Search Penny Hill Press

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Turkey-U.S. Defense Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges

Jim Zanotti
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs

Congress and the Obama Administration are seeking to manage longstanding bilateral and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-based defense cooperation with Turkey at a time when a more independent Turkish foreign policy course and changes in regional security conditions are creating new challenges for both countries. Defense cooperation rooted in shared threat perceptions from the Cold War era and built on close U.S. ties with the Turkish military leadership now must be reconciled with a decline of the military’s political influence in Turkish society and some negative turns in Turkish popular sentiment toward the United States over the past decade. At the same time, Turkey’s importance as a U.S. ally has arguably increased on issues of global significance in its surrounding region that include Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In early 2011, Turkey’s regional role has arguably become even more prominent—exemplified by its significant involvement politically and militarily on the question of NATO’s intervention in Libya.

How Congress and the Administration manage defense cooperation with Turkey in this evolving context is likely to have a significant bearing on U.S. national security interests, as well as on both U.S. and Turkish calculations of the mutual benefits and leverage involved in the cooperative relationship. Some officials and analysts believe that, in at least some respects, the United States needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the United States. Others counter that claims of Turkish leverage over the United States are exaggerated.

Possible general congressional and Administration approaches to U.S.-Turkey defense cooperation (“Possible U.S. Policy Approaches”) include 
  • avoiding major recharacterizations of the alliance, while emphasizing and expressing confidence that existing NATO and bilateral relationships—with their long legacies—can address mutual security challenges; 
  • according high priority to the alliance and revising expectations for it by accommodating new developments within and outside of Turkey; 
  • linking cooperation in some way to Turkey’s relations with certain third-party countries or non-state actors—including Iran, Israel, Hamas, Armenia, and China—or to Turkish actions on issues of U.S. national security interest; and 
  • using or combining any of these approaches on a case-by-case basis. 
Specific issues that remain of significant importance for Congress (see “Specific Issues and Possible Options for Congress”), given its authority to appropriate funds, review major arms sales, consider non-binding resolutions, and provide general oversight include the following: 
  • Continued military access to Turkish bases and transport corridors: The ongoing availability to the United States and NATO of Turkish bases and transport corridors—which have been used heavily for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya—is valuable and remains a possible point of contention and leverage. The extent of its importance and of alternatives may be subject to further analysis. 
  • Future of Turkey-Israel relations: U.S. efforts to maintain alliances with both Turkey and Israel could be made more complicated if relations between them do not improve—potentially influencing the regional security environment.
  • Missile defense radar: Whether Turkey agrees in 2011 to host a U.S. forwarddeployed radar for missile defense as part of the NATO system may depend on its perceptions of whether doing so would be more likely to cultivate stability or to be unduly provocative to neighboring countries. 
  • Arms sales and industrial cooperation: Turkey continues to seek advanced military equipment from U.S. sources, particularly with respect to fighter and drone aircraft, helicopters, and missile defense systems (see “Arms Sales and Industrial Cooperation”). At the same time, Turkey is increasingly diversifying its defense contacts and procurement relationships with non-NATO countries. 
  • Military and security assistance: Although the United States no longer provides major annual grant aid to Turkey’s military, assistance continues to foster cooperation on counterterrorism, law enforcement, and military training and education.
For more information on related issues, please see CRS Report R41368, Turkey: Politics of Identity and Power, and CRS Report RL34642, Turkey: Selected Foreign Policy Issues and U.S. Views, both by Jim Zanotti.

Date of Report: April 8, 2011
Number of Pages: 50
Order Number: R41761
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.