variance with the interests and goals of the United States. It can do this by

  • instructing the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of the value of the U.S.-Turkey relationship;
  • requesting that the Department of Defense study the costs and modalities of leaving Incirlik airbase or shifting some of its operations to other facilities in the area; and making the results of this study public;
  • requiring that the State Department review its travel advisory to Turkey;
  • restricting Turkey’s participation in big-ticket, high-tech weapons development and procurement; and
  • publicly demanding that Turkish officials refrain from their ongoing efforts to politicize the American judicial process.

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U.S. Foreign Policy

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