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The South Atlantic Quarterly 102.2/3 (2003) 471-489

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Turkey and the World in Twenty-Five Years:
Thinking about the Future

Bruce Kuniholm

This article explores Turkey's future and its relations with the European Union (EU), the United States, and the world. While the fault lines that help to frame the tectonic shifts in Turkey's evolving identity are unquestionably being redrawn and will have a critical bearing on how Turkey positions itself relative to the rest of the world, it is my belief that the importance of the Turkish state in the geopolitical world will not diminish and that Turkey will play an increasingly significant role in world affairs.

It has become commonplace to argue that in an era of globalization the state system has become less relevant; that economic, cultural, and other dimensions of human existence, to the extent that they transcend traditional boundaries, have opened the way to an international identity crisis where people throughout the world are struggling to think about how they define themselves outside the boundaries of the state system; and that the major questions they confront involve how they want their countries to position themselves relative to these forces. Evidence of this phenomenon was apparent in the debates over Maastricht and NAFTA. In spite [End Page 471] of the importance of these forces, however, it is my contention that the demise of the state system is vastly overstated, and that geopolitical factors, together with these forces, will continue to be critical in defining the Turkish state's important role in world affairs. This article offers an educated guess as to what the geopolitical world might be like twenty-five years from now, speculates on Turkey's place in that world and its relationship with the EU and United States, ponders the current implications of regional dynamics and Turkey's struggle to define itself, and suggests some of the critical choices that will affect Turkey's future.

Thinking about the Future:
The Primary Power Configurations

How can we determine whether a projection of future developments or a policy that is based on certain assumptions about the future is reasonable? The short answer is that, before these assumptions are tested, we can't. One way to address the problem, however, is to judge both projections and policies not on how they turn out but on the quality of our thinking about how they might turn out. One way to facilitate meaningful debates when making judgments is to spell out available alternatives, to explore their feasibility, and to speculate on their wisdom and efficacy in light of reasonable projections of what might happen. Historians rarely do this. Policy makers generally do—or should, because for them the question is not just academic; they are held accountable for how things turn out and they know it. If future projections are a function of the relationship between an evolving present and the future, changes must be incorporated into one's thinking and, as a result, conceptions of the future must constantly evolve (to reflect the implications of those changes) if they are to be useful. The trick is to remain flexible and adapt as circumstance requires.

Let us try to imagine the future. Turkey's role in the world in the next twenty-five years will be a function not only of critical geopolitical developments, which it is part of my task here to speculate about, and Turkey's capacity to adapt to them, but also of the policies and choices Turkish governments make at home. Let us try to imagine what some of Turkey's tough choices may be by first looking at the world in which they will take place.

Twenty-five years from now the critical power configurations among those with an interest in Eurasia are likely to be: (1) the United States, (2) a united Europe, (3) China, and (4) Russia. The critical question, as Zbigniew [End Page 472] Brzezinski has noted in his thoughtful book The Grand Chessboard, 1 which has helped inform my thinking...


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pp. 471-489
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2004
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