|Turkey and NATO|
|Assoc. Prof. Tarık OĞUZLU|
This article is about the changing dynamics of Turkey’s approach towards NATO. This is an important subject to consider given that NATO has occupied a central place in the definition of Turkey’s foreign, security and defense policies since 1952 when Turkey joined the Alliance. The centrality of NATO in Turkish foreign policy was nearly undisputed during the Cold War
era, whereas the questions concerning Turkey’s commitment to the Alliance have been heard more frequently over the last two decades, particularly since the coming of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power in late 2002.
To what extent Turkey still sees itself as a part of the West can be answered by closely examining the positions Turkey has adopted on the key issues coming to the agenda of the Alliance since the onset of the post-Cold war period, such as NATO’s enlargement towards Russia and the concurrent globalization of the Alliance, NATO’s adoption of out-of-area crisis management activities and NATO’s adoption of missile defense capability.
The main point to be underlined in this context is that Turkey’s attitudes towards the Alliance have been to a significant degree informed by the changes in Turkey’s national identity and foreign policy interests. The way how Turkey’s identity and interests were defined during the Cold War era began to profoundly change over the last two decades, particularly following the rise of AKP in Turkish politics. Having defined its foreign, defense and security policies on the basis of NATO membership for many years, Turkey began to adopt a more critical perspective towards the Alliance since the end of the Cold War.
Despite the support at elites-level, the number of people who consider membership in NATO indispensable for Turkey’s security interests has dropped significantly over the last decade. An important observation to make in this context is that Turkish people do not differentiate between the United States, NATO and the European Union. As attitudes towards one get hardened, the others follow suit. The last ten years have seen a steep increase in Turkish skepticism towards the Western international community in general, and the EU, NATO and US in particular. The negative consequences of the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on Turkey’s territorial integrity and societal cohesion, the growing anti-Turkish and anti-Islamist feelings across Europe, the declining prospects of Turkey’s eventual accession to the EU, the growing self-confidence of Turkish people and Turkey’s increasing outreach to non-western geographies as part of economic development process seem to have culminated in rising skepticism towards the West.
Not having the means to cope with the threats stemming from the Soviet Union on its own, Turkey looked to NATO as a security guarantee during the Cold War. Thanks to Turkey’s institutional presence in the crown-jewel of the western international society, Turkish leaders could also long argue that Turkey is a western/European country. This suggests that one could easily justify Turkey’s quest to join the Alliance, and remain a staunch member of it, on the basis of both identity and interest related motivations.
Despite the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the Johnson Letter crisis in 1964 and the arms embargo crisis in 1975, NATO’s privileged position in the definition of Turkey’s national identity and interests remained solid during much of the Cold War period. The risks of being abandoned by NATO far outweighed the risks of being entrapped in unwanted contingencies. Besides, NATO had been the prime western organization at this time defining the contours of western identity. Neither EU nor other western international organizations had been in a position to represent the West as much as NATO could do. In the eyes of Turkish rulers, membership in NATO had proved to be the main institutional platform through which Turkey could claim to be a part of the West. For the EU to gain such a status, the end of the Cold War would have to be waited.
Reflecting this emerging role conceptualization, Turkey’s attitude towards the Alliance has begun to change. Firstly, Turkish leaders have taken an utmost care to express their views on the various issues coming to the agenda of the Alliance. As Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has many times underlined, Turkey wanted to become an owner of the Alliance, rather than an issue or object of Alliance policies. Turkey’s goal has been to ensure that improving relations with neighbors is not negatively affected by the potential consequences of NATO's transformation. For example, it was assumed that if NATO came closer to Russia’s vicinity and increased its military presence in the Black Sea, Russian leaders might perceive such steps as threatening and consequently adopt nationalistic and expansionist policies in return. This might in turn bedevil Turkey-Russia relations. Another example concerns Turkey’s demand that the operationalization of NATO’s missile defense shield initiative not impair Turkey’s relations with Russia and Iran. Turkish rulers spent great efforts to make sure that NATO’s latest strategic concept adopted in Lisbon in November 2010 does not mention Iran by name in the context of NATO’s missile defense system. Turkey has also been adamant that NATO does not turn out to become a global policeman conferring legitimacy on US-led military operations across the globe. From Turkey’s perspective, NATO’s globalization should not occur at the expense of its European collective defense organization identity and culminate with its further Americanization.
Thirdly, despite adopting a critical and questioning attitude within the Alliance, Turkish leaders paid an utmost care not to veto any NATO policy if other allies agreed on. Turkey did not want to be seen as the maverick within the Alliance, sabotaging NATO’s consensus oriented culture. The best example to this situation is the military operation carried out by NATO in Libya. For example, Turkey initially objected to NATO's intervention in Libya, yet later took part in it provided that all allies agreed on the mandate of the operation.