The distance between Turkey and the United States has been growing as each pursues security and economic imperatives at the expense of the other. In our annual forecast, Stratfor mentioned that U.S. rival Russia would use its "deepening ties to widen Turkey's rifts with NATO and with the European Union," just one of many stressors taxing the U.S.-Turkey relationship.
On Aug. 1, the United States sanctioned two Turkish government ministers in response to what Washington views as the "unjust and unfair" detention of Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor who has lived and worked in Turkey for two decades. Turkey's government has promised to retaliate.
How Did Turkey and the United States Get Here?
The sanctions on Turkish government officials because of Brunson's detention represent the culmination of increasing tension between Ankara and Washington. For months, they have disagreed over issues as wide ranging as Turkey's demands for the extradition of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, Turkey's relationship with Russia and its threats to the NATO alliance, Turkey's history of flouting Iran sanctions, conflicting U.S.-Turkish policies in Syria and more.
What Do These Sanctions Mean for Turkey's Economy?
The economic sanctions themselves are largely symbolic — they only affect the two ministers' personal finances — but their imposition is just one of many external factors wreaking havoc on its economy and contributing to the further depreciation of its currency, the lira. And Turkey has a history of exacerbating domestic economic strains with its foreign policy decisions.
The sanctions on Turkish government officials because of Brunson's detention represent the culmination of increasing tension between Ankara and Washington.
In part because of the country's flagging economy, there has been an unusual coalescing of its many feuding political parties. Now that Washington has implemented sanctions, all the parties can join together to blame the United States for Turkey's economic woes.
What Do the Sanctions Mean for American Businesses in Turkey?
Turkey's legal system, its recently expanded counterterrorism laws and the current hypernationalist political atmosphere give Ankara license to crack down on anything that it deems a security threat. There is a strong possibility of increased harassment of U.S. travelers and businesses, as well as a disruption of business operations for companies with U.S. ties.
What Are the Foreign Policy Implications?
The United States and Turkey maintain the largest and second-largest militaries in NATO, respectively. A serious rift between them would result in disruptions and confusion within the NATO alliance. This would be a boon for Russia, which would welcome a less cohesive NATO. Moscow could use the potential disruptions — especially in the Black Sea — as an opportunity to break down Turkey's traditional role as NATO's southeastern flank against Russia. The Kremlin may also decide to shift more of its forces to its western military region to face off against NATO in Eastern Europe.
The United States is also traditionally the largest arms exporter to Turkey, so damaged relations between the two could drive Ankara toward alternative suppliers. And given the two countries' interconnectedness in a number of defense industry areas, a U.S. cancellation of arms deals with Turkey (seen in the U.S. threat to cancel F-35 fighter shipments to Ankara) could result in significant short-term defense disruptions that would affect the many countries involved in the F-35 program.
A serious rift between the Turkey and the United States would result in disruptions and confusion in the NATO alliance as a whole. This would be a boon for Russia, which would welcome a less cohesive NATO.
Furthermore, a schism could damage U.S. interests in the Middle East. The harm would be particularly evident in northern Syria and northern Iraq, where Turkey could be even more proactive in undermining the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as well as the Kurdistan Workers' Party and its allies in northern Iraq. This approach would clash with U.S. efforts to emphasize the defeat of violent extremist groups like the Islamic State by maintaining a stable SDF presence in Syria and a stable environment in northern Iraq. The United States could also potentially lose access to its air base in Incirlik, Turkey, though it has enough alternative basing rights in the Mediterranean and the Gulf region to mitigate such a loss.
One final negative implication for U.S. policy in the Middle East could involve Turkey's refusing to enforce U.S. economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Some of those penalties will be reapplied on Aug. 6 and Nov. 4. Turkey is likely weighing two competing imperatives. It needs to protect its fragile economy, which could not withstand additional external shocks from more U.S. sanctions. But it also could choose to trade with Iran in order to poke a hole in U.S. efforts to limit Iran's economic activity. For this type of retaliation, Turkey would need to rely more on its fair-weather relationship with the European Union, which is currently in a fairly positive place.