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Turkey's Dreams of Accession
COURTING THE EU
Turkey is a secular Muslim democracy and a crucial ally for the West. The eastern flank of NATO, straddling Europe and Asia, it played a critical role in containing the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In the 1990s, it helped monitor Saddam Hussein and protect Iraqi Kurds by permitting U.S. warplanes to use its bases. After the September 11, 2001, attacks, it became a staging area for coalition forces in Afghanistan, where Turkish forces eventually assumed overall command of the International Stabilization Force. Turkey continues to be a pivotal partner in the fight against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, despite attacks by radical Islamists at home.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reaffirmed Turkey's ties to the West by embracing the country's commitment to joining the EU. In anticipation of a December summit at which EU governments will decide whether to open accession talks with Ankara, Erdogan has been pushing domestic reforms. In particular, he has undertaken the thorny task of subordinating Turkey's traditionally strong military to civilian control. This effort has helped him forge common cause with reformers in the military establishment, which has long been committed to the country's secularity. But it has also exacerbated tensions with army hard-liners and other ultranationalists who are reluctant to relinquish prestige, privilege, and power.
For the sake of both Turkey and its allies, Erdogan's overtures to the EU must succeed. EU membership would anchor Turkey in the West, fortify it as a firewall against terrorism, and help make it a model of democracy for the Muslim world. Rejection, on the other hand, would set back domestic reforms and radicalize religious extremists. Instead of a bulwark of stability and moderation, Turkey would become a hotbed of anti-Americanism and extremism. Rather than serving as a beachhead for Western interests in the Middle East, it would join the arc of unstable countries in the region that oppose the liberal values that form the foundation of the EU.