between Turkey and the U.S. has been enhanced by frequent, detailed consultations between senior policymakers on regional issues of common concern, as well as on transnational problems such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime.
In the post-Cold War era Turkey’s manifold strategic roles are now widely recognized: a moderate, pro-Western state in an unstable area; a rare, probably unique, example of democracy, however flawed, in a Muslim-majority state; a supporter of Israeli-Palestinian peace; a base for Operation Northern Watch, which enforces a no-fly zone in northern Iraq; an ideological counterweight to Iran; a buffer against resurgence of Russian aggression; a forceful but peaceful and anti-separatist advocate of the causes of besieged Muslims in its region (Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Chechnya, and Kosovo), all of whose kin are liberally represented in Turkey's population mix; an important, non-Russian line of communication with the West, and to some extent a role model, for the still-unsteady Turkic states of the former Soviet Union; and a potential outlet for Caspian Sea energy resources as an alternative to Russian and Iranian routes.
Russia is the dominant power in the former Soviet geography, but, over time, as a Turcophone elite inevitably replaces the current Russophone elite, Turkish gains are likely to be considerable. As nearby neighbor to a Russia (about whose peaceful, democratic evolution Washington is becoming increasingly doubtful), Turkey provides insurance for the U.S. as a land buffer, a sea-lane bottleneck, a forward base, and an intelligence-gathering post, as in Cold War days. As an alternative line of communication, literally and figuratively, for the Turkic states of the former Soviet Union over which Russia seeks continued dominance, Turkey reinforces American policy to support the independence of those states and to draw them more closely to the West (and to "lightly contain" Russia's imperial ambitions).
Ankara and Washington see eye-to-eye on Russia in the sense that it is clearly a critically important country in any evaluation of how to ensure peace and prosperity and instability in this region. It is obviously critically important for Turkey, in terms of its economic relations with Russia, to say nothing of its security relations in this part of the world. From the U.S. standpoint, Russia is also a strategic partner --albeit of a different sort. Getting that relationship right is of vital importance for Turkey and the U.S.10. The Turkish-Russian relationship of today is far more relaxed than it has been for decades. Commerce has boomed. In the 1990s, bilateral trade and Turkish investment in Russia have shot upward. The official trade volume has more than doubled, from $1.9 billion in 1992 to $4.1 billion in 1997, with unofficial trade, the so-called "suitcase trade," worth several billion dollars more. In 1997, Russia was the second-largest market for "official" Turkish exports.
The Turkish-Russian conflict of interests is more visible in the Caucasus. The continuing closure of Armenian border with Turkey due to its occupation of the Azerbaijani territory is hurting both sides economically and retarding the development and integration of the region as a whole. President Aliyev of Azerbaijan emphasizes the need to resolve conflict with Armenia peacefully by providing the Nagorna-Karabakh with the highest degree of autonomy in return for the Armenia withdrawal from the occupied Azeri land (20% of the total Azerbaijan territory) and return of more than one million refugees to their homes.
10 The Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire fought more than a dozen wars over a quarter-millennium from the late seventeenth century until First World War. In 1945, Soviet claims on the Turkish Straits and portions of eastern Turkey impelled Ankara's decision to seek the protection of membership in the Western alliance. During the Cold War, Turkey anchored NATO's southern flank against the Soviet Union. Throughout the Cold War, however, and particularly after 1962, Turkish strategic planners questioned how much NATO, with its primary focus on the central front, would do to deter a Soviet attack on eastern Turkey