Leverage and Influence

>> Monday, November 30, 2009

This doesn't seem right to me:

During the Cold War, the United States and Turkey formed a "strategic partnership" based on both countries' fear of Soviet intervention in the Middle East. The Truman Doctrine offered a specific guarantee that both Turkey and Greece would be protected from Soviet aggression - a fear that was quite real in Turkey at the time. In exchange, the United States received access to military bases, support in the Korean War and a strategically advantageous position in the Middle East. Despite serious disagreements - particularly over Cyprus - the relationship worked to each sides' mutual advantage until the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago.

Today, the United States wants Turkish support on a wide variety of important issues, including stabilizing Iraq, supporting the mission in Afghanistan, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, moving energy to Europe, serving as a Muslim ally, and providing stability in its neighborhood.

In exchange, the United States offers security guarantees, military assistance, and the benefits that accrue from an alliance with the world' most powerful military. All of these things are very important to Turkey (and to many other countries). The problem is that the United States is not in a position to credibly threaten to withhold these benefits without undermining the international order in which it has invested so much. For example, both Washington and Ankara know that Turkey's stance on Iran's nuclear program will not jeopardize the American security blanket.

Of course, there are red lines that Turkey (or any other country) could cross that would change U.S. policy. But the point is that Turkey has a great deal of running room before those red lines are crossed. Turkey, both because it is a NATO ally and a strategically critical country, knows that it can pursue an independent foreign policy while still enjoying the benefits of American power.

The basic problem identified here is that it's difficult to exclude particular countries from the benefits (such that they are) of hegemony, and consequently that it's much more difficult for the United States to exert influence than it would seem on paper. My response, I guess, is as follows: This is not a new problem, it characterized the Cold War, and in many ways small and medium sized states had more leverage during the Cold War, rather than less.

The central issue is thus: the Cold War granted the US a certain degree of leverage over countries like Turkey because the United States could provide protection against the Soviet Union. However, it simply wasn't the case that the United States could, as a matter of policy, routinely threaten to exclude Turkey from the umbrella of protection. The loss of US influence over Turkey would, during the Cold War, have been understood as a colossal strategic setback for the United States. Indeed, threats of the "loss" of countries far more trivial than Turkey were treated in US strategic circles as harbingers of the Apocalypse, and client states of the US routinely made (usually implausible) threats of realignment in order to cajole more support from Washington. Kenneth Waltz may have been correct in demonstrating that the shift of a few small and medium sized powers could not fundamentally affect the balance of power between the US and the USSR, but Hans Morgenthau was surely more accurate in his prediction that small states could wield inordinate influence over large powers by threatening defection. Consequently, during the Cold War the idea that the United States could "exclude" Turkey, or Japan, or West Germany from the benefits of its umbrella is simply crazy; indeed, the smaller states held a great degree of leverage. Moreover, I'm not convinced that even formal exclusion from the US sponsored system of alliances entitled actual exclusion from the US security umbrella; the Russians probably didn't want to invade Sweden or Yugoslavia anyway, but an effort to do so might well have sparked a general European war even in the absence of a direct NATO security commitment.

As Ben argues, post-Cold War the United States still can't plausibly exclude states like Turkey from the benefits of a US dominated international system. However, small and medium size states generally lack the same degree of leverage that they possessed when the Soviet Union existed. The US became indifferent to the fate of lots of Cold War hotspots as soon as the USSR collapsed; I suspect that if the USSR (and its enmity with the US) had survived, the US would have continued to pay very close attention to happenings in Somalia, Afghanistan, Zaire/Congo, etc. Threats of defection from the US sponsored global system only grant leverage if the US cares, and if such threats are credible; on balance, I'm not convinced that exerting influence is any more difficult today than it was in 1980.


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