Where Does NATO’s Turkey Go?

By Arthur Dunn

This October it’s the 60th anniversary of joining Turkey to NATO. In the heat of the “cold war” it was extremely important part of strategic planning of the North Atlantic Alliance. Those times its task was about counteracting to the extension of geopolitical influence of the Soviet Union. Except for that, together with Greece simultaneously joining the Alliance it was a natural barrier on the way of direct approach of the USSR to an oil-wealthy Near East.

Then foreign policy of Turkey corresponded the strategic task of western block (the exclusion was only its behavior in the period of the Cyprus crisis in 1974). It’s also important to note, that despite its almost exclusively Muslim population, Turkey has always been considered as almost purely Soviet state, and which was thoroughly controlled by the armed forces of the country. Special role of Turkish military men was about preservation of Atatiurk heritage, the supports of which has always been considered secular character of the Turkish Republic and close cooperation with West, its defense and other bodies.

And at the moment Turkey contributes significantly into the activity of the Alliance. Economic growth allows the country to modernize its armed forces actively, which are one of the biggest in the world. Turkish soldiers and officers play an important role within peacekeeping operations of NATO. During many years Turkish military ships assist in patrolling of the Black Sea. In accordance with a new structure of military command of NATO, at the territory of Turkey shall be allocated one of few big headquarters of the Alliance.

Turkey is also one of few NATO states within the territory of which American nuclear ammunition locate. And in September of the last year it signed with the USA also a treaty on Euro missile defense system elements allocation within its lands.

Ankara is one the leading upholders of NATO’s extension and intends to assist in joining the Alliance to Georgia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Turkey plays a significant role in assurance of NATO energy security. Finally, unique is its geographic location: it borders all the main “hot spots” – the Balkans, Caucasus and Near East.

> Turkey Map
As a result in terms of noticeable reduction of interest to the Alliance among number of European states, Turkey started claiming on a leading role in it. In particular, there are grounds to suggest, that it counts on that the current President of the country Abdullah Gul shall become the next general secretary of NATO.

At the same time in behavior of Ankara we may observe individual alarming moments. Turkish politicians pretty acutely judge NATO’s action. At the held NATO Summit in Chicago Turkish representatives tried to limit the contacts of the Alliance with Israel and the European Union. Except for that, sometimes Ankara without consultations with the allies on the North-Atlantic block adopts strategically unexpected decisions as well as approves for joint military maneuvers with China.

An impression arises that earlier Turkey had no option to hold policy following its national preferences, but now it gradually rehabilitates the plans to accomplish foreign political doctrine of Pan-Turkism. This also reveals in gradual, but inevitable Islamization of domestic political life of the country.

It seems that for Turkish government that now there is a chance to return in new forms its political, economic, cultural and military influence within the limits of the former Ottoman Empire and to create inter-Turkish national-state alliance “Turan”, naturally, under the aegis of Ankara.

Respectfully, Turkish ambitions started to spread on bordering regions, including South Caucasus and the Balkans. The question is how these intentions of Ankara are compatible with NATO plans and correspond its interests.

South Caucasus. We can agree with quite a popular opinion, that Turkey in reality is interested to assure security and preserve stability in South Caucasus. Accomplished together with Azerbaijan and Georgia regional transport-communicational and energy projects seriously enhance the shares of the country at global market regarding economy as well as policy.

By this Ankara is assured that real achievement of these objectives is possible only in case of integration of South Caucasian states into NATO, although it recognizes that any talks about membership of the former USSR republics in NATO irritate Russia badly, with which Turkey has established the relations of strategic partnership.

This way, in course of the meeting held in the middle of July in Batumi Defense Minister of Turkey Ismet Iylmaz claimed to the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, that Turkey is one of the most reliable partners of Georgia on the way of joining NATO, and called this step “the warranty of security in the region”. In the essence the Head of Defense Ministry of Turkey openly stated, that the states of the region need seriously enhancement of their own safety in terms of growing pressure from Moscow.

One of practical steps to accomplish Turkish plans to assure security in the regions were joint Georgian-Turkish sea trainings, which were held on September 13th in territorial waters of Batumi (Georgia). According to Interior Ministry of Georgia coast guard services of the both countries practiced during trainings boarding and search-rescue operations.

Together with the stuff of Turkish boat TCSG-71 the trainings also included floating vehicles of Georgian coast guard service “General Maeniashvili” and “Iveria”.

Turkish boat of coast guard TCSG-71 entered territorial waters of Georgia, port of Poti on September 10th. The visit for experience exchange and planning-conduction of joint sea trainings was held in the frameworks of the plan of bilateral cooperation between Georgia and Turkey in 2012.

Turkish frontier guards held meetings with the Mayor of Poti, command of the coast guard department, and on September 11th the boat TCSG-71 came to Batumi, where the trainings took place. Extension of cooperation goes not only along the line of defense bodies.

Thus, Foreign Affairs Ministries of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan signed the so-called “Trabzon Declaration”, which underlined the “significance of fastest regulation of Karabakh, Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts on the basis of respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and  non-violation of internationally acknowledged borders of Azerbaijan and Georgia”. This way Ankara and Baku directly supported “territorial integrity” of Georgia.

At the same time, cooperating with Tbilisi, Ankara accomplishes its own interests. This, strengthening of its positions in Adzharia by, for example, issuing for the residents of the autonomy  Turkish passports or quarterly purchasing of buildings in the center of Batumi, incites suspicions that with times this territory can become the “second Northern Cyprus” or even “second Kosovo”. In the focus of Georgian community and politicians covers also religious expansion by Southern neighbor and specific coverage of complicated periods of bilateral relations history.

As for Azerbaijan, than directly in military and military-technical spheres interrelations of Baku with NATO have had bilateral format for a long time, where Turkey plays its special part in development of Azerbaijani army and attempts of transferring it to NATO standards. In terms when NATO doesn’t claim in independent peacekeeping function in Nagorny Karabakh conflict, such development of the situation satisfies the Alliance.

“Turkey and Azerbaijan” support each other in all spheres and in all international organizations”, - declared the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev to reporters in Gabala after the meeting with the Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“In all international organizations we have a single line and support each other. This support is extremely important for us, for the region and for the whole world. Today Turkish-Azerbaijani contacts are important not only for development of bilateral relations, they also perform a stabilizing function within maintenance of peace, stability and security in the region. Our role in the world is growing, and mutual support even more increases significance of our countries”, - he said.

Aliyev reported that in course of the meeting they discussed “consequences of Armenian-Azerbaijani, Nagorny Karabakh conflict and the efforts revealed during the talks”.

Holding of a session of the Supreme Council of strategic cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan in Gabala is the message for Russia that in this city there is no place for its military units”, - declared during the discussion of political analysts in Baku the Head of Study Center “Atlas” Elhab Shahinoglu.

According to public opinion poll held in Azerbaijan most of population votes for development of military-strategic relations with Turkey and wishes for Turkish mediation in Karabakh problem. Of course Yerevan and Moscow shall hardly agree with the kind of line. But in Gabala as the experts note, the Alliance should doubt only about Turkish-Azerbaijani treaty on defense and security, which wasn’t discussed with the Alliance, and that is why from the point of view of the Charter and NATO rules is not legitimate.

In accordance with the treaty Turkey should provide military assistance to Azerbaijan which can’t be excluded in terms of a great war with Armenia, especially if Baku shall experience catastrophic military defeat. Meanwhile this directly contradicts the Charter and rules of NATO: the Organization’s members have no right to participate in military actions without decisions of NATO itself of the UNO. We can’t expect either this or that decision in case of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The result can be withdrawal of Turkey from NATO.

In general on the one hand, Ankara plays a role in the region of South Caucasus of “strategic support” for its NATO allies and West in common. On the other hand it follows its political and economic objectives and intends to create institutional basics of global Turkish integration, formation of Turkish economic and general cultural space. It’s not known, is the Alliance ready to agree with the kind of prospect.

The Balkans. The Balkans being for Turley a bridge to West, take in Turkish foreign policy a special place, and is of priority. Ankara persistently fixes its influence in “soft underbelly of Europe”.

But, despite Turkey participated in Alliance’s operations in former Yugoslavia, provided limited support for Bosnian Muslims, has become one of the first states, which recognized independence of Kosovo, till relatively recent times its policy there has been pretty careful.

But since 2009 Balkan states have been intensively included into the schedule of foreign political visits of Turkish top officials – Prime Minister R.T.Erdogan, President A. Gul, Foreign Affairs Minister A. Davutoglu, top military officials. They visited Albania, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo. Except for that, delegations of Turkish Parliament held active talks with their colleagues from the states of the region.

Simultaneously Turkish diplomacy started actively to involve Balkan states leaders in various formats of discussion of current world and regional problems, and also to attract local elites to participate in Eurasian programs.

Military-political contacts of Turkey have also intensified with the states of the region, where the main direction is their active involvement into the programs of the Alliance, development of the common strategy of actions in the region and reorganization of local armed forces under NATO standards with participation of Turkish trainers.

After inclusion of Albania into NATO the scopes of its cooperation with Turley expanded significantly. Since 2010 Ankara constantly has led with Tirana joint maneuvers of military sea fleet. Two years ago with the efforts of Turkey Bosnia and Herzegovina joint NATO Membership Action Plan. In 2009-2011 Turkey supported the application for membership in the alliance of Macedonia. In October 2010 an agreement was concluded on training of formed in Kosovo  units of local police from Kosovo Turks by Turkish military men and police advisors.

Attention is also attracted by the fact that Turkish diplomacy openly shifted priorities to the states with significant part of Muslim population or possessing districts with ethnic Turks. As a result main partners in the region turned out to be Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. I.e. Ankara took the line of one-sided support of Muslim states and ethnoses, which contradicts the principles and policy of Western community.

Already in one generation the upholders of Islam can become the majority in Balkans, which has never happened in the history of this region. Considering ethnic-religious conflicts in mentioned states with fellow citizens,  bordering countries, the given circumstance incite alarm also in NATO, which has already has practice of interference in such situations to stop bloodshed.

Thus, the opinion that Turkey strictly follows the Charter and the rules of NATO line, doesn’t completely corresponds the reality. Moreover, they even more often present impossible demands, first of all on these or that issues of defense and security.

Due to this, by all importance of its membership in the Alliance, among its members grow the spirits, views that NATO needs to revise its policy and line towards Ankara. Yet this subject is significantly restrained by the development of the situation in Syria, in which Turkey actively supports the opposers to Asad regime and around its other neighbor Iran, which is under growing pressure from West, security of the states of which is the responsibility of NATO.

Although Turkey and Iran are historic rivals, Ankara still entered into the conflict with NATO states, having welcomed the visit of the President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who came in Turkey for a working visit. Yet the rest of NATO members dealt with Russian aggression against Georgia, Turkey acknowledged legitimacy of Iranian leader accompanying by the screams of Istanbul “death to Israel, death to America”.

Turkish political and military officials for several years already have expressed their concern over the intentions of the USA to “enter” in the Black Sea. Even in the heat of the “Cold War“ this sea remained to be peaceful due to that Turkey and Russia clearly defined there the spheres of influence. But afterwards such Black Sea states as Romania and Bulgaria entered NATO, and now Georgia comes closer to the North Atlantic Alliance. Ankara is nervous about possible reaction of Russia.

In Ankara they say that the USA wants to extend NATO zone for the Black Sea. Just as in Iraq this shall create inevitable mess around Turkey, which shall have to deal with the consequences, when Americans leave after some time. Eventually, Turks shall have to deal with it not Americans.

Turkish officials declare, that they use their trustful relations with various parties to play the role of a mediator between the states in the region: the USA and Iran, Israel and Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, etc. Maybe it is so. But as Zejno Baran notes (Director of Center For Eurasian Policy at Hudson Institute), when today we observe strengthening of presence in the Black Sea of American and NATO ships, the time comes for Turkey to make a choice.