Turkey and U.S. National Security

The combined weight and importance of Turkey’s political, military, economic and geo-strategic circumstances in the consideration of American national security interests require the most serious attention, and one must assume that fact escapes nobody’s attention in Washington.  By way of illustration, Turkey is the only Islamic country that is both a member of NATO and a candidate for accession to the EU; it fields more than twice as many active-duty military personnel than does France, the UK or Italy; its potential role as a conduit for oil coming from various directions is clear; and its neighbors, by sea and/or land, include Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Cyprus and Greece.

Surely that abbreviated description puts Turkey in a class with Russia, China, India, Pakistan and the EU/Germany/France with respect to key political entities always prominent on our horizons and in morning briefings.  Full treatment would require a book and more expertise and experience than is readily available.  Deserving brief mention here, however, are recent developments in two areas requiring only attention to the daily press: Turkey’s role in the Middle East; and a shift in the prospects for eventual Turkish membership in the EU.

Given Turkey’s attributes as outlined above, it would be well-nigh impossible for it not to play a prominent part in cascading events in its neighborhood.  It is no surprise, then, that the major outside actor in the ongoing conflict within Syria is its neighbor to the north.  The massive intake of refugees from Syrian President Assad’s murderous forces has both saved countless lives and earned the respect and gratitude of Western powers still in the throes of making decisions about whether and how and when to intervene.  (Turkish policy vis-à-vis Syria, humane and charitable though it may be, is surely motivated in large part by the growing national and religious enmity between Turkey and Iran, Assad’s principal outside champion.)

Still concerning the Middle East, Turkey’s growing animosity toward Israel ever since the 2009 Israeli killing at sea of nine Turks on their way to delivering non-military supplies to Gaza, and Israel’s stubborn refusal to apologize, has taken an ugly – if unintended – turn.  (One cannot but recall Turkey’s unrelenting refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide by its proper name.)  Last Thursday, February 27, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as telling a UN meeting in Vienna the following: “Just as with Zionism, anti-semitism and fascism, it has now become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”  Secretary of State John Kerry and others were swift to criticize Erdogan’s remark, clearly to protest the inclusion of Zionism in the list of evils.  Whether Erdogan himself or just his speech writer failed to understand the meaning of Zionism, roughly, the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Israel, and that condemning Zionism was itself anti-semitic has not been revealed.

As concerns the EU and Turkish prospects, ever since both French and German leaders made it clear that membership was not in the cards, the Turkish leaders themselves have hardened and public opinion polls show little enthusiasm.  Now, two recent developments have served to keep the proverbial foot in the door.  About to leave Berlin for a visit to Ankara, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, admitting her skepticism, nevertheless spoke of resuming stalled negotiations between Turkey and the EU.  At the same time, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was giving the same message to his Turkish counterpart.  Many years of talks lie ahead, several critical issues must be resolved, and Turkey must relent on some of the most difficult for Ankara, e.g., getting out of Cyprus and signing and ratifying the UN Law of the Sea Treaty.  But, the door is open once more, and US national security interests would be served by an eventual resolution of differences between key friends and allies.


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7 thoughts on “Turkey and U.S. National Security

  1. Harry Blaney March 18, 2013 / 3:13 PM

    Yes, but we have not yet ratified the Law of the Sea treaty and that needs also to be done. Cyprus, unfortunately, is now having a major financial crisis of its own, driven wrongly in my view by the mistaken “austerity” policies of the EU.

    Turkey does play a key role, but it is not at all clear that they will always act as a stabilizing force in the region — but one can hope but better help the process, and here, I agree with Alan Berlind.

    • Robert Lamoree March 18, 2013 / 4:15 PM

      It’s a rare occasion when a country does not act in its own self interest. Periodic retaliatory strikes at independent-minded Kurds may not be considered ‘stabilizing’ (re: Harry Blaney comment 3/18) to the outside world, but in Turkish eyes such strikes would be. But what if Turkey took up arms against Syria or Iran, would that be stabilizing? My point, which may be a stretch, is: what country is a stabilizing influence in that part of the world? Can any country in that region be a stabilizing influence? One might think that economic success and relative peace would be incentives for others to follow, but things do not work ‘according to Hoyle’ in the Middle East.
      When I think of the U.S. role in the Middle East I ask ‘what have we accomplished,’ and the answer I keep getting is — not much. The Middle East is a conundrum . . . a very very expensive conundrum!

  2. Alan Berlind March 16, 2013 / 4:16 AM

    My thanks to Robert Lamoree for his cogent comment. A stop in Ankara would have made good sense, but the anticipated cries of foul from Bibi and AIPAC et al would surely have killed that idea, if it was ever raised.

  3. Alan Berlind March 16, 2013 / 4:12 AM

    My thanks to Robert Lamoree for his cogent comment. A stop in Ankara would have been most appropriate, whatever Turkey’s sins, but would surely have prompted cries of outrage and charges of neutrality from Bibi and AIPAC et al.

  4. Robert Lamoree March 15, 2013 / 10:16 AM

    In an ideal world, Turkey would be a member of the EU, Israel would be at peace with its neighbors, and American influence in the Middle East would be that of an innocent bystander. But that’s not the way of the world. Europeans think of Turks about the same way Americans think of Mexicans. That’s why they’re not in the EU. Israel does not do well at making friends, and we have been their accomplice. And then there is Syria and Iran and Egypt and Iraq . . . and the beat goes on.
    The hope is for peace in the region, but what are the chances. Turkey, perhaps more than any other Middle East country, could be the key player . . . but is the West really thinking of them in ‘player’ terms? Do we? Our president is about to visit Israel. Would it be prudent to also visit Ankara?
    Turkey has historical issues — Cyprus and Kurds come to mind. But what country doesn’t have issues. Beyond the issues I think of the nations that border Turkey, and being a better, smarter friend and ally makes a whole lot of sense.

  5. Harry Blaney March 4, 2013 / 1:48 PM

    Yes, but we need a larger strategic policy for the region that includes not only Turkey, but dealing with the interrelated issues of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt (note results of Secretary Kerry’s vist yesterday) and Middle East peace process……

  6. Paul March 4, 2013 / 1:27 PM

    “Turkey must relent on some of the most difficult for Ankara, e.g., getting out of Cyprus and signing and ratifying the UN Law of the Sea Treaty.” Amen!

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