Turkey ignoring NATO allies for its neighbors

26 Aralık 2008

Turkey has been gradually marginalized in NATO, cautioned professor Mustafa Aydın, head of the department of International Relations of TOBB University, and his colleague Associate professor Mithat Çelikpala, speaking to Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on the sidelines of a comprehensive security academy program Wednesday.

"Is Turkey forgetting its allies while it focuses on its neighborhood?" are some of the questions that bedevil Western diplomats, said Aydın.

Intelligence and asset sharing problems between the NATO and the EU, which excluded Ankara from defense decision-making processes, is the top issue that has cast a shadow on Turkish NATO relations, Aydın and Çelikpala emphasized, at the Ilgaz Security Academy organized by International Relations Council this week.

Aydın said his research into the occasional rifts between Turkey and NATO since the 1950s signaled that the disagreements are bigger today than ever.

"The latest example of trouble is the refusal of Turkey, which has the most coast and the strongest navy on the Black Sea among NATO nations, to take place in the alliance’s maneuvers on the Black Sea, after the Georgia crisis," said Aydın.

Moreover, the Turkish public opinion, distressed by NATO ships passing through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, was concerned that the Montreux convention was breached despite declarations of the General Staff and the Foreign Ministry who affirmed the contrary.

Turkish diplomats had taken utmost care to ensure that NATO and the U.S. maneuvers on the Black Sea do not breach the Montreux convention of 1936 that limits the passage of non-Turkish combatant vessels through Turkish straits.

"Turkey also rejected the U.S. proposal to move combatant vessels to Black Sea as a counterbalance to Russia in 2006. The idea was supported by Romania and Bulgaria, and Turkey faced huge amount of pressure," Aydın said. The refusal contributed to the troubles in the consolidation of "pro-Western" regimes in Ukraine and Georgia, and put Turkey in a difficult position, Aydın said.

Turkish reluctance
As NATO turns into a political security organization and increases cooperation with the EU that wants to add teeth to its security policy, Turkey runs the risk of losing ground in the alliance, Aydın warned.

Turkey’s reluctance to give a blank check to the EU for access to NATO intelligence and assets in EU operations also causes frustration with Ankara, he said. "Turkey keeps its right to veto lest Greek Cyprus has access to vital information on the Turkish military. Since Turkey can veto any NATO decision, EU and NATO plans are unsure to work out," Aydın said.

Turkey was previously accused of hampering the EU police training missions in Afghanistan in August and in Kosovo in May 2007, by refusing to share NATO intelligence.

Although Turkey had a major role in the Western European Union as an associate member, it lost all its say in the European defense as WEU’s powers were transferred to a nascent European Security and Defense Policy, or ESDP structure. Turkey’s efforts to take its place in the ESDP were effectively and definitely fought off by France and Greece in June 2007, who rejected negotiating with a non-EU country. Turkey cancelled its commitments to EU’s joint battle groups in response.

Membership of the Greek Cyprus into the EU in 2004 further eroded the link between Turkey and European security and defense structures. Greek Cyprus blocked Turkey’s accession demand to the European Defense Agency, or EDA that aims to develop crisis management capabilities of the 27 nation block. "Turkey in turn blocks Greek Cypriots’ accession to NATO, rejecting EU demands to do so," Aydın underlined.

Headed its own way?
The goal of Turkey’s stability platform initiative in the Caucasus after the Georgian war in August was not immediately clear for the American administration, stated Çelikpala. "There are problems in the American perception of Turkey. They wonder what kind of a policy Turkey is developing in the Caucasus, as they do not take part in the talks on the stability platform themselves. Even though Ankara gives assurances that Washington and European countries can be observers, the uncertainties especially in Washington are not dissipated," Çelikpala said.

Iranian nuclear row is another security issue Turkey has difficulty to tune in with its allies, said Aydın. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged "countries that tell Iran stop nuclear weapons should first disarm themselves," at his speech at the Brookings Institute in Washington D.C in November, after preaching Turkey’s role as facilitator in negotiations with Iran. "The prime minister’s words count and are taken seriously. People like Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institute may have seats in the Barack Obama administration," said Aydın.

"Whether Turkey is Islamized is also a question that we did not hear before during the Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, earlier years in power," Aydın said. The reason behind the suspicion is the slow pace of reform for the EU accession, he said.

"Exiled Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal’s Ankara visit in 2006 and Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir, accused by the International Criminal Court of being responsible for genocide in the Darfur region still linger in their heads," Aydın said.

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(Hurriyet Daily News, 26.12.2008)