The US, Turkey and the Visa Crisis: Meet the New Normal

Author: Emre Do─čru
Relevant Service: Government Relations
Contact: emre.dogru

The US, Turkey and the Visa Crisis: Meet the New Normal

 October 11st,  2017


Turkish - American relations are now "transactional" rather than "relational." The situational partnership can send mixed signals. Given the fundamental interests and constraints of both sides, the visa crisis appears to be as another setback, rather than a breaking point in relations. The incident demonstrate that firms should carefully study geostrategic risks before making business decisions.




The US mission in Turkey announced on Oct. 8 that it has suspended all non-immigrant visa services in Turkey. Ankara immediately announced that it was taking the same measure for U.S. citizens seeking visa in Turkey. According to a statement published on the U.S. Embassy's website on Oct.9, the reason of the decision is the arrest of a Turkish staff member of US diplomatic mission by Turkish authorities. Turkey says the employee has links to US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for a failed military coup in July 2016. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim made remarks that Turkey retaliated in response to the measures against its citizens. The US state department announced on Oct. 10 that the decision was taken in coordination with the White House, a comment that rejects President Erdogan's remark that the visa restriction might be the personal initiative of Ambassador Bass.


Given the significance of the event, it would be interesting to take a look at the context in which those actions are taken.

Turkey and the US has a long-standing -albeit difficult- alliance. Turkey is situated in an advantageous location, which is strategic to US interests in the Middle East and Caucasus. Turkey benefits from the security umbrella provided by the US-led NATO alliance since 1952. Those fundamental interests keep the partnership together. But they do not prevent ups and downs.


Relations between Turkey and the US have evolved in nature since few years. The partnership can now be called "transactional" rather than "relational". This means each side will cooperate on topics that further their interests, but will not refrain from clashing whenever necessary. Such a situational alliance can send mixed signals to policy-makers and businesses. It has its pros and cons. On one hand, Turkish - American relations will not reach the point of no return due to fundamental interests that both sides have. On the other hand, the bilateral cooperation will never become a strategic partnership.



The ambivalent nature of Turkish - American relations has its roots in domestic politics and economy. The Turkish Government can galvanize the nationalist feelings of the Turkish voters by taking a harsh stance against the US. According to a research published by Pew Research in August, 72 percent of Turkish people think that "U.S. power and influence is a major threat" to Turkey. Therefore, being perceived as "bowing to American pressure" is not an option for the Turkish government, especially ahead of 2019 presidential elections.

However, the outcome of the elections will also be influenced by the performance of the economy. Turkish economy is largely dependent on external financing to meet its current account deficit, which has reached $37.1 billion yoy in July 2017. This means straining ties with the main financial powerhouses such as the US and EU is not option either. 

Given these constraints, the Turkish government has to strike a balance between tension and reconciliation in its foreign affairs. The early indicators demonstrate that the visa crisis is another setback in bilateral relations, but not a breaking point. Still, the visa decision is an unprecedented move in bilateral relations. It remains to be seen how both sides will normalize their ties without further damage.


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