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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

December 2001

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We present another commentary on a nation lying on the periphery of the Afghan arena. The author presents a case for extending added support and valuable inducements to Turkey for its support in the war on terrorism led by the United States.-Ed.

For an alternate view, check out Alan D. Berlind's article here.

Turkey in October confirmed that the Pentagon requested Turkish troops for the ground war in Afghanistan. Doing something that no other country in the Muslim world could do, Turkey said yes. An initial unit of ninety or more advisors from Turkish special forces probably joined Northern Alliance fighters in Afghanistan in early November, and Ankara promises that more personnel—including commandos tasked to actual combat missions—are on their way. As we seek to stabilize the shaky Muslim wing of the alliance against terror — and if we hope to convince each hesitant ally to follow Turkey's lead and give the maximum assistance in its own gift—Turkey must be seen to earn real dividends from supporting the alliance.

The United States and other NATO countries have long relied on Turkey. Yet, while kowtowing to much less dependable 'allies,' we sometimes treat the only stable secular republic of the Muslim world as a second class citizen. The West has joined battle now against terrorists and the states that give them succor, and the sense of trial casts in clearer light where different national elites and their peoples believe their futures lie. To point out waverers like Saudi Arabia is not just to urge a critical eye on them but also to put the steadfast in perspective. Few more steadfast allies does the West have than Turkey. From the Korean War to the Gulf War, Turkey has supported the West in time of crisis, while also taking serious strides toward putting its own house in order. Constitutional reform, accountability of the bureaucracy and armed forces, human rights—in these dimensions and others, Turkey stands head and shoulders above virtually every other state in its region. There remains a lot to be done, before Western European or American standards are achieved and secured, but the trajectory is promising and progress along it substantial. Unfortunately, Turkey, left in the lurch, may or may not be able to withstand the buffeting forces of Islamic fundamentalism, political backwardness, and economic stagnation that characterize much of the Near East. The United States, and our European allies too, should act accordingly.

Five concrete steps should be taken, by Europe and America in tandem, in order to shore Turkey up and to confirm it in the promising course that it has charted to date.

First, the dictatorship in Iraq, with its adverse impact on Turkey, must be brought to an end. Turkey had enjoyed volumes of cross-border trade with its southern neighbor, but this turned to a trickle when sanctions were imposed against Iraq in 1991. The Turkish economy suffered sharply in consequence. At the time, the president of Turkey, Turgut Ozal, called on the United States and its allies to prosecute the war against Iraq to the fullest, eliminating the Iraqi Republican Guard and putting the country at the mercy of the victors. In such a position, Ozal argued, the alliance could fashion a sweeping revision of territorial and constitutional order in Iraq—including, in his plan, the partition of the country and cession of Mosul to Turkey. With a co-operative regime in Baghdad and a valuable oil province under Turkish sovereignty, the economic crisis of the 1990s would have been averted, and the destabilizing effect of a terrorist dictatorship removed from the region and the world.

Americans have begun to question whether it was wise to leave Saddam Hussein and his regime intact, with a broad swathe of public opinion now saying we should have gone the extra mile and rid Iraq of Ba'athist tyranny. In defense of the limited war conducted in 1990-91, a number of points were frequently made. It is said that the United States was obliged to adhere strictly to the limits of the mandate conferred by United Nations Security Council resolutions and that, in any case, the exigencies of international alliance-building would have prevented an expansion of war aims to include the fundamental restructuring of Iraq. A purported need to maintain a counterpoise against Iran rounded out the explanation for a conservative approach. The ensuing decade, however, presented grounds for a much more expansive approach. Iraq ceased to co-operate in the arms reduction and inspection regime that was a key condition of the cease-fire of February 27/28, 1991. Iraq denied basic foodstuffs and medicines to its civilian population, as it appropriated substantial revenues to developing weapons of mass destruction. Iraq, some evidence now seems to suggest, aided and abetted international terrorist cells. The decade-long economic crisis Turkey has suffered due to the anti-Saddam embargo goes little remarked but gives further grounds for finishing today what we left earlier half done.

Second, the United States and the EU should make Turkey a key terminus for oil and gas from the Caspian and Central Asia. Those regions promise to add measurably to the world supply of these vital energy resources. The challenge they present is isolation. Lacking direct access to the world ocean, the hydrocarbon-rich states there must rely on attenuated lines of export. The lines might be run in any of various directions, but no one alone is likely to furnish the West the security we require. If Russia remains the only export route, we stake too much on that country's stability and future allegiances. If Iran steps in, fundamentalist influence across a vast region will multiply. China, too, may someday tap Central Asian resources with pipelines of its own, but this only would present another set of issues. Turkey offers much-needed diversification of geopolitical risk.

Work has begun on an oil pipeline that will bring crude from the Caspian across Azerbaijan and Georgia, then into Turkey to Ceyhan, Turkey's Mediterranean super-tanker port. But large-scale private projects, even when backed by multinational corporations, have been known to fail, when the political obstacles and risks grow too large. The Caucasus region and Georgia in particular suffer from chronic instability. Collapse of the government of Georgia in November can hardly reassure investors, while Azeris and resident foreigners alike wonder, if seldom aloud, how Azerbaijan will cope after President Heydar Aliyev departs from politics. Yet the oil pipeline and projected follow-on projects, including a natural gas pipeline, must go forward. Governments should be cautious about fighting market forces and second-guessing the judgments of business leaders, but in this case, finishing the pipeline should be a priority of public policy. It would cement Turkey's position in the regional hydrocarbon infrastructure and also secure Turkey's own growing energy needs. We need a stable and dependable ally to take the lead in developing the critical new energy resources of the Muslim regions of the former USSR, and Turkey is the clear choice.

Third, efforts should be renewed toward ending the twenty-seven year impasse on Cyprus. The northern, Turkish zone of the island has faced a nearly generation-long regime of economic and diplomatic isolation, imposed by the United Nations at the behest of the Greek Cypriots and their supporters in Greece. The longer the isolation, the greater the risk Turkish Cypriots turn to other quarters for aid. Saudi subventions to build highways and an unofficial policy of welcoming wealthy renegades offer an inkling of where things might lead. Rather than let extremists do the job, the West intervened during the 1990s in Bosnia and Kosovo in order to establish an internal constitutive order that safeguarded the rights of the Muslim communities there. The conflicts in the Balkans bear notable similarities to Cyprus—not least of all, in the ethnic cleansing carried out by Orthodox Christians against Muslims. The United States and the West, using mechanisms appropriate to the particularities of the situation, should implement an approach in Cyprus that helps the Turkish community on the island just as much.

Helping the Turkish Cypriots would be easier than helping the Muslims of the Balkans. Since the two linguistic communities separated themselves one from the other in the 1960s and 1970s, virtually no strife has taken place in Cyprus. There is thus no question of international policing of towns and villages, where the inhabitants are constantly at the ready to do violence to their neighbors. Indeed, domestic governance in northern Cyprus is peaceful, secure, and essentially democratic. Turkish Cypriots are perhaps the most secular of all Turks, with a British colonial legacy of sentimental links to the West and one of the few legal systems in the Muslim world that shares with ours roots in the common law. Economic resources also outstrip other places where we have shown willingness to intervene. Northern Cyprus boasts unspoilt beaches and a tourist industry as yet scarcely developed but of enormous potential. The local base on which to build is strong, and helping the Turkish Cypriots would send a powerful message of support to Turkey itself, where Cyprus is an issue of political and emotional weight.Fourth, a generous—but intelligent—package of fiscal support must be directed to Turkey over the medium-term future. Turkey in February this year entered its most severe fiscal crisis in a generation. Collapse of the lira triggered a catastrophic sell-off on the Istanbul Stock Exchange, and the country is still reeling in the aftermath. Most dangerously, millions of less affluent Turks who in the preceding several years were enjoying their first-ever taste of what a free market can deliver might begin to challenge the secular and capitalist orientation of their republic. They and their leaders must not be left looking foolish for their commitment to western principles. The first tranches of a ten billion dollar IMF-backed bailout have already reached Ankara, but this runs the risk of being at once too little and too much. Turkey faces the fiscal burden of a substantial national debt, and the global economic recession exacerbates the attendant crisis. It would be very dangerous for the American and western position, if the Turkish economy failed to come back to life, at the same time that Turkey was committing itself to military operations in Afghanistan, toward which most Turks outside leadership circles remain ambivalent.

But absent a rethinking of how the money is used, money thrown at the problem likely will be wasted. A crucial further step that we must urge Turkey to take is to slim down still-top heavy and intrusive government bureaucracies, which always are poised to turn extra monies into so much fodder for sinecures and inefficient public sector expenditures. A program of fiscal discipline should be made prerequisite to debt relief and further aide. At the same time, the possibility should be raised that the amount of debt relief and aide will be considerably increased. The goal of our support should be to allow Turkey to continue to move apace along the path it has set for itself toward economic development. The present fiscal crisis by no means should be allowed to cause Turkey's economic progress to stall, for that would carry political ramifications with a reach far beyond the republic's borders.

Finally, the European Union (EU) must do whatever it takes to show that it welcomes Turkey's participation in the European economic space. The Union made statements at Helsinki in 1999 that Turks took to mean a promise of EU membership sooner than the distant future. However, subsequent EU conduct has all but dashed hopes that Turkey will be fast-tracked into the EU. European leaders must clear the political and bureaucratic hurdles to bringing Turkey in. They may even have to reconsider what the EU means. Is it a closed federation of European Christians, ruled over by a supernational government in Brussels? Or is it, more consistent with its early successes, an enhanced form of trade union, 'NAFTA-plus'? If this latter vision is allowed again to prevail, then Turkey can look forward to meaningful participation in the European Union. If not, then it will be shut out, and fanatics on the fringes of Turkish politics, imbued with a new credibility, will cry that the western path has been wrong all along. If Europeans are unwilling to bring Turkey in, then the United States should apply all appropriate pressure to impel them.

The soldiers likely to deploy to Afghanistan, drawn from Turkey's Maroon Berets (Bordo Bereliler: commando units with years of experience fighting terrorists in the tortuous terrain of Eastern Anatolia—are no mere tokens. Yet Turkey gets the gestures right as well. Ismail Cem, the foreign minister, was the first official of rank from a Muslim state to visit the ruins of the World Trade Center. In substance and symbol, Turkey is with us. This reaffirms where we find our best friends in the Muslim world and should encourage policies that reciprocate.


The author, an international lawyer from Massachusetts, is Warburg Research Fellow at St. Anne's College, Oxford University. He has previously published in American Diplomacy.

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