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Supporting Democracy in Erdoǧan’s Turkey: The Role of Think Tanks

By Richard H.M. Outzen and Ryan Schwing Strategic Forum 292

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Key Points

  • Fifteen years into the era of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, U.S. influence on his inner circle and support base, the new generation of Turkish strategic thinkers, and the Turkish public at large has diminished rather than improved. American Turkey watchers have grown frustrated with perceived divergence of interests, values, and agendas. A growing number consider Erdoğan and his inner circle autocratic, difficult, ideologically extreme, and dangerous.

  • U.S. interests would be better served by avoiding confrontation and maintaining close military-to-military cooperation while also pressing for democratization in a patient, low-profile manner. The emerging Turkish think tank sector offers opportunities for doing just that. The sector has grown dramatically over the past 20 years and offers a window for better understanding the revolution in Turkish strategic thinking that now perplexes many American observers. Engaging Turkey’s think tanks would support democratization.

  • The United States should participate in Turkish think tank events, invite their leaders to the United States, use microgrants to strengthen liberal think tanks, and collaborate on some studies. This would improve understanding of Turkish strategic thought, broaden Turkish policy debate, and encourage democratization.

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