US president Obama’s most recent statement on his support of Turkey’s accession into the European Union is a clear enunciation of the value of Turkey in the medium and long term schema of US foreign policy.

“I’ve said publicly that I think Turkish membership in the EU would be important,” said Obama during a joint press conference with French president Sarkozy prior to their attending ceremonies for the 65h anniversary of World War II’s D-Day landings.

Sarkozy downplayed the difference between the two leaders, insisting that he would continue to resist Turkish membership yet was supportive of a partnership or friendship, understanding the importance of Turkey as a conduit for influence reaching beyond the European continent. “We want Turkey to be a bridge between the East and West.” Sarkozy said. “I told President Obama that it is very important for Europe to have borders. For me, Europe is a force of stability in the world and I cannot allow that force for stabilization to be destroyed.”

It’s quite plain, the US is currently a global hegemon, the first of this kind. It’s also clear that the global dynamic of power is, just that, dynamic and shifting. Some key countries are gaining increased regional influence: China, India, and a Russia that is still reeling from the Soviet breakup but not as quiescent as in the 1990s. A number of US intelligence, military, and policy reports by influential intellectuals indicate a realization of this unique opportunity of climactic power coupled with subordinated partnerships from some of the world’s top leading economic powers: Europe, Japan, Korea, etc. This period of global dominance can prove to be an opportunity for the US to help establish a multi-layered and interrelated series of regional and international networks that together promote longer term US influence even in regions where its military, economic, and political supremacy may be increasingly diluted – essentially the goal being that the US would maintain a voice in every regional affair no matter how distant from its shores.

Some might call this a soft landing, from clear hegemon to the prime power or voice in a multipolar world.

Here are some basic contemporary examples of this framework: US influence over and military presence within Japan, Korea, and the Philippines gives it a seat at the table at most significant regional decisions. Another example, the US has openly lobbied in favour of this or that country’s entry into the European Union; the deep engagement of an outside country into the internal affairs of states that are constituting the fundamentals of their very existence would normally be seen as interference, but it is quite natural and expected in this case.

The EU is tied to NATO. The NATO membership of the major nations that constitute the EU is a significant factor of American influence in that continent. The expansion of the EU organically enters new states into consideration for membership into the military alliance, and in the case of Turkey, NATO membership and its geographic position on the margins of Europe promotes its being considered as an EU member.

Turkey has a particularly important position in the geostrategic consideration of international or global power. The transit pipelines of energy from the Middle East and Central Asia to the voracious European markets must generally pass through either Russia or Turkey. This makes Turkey a vital ally in the contest for a Western-backed oil and gas corridor from energy suppliers.

A Turkey that is rejected by Europe on the basis of being too different will signal the conception of an unbridgeable gap: that Turkey’s ties to the West can only go so far. This could result in a Turkish disenchantment with Europe, as well as promote resentment. Such a clear identification of Turkey’s unbridgeable Eastern culture and ethnicity would leave that country little choice but to focus more to the south (the Middle East) and east (the Caucasus and Central Asia). Arguably, this process has already begun, with Turkey being asked to jump through a long series of hoops in a particularly long EU accession process, and the increasing realignment of national identity away from Western to a revival of Middle Eastern and Central Asian consciousness.

For the US, this is not an ideal situation. It could well cause Turkey to become an increasingly disgruntled NATO member, hobbling the transatlantic alliance. Furthermore, if Turkey was to become an EU member, then the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) would fall within the immediate sphere of EU/NATO influence.

Azerbaijan and Georgia are currently the two key countries of that region hosting the only Western-backed (non-Russian) energy pipeline leading to Europe. If the EU was to include Turkey, the Caucasus would automatically feel the immense gravity of a combined EU-NATO body pull at them, and the situation would legitimate more direct intervention by these bodies, under the leadership of the US.

Azerbaijan is especially important. Just look at a map, any energy from Central Asia to Europe would have to pass through Russia, Iran, or Azerbaijan. The first two are off the books, which leaves Azerbaijan as the desired passage of a new pro-West energy highway crossing the Caspian sea.

Considering these circumstances, it is therefore not so surprising that successive US presidents would choose to promote the inclusion of Turkey into an enlarged EU.

In 2004 US president Bush opposed French president Chirac on the same issue now expressed by Obama, and said to the Turks that “I will remind the people of this good country that you ought to be given a date by the EU for your eventual acceptance into the EU.”

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Nima Maleki

Nima Maleki is a policy analyst and consultant, currently the Director of Research and Community Engagement for the not-for-profit Maple Key. His writings focus on international relations and the impact...