The United States could counter increasingly hostile behaviour from the Turkish government through a range of strategies involving sanctions, according to Nicholas Danforth, a senior policy analyst for the U.S. Bipartisan Policy Center think tank’s national security programme.
U.S.-Turkish relations have sunk to a dismal low under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent rule, with the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) frequently employing vitriolic, anti-U.S. rhetoric, U.S. citizens imprisoned in Turkey as part of a strategy of “hostage diplomacy”, and soaring tensions over wildly-diverging military objectives in Syria.
Danforth details ways of addressing Ankara’s provocative behaviour that could be achieved through the use of sanctions.
By drawing red lines on key U.S. interests, and threatening sanctions should Turkey overstep these boundaries, the United States would be pursuing a strategy successfully prosecuted by Russia and Germany.
According to Danforth, the most pressing of these issues are the U.S. citizens jailed in Turkey, and Ankara’s threats to attack the northwest Syrian Manbij region, where U.S. troops are stationed in support of Kurdish allies that Turkey launched a military operation against in nearby Afrin last January.
The United States could also use sanctions to target Turkey’s economy in the run-up to the presidential elections, due before November 2019. Danforth noted the argument that, since Erdoğan has benefited in prior elections from economic health, a down-turn may be enough to turn voters against him. However, Erdoğan could still fix the elections and maintain power at the expense of legitimacy and stability, said the scholar.
More focussed sanctions specifically targeting Erdoğan’s regime could provide the United States with leverage without harming the opposition in Turkey, though targeting the ruling party and maintaining legitimacy with the opposition is a difficult balancing act, as Danforth noted.
Finally, a series of harsh sanctions designed to “make an example” of Turkey would force Erdoğan to “accept a significantly poorer and more isolated Turkey as the price of staying in power,” by extension helping to foster a new “global norm” whereby “certain actions (…) relegate a government to the status of rogue regime.”