During the Cold War, Turkish security was mostly shaped by its location as a neighbor of the Soviet Union. Soviet territorial demands on Turkey in 1945 and the threat of communism compelled Turkey to seek Western support for its defense. Once Turkey joined NATO in 1952, Turkish security policies were basically conducted in parallel with NATO’s strategies.
The sole exception to this was Turkey’s conflict with Cyprus and Greece. In 1974, in response to the bicommunal violence in Cyprus, Turkey intervened to ensure the security of the Turkish community. Greek policies in respect to Cyprus, the delineation of the Aegean Sea and the militarization of the Greek islands adjacent to the Turkish coast were perceived by Turkey as threatening its security. As a result, Turkey developed security policies independent of NATO at the expense of straining the cohesion of NATO’s southern flank.
During this period, as retired air force general, Sadi Erguvenc, noted, the Middle East was not a priority area in Turkish security calculations (1995:1). However, the Cold War’s end has created a dramatically altered environment leaving Turkey in the midst of two zones of instability: “The first stretching from the Arctic Circle down through Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East, and the second along the southern shore of the Mediterranean” (Mortimer, 1992:13). In contrast to the Cold War era, Turkey geopolitically has become a unique country bordering several regions very different from each other and posing different kinds of security challenges:
Its European territories make Turkey a Balkan country. The largest Turkish city and a significant proportion of its population and industry is located in this area. For historical, religious and ethnic reasons Turkey has strong ties to the Balkans.
Turkey is also a Black Sea country. Since the end of the Cold War, Turkey’s trade and economic cooperation with countries around the Black Sea have been expanding.
Turkey also has close ties to a large number of Muslim and Turkish communities in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Over the last few years Turkey’s relations with these countries have acquired growing political, economic, and security importance.
Finally, Turkey is a Middle Eastern country whose security as well as stability and prosperity have become intimately tied up with developments in the Middle East.
The paper has four sections. The first explores the relationship between Turkish security and Middle East developments. The second offers a brief assessment of the evolution of Turkish security policy toward the Middle East. The third examines the duality in Turkish policy toward the Middle East since the arrival of the Islamic Refah party to power in coalition with the conservative True Path Party. The last section outlines the present Turkish national defense strategy regarding the Middle East.
Middle Eastern challenges to Turkish security:
At present, the main threat to Turkish national defense comes from the armed activities of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in its campaign to establish an independent breakaway Kurdish state. Over 21,000 people have died in this conflict and many more have been displaced. As a result a large portion of Turkey’s military assets have been redeployed in southeastern Anatolia, a factor that may affect Turkey’s ability to deter external attacks (Ozel, 1995:182). Combatting the PKK puts an immense drain on Turkey’s scarce resources. A report commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Office estimated that in the last six years $48 billion has been spent on this conflict (Yeni Yuzyil, 16 November 1996). This situation is aggravated by the logistical and political support the PKK receives from neighboring countries (Kirisci and Winrow, 1996).
The PKK has used the situation of Kurdish self-rule in northern Iraq to launch operations into Turkey. In turn the Turkish military has mounted incursions there trying to destroy PKK camps (Kirisci, 1996). These attacks have complicated Turkey’s relations with Kurdish groups in the area and brought international criticism. Trying to diffuse this criticism, the Turkish government has renewed the mandate of Operation Provide Comfort (OPC) every six months, despite criticism in Turkey that the OPC was being used to help establish a Kurdish state in northern Iraq.
PKK operations originating from Iran also adversely affect Iran-Turkish relations. Turkish authorities frequently accused Iran of giving the PKK logistic support and encouraging its attacks inside Turkey. Iran reject these accusations, but continued PKK attacks in areas adjacent to the border have frequently brought tensions between the two countries. It has even been rumored that a frustrated Turkish government considered a military attack on PKK bases in Iran in May 1995.(1) In April 1996 a major crisis occurred when both countries exchanged accusations of espionage and support for terrorism. The new Turkish Prime Minister and leader of the Islamic Refah party, Necmettin Erbakan’s efforts and enthusiasm to improve relations with Iran ran against bureaucratic and public objections. In August the Prime Minister was loudly criticized for visiting a country supporting anti-Turkish terrorism. Similarly, in December 1996 during Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s visit, the Turkish Prime Minister desire to reach a defense cooperation agreement with Iran was preempted by the General Staff and Defense Minister Turhan Tayan, from the True Path Party.
Turkey’s relations with Syria has also been adversely affected by accusations of Syrian support for the PKK; a dispute over sharing Euphrates water and Syrian opposition to building dams on the river as part of the Southeast Anatolia Project. Further, Syrian irredentist claims over Hatay province in 1995 became an additional source of tension. Reports of close Greek-Syrian defense cooperation, accompanied by Syria granting Greece landing rights for its military planes, attracted heated criticism from Turkish officials. Concern over this cooperation led a prominent retired Turkish diplomat, Shukru Elekdag, to argue that Turkey should base national defense strategy on an ability to fight two and a half wars: against Greece, Syria, and the PKK. (Elekdag, 1996).
Elekdag’s scenario came close to reality in mid-1996. Turkey and Syria amassed troops along the border after Syrian claims that Turkey was behind a series of bomb attacks in Syrian cities. This coincided with tense Turkish-Greek relations over the islands of Imea/Kardak which nearly brought war in January/February. In April tension resurfaced after a Greek patrol boat fired on a Turkish fishing boat and the Greek government withdrew from a foreign ministers’ meeting scheduled for June to seek ways to diffuse tensions. These events coincided with a big military operation in May against the PKK, including an incursion into northern Iraq.
Aside from these issues, the sophisticated military abilities of neighboring Middle Eastern countries and their war-making record constitute an important threat to Turkish national security. The fact that Iran and Syria have surface-to-surface missiles capable of delivering mass destruction weapons and reports of Iran’s effort to acquire a nuclear capability are serious sources of concern (Lesser and Tellis, 1996; Egeli, 1993). Turkey’s population centers, dams, power stations, air bases, and military headquarters are within range of these missile systems (Karaosmanoglu, 1995:15).
Presently, Iraq does not constitute an immediate military threat to Turkey. Yet most Turkish decisionmakers still vividly recall Saddam Hussein’s belligerent posture against the visiting Turkish Prime Minister, Yildirim Akbulut, only three months before invading Kuwait. Saddam Hussein had told him “NATO is disintegrating. Your friend, the United States is loosing power…. Nobody listens to the US anymore. She cannot help you” (Quoted in Ozel, 1995: endnote 39). Given Turkey’s critical role in getting Iraq out of Kuand establishing a safe haven for Kurds north of the 36th parallel, an Iraq armed with sophisticated weaponry will continue to constitute a major threat to Turkey. Hence, both wider security reasons as well as the terrorist challenge and Kurdish question show how far Turkish security has become intermingled with the policies of neighboring Middle Eastern countries.
The Gulf crisis’s economic consequences also adversely affected Turkey and especially the southeastern provinces. As a result of the economic embargo on Iraq, Turkey lost a great deal of trade. Turkish exports to the Middle East dropped from 23 percent of overall exports in 1989 to 16 percent in 1994.(2) Turkey also lost the revenue from the Kerkuk-Yumurtalik oil pipeline. In December 1996, the government put the loss at approximately $30 billion. A fleet of more than 40.000 trucks fell idle, also reducing employment in southeastern Turkey.(3) This aggravated problems which contributed to the Kurdish rebellion.
The UN Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 986 in April 1995 allowed a partial lifting of the embargo on Iraq. But only in December 1996 was the oil pipeline reopened after more than six years. The resolution let Iraq export for 6 months $2 billion of oil, almost half transported through this pipeline. Turkey is also expected to benefit from the sale of humanitarian goods to Iraq (Yeni Yuzyil, 17 December 1996). Turkish-Syria tension, however, has not only damaged a once buoyant border trade but also closed routes for more trade between Turkey, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Table 2: Turkish Crude Oil (1994) and Natural Gas (1995)
|Imports (Metric Tons)|
Source: T.C. Petrol Isleri Genel Mustesarligi Dergisi (39), p. 60 and statistics supplied by BOTAS (3 January 1997).
Meanwhile, as its economy expands Turkey’s dependence on external energy sources is increasing. Turkey presently buys most of its crude oil from Middle Eastern countries (see Table 1). This is likely to continue until Caspian and Central Asian oil can reach Turkey. Turkey purchases most of its natural gas from Russia and smaller quantities in liquified form is imported from Algeria and Australia. Turkey’s projected demand for natural gas for the year 2225 is expected to reach 63 million cubic meters. The government seems determined to diversify and increase its supplies. Iran and Iraq are the best potential suppliers. In August Turkey signed a $23 billion agreement with Iran to build a natural gas pipeline. In December an agreement was signed to bring natural gas from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran. During the Middle East and North African Economic Summit in Cairo a deal was signed with Egypt to buy liquidified natural gas. An unstable, insecure Middle East would raise prices and reduce access to energy resources.
All these economic and security reasons demonstrate the intimate way Turkey’s national interests are linked with Middle East developments. Evolution of Turkish Policy toward the Middle East:
In the 1950s there was a brief period when Turkey was actively involved in Western efforts to blow Soviet influence from the Middle East by building a pro-Western Baghdad Pact and the Central Treaty Organization (McGhee, 1990). Such an activist policy drew reactions from Soviet-leaning Arab regimes which saw Turkey as a Western agent. After Iraq’s monarchy fell in 1958 and the Baghdad Pact collapsed, Turkish foreign policy turned away from regional involvement (Robins, 1991:65-66). The short-lived activism had coincided with domestic political changes as a new political elite sought to prove its Western credentials and mobilize support for a perceived Soviet threat. (Bagci, 1994:89-90).
Until roughly the early 1970s Turkey maintained balanced relations with Arab countries and Israel. The consequences of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, a growing sense of isolation on the Cyprus issue, and desire to mobilize Islamic countries’s support coupled with the growth of the Islamic National Salvation Party brought about a gradual change toward closer relations with Arab countries and greater support for the Palestinian cause (Aykan, 1993). The 1973 oil price hikes brought added pressure to expand commercial relations with oil-rich Arab countries. Turkish construction companies made their debut in Libya and began to expand activities in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. The new Likud government in Israel in 1977 and its policies on Lebanon and the occupied territories culminated in the downgrading of Turkish-Israel diplomatic relations. Simultaneously, Turkey developed closer relations with the PLO despite the latter’s close ties with Armenian and left-wing terrorist organizations operating against Turkey.
The 1980s brought significant changes. Prime Minister and President Turgut Ozal developed an increasingly activist approach to relations with the Middle East (Ozal, 1996). In the early 1980s, he enhanced bilateral relations with conservative Arab countries of the Gulf as well as radical Middle Eastern states such as Libya, Iraq and Iran. He helped mobilize Turkish business interest in the region while attracting Arab capital to Turkey. Turkey’s economic relations with the Middle East grew quickly (Robins, 1991). As the Southeastern Anatolian Project advanced he tried to allay Syrian fears and improve relations by promising Syria in 1987 a minimum water flow 500 cubic meters per second from the Euphrates.
In 1986 he introduced the idea of a “peace-pipeline” to carry water across the Middle East to encourage peacemaking. Four years later, he urged the Turkey’s parliament to adopt a much more active foreign policy toward the Middle East. He ensured support for UN sanctions against Iraq and authorized the Allies to use Turkish military facilities. This policy generated considerable criticism in Turkey and even led to the resignation of Chief of Staff Necip Torumtay, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Bozer, and Defense Minister Sefa Giray. Rather than retreat in the face of opposition, Ozal, in a major departure from established Turkish policy, entered in March 1991 into a dialogue with Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq who had rebelled against Saddam Hussein. He played a critical role in persuading the Allies to create a safe haven in northern Iraq and launch Operation Provide Comfort to ensure the repatriation of approximately 500,000 refugees (Kirisci, 1993).
These developments reflected, at least on the part of Ozal’s and his supporters, a bold determination to become involved in Middle Eastern affairs. However, this did not last for very long. Firstly, the “peace pipeline” project never materialized due to regional mistrust and Arab fear of becoming dependent on Turkish water (Gruen, 1993:198; Kut, 1993:481-482). Second, Turkey’s role in expelling Iraq from Kuwait was not well appreciated by the Arab world and contrary to government efforts and expectations failed to ensure a place for Turkey in getting the Arab-Israeli peace process started (Gruen, 1993:189). Third, the USSR’s collapse and ensuing geopolitical changes diverted Turkey’s attention toward the Balkans, Black Sea, Caucasus and Central Asia (Kirisci, 1995).
Further, the sanctions on Iraq not only closed the lucrative Iraqi market to Turkish business but also undermined Turkey’s comparative advantage in supplying Gulf states with fresh and processed agricultural products. Thisimportant trade loss diverted many companies to new markets in former socialist countries, disbanding a major constituency pushing for closer relations with the Middle East. Lastly, with Ozal’s death in 1993, Turkish foreign policy toward the Middle East reverted to its old shy, conservative nature. This was very much reflected in the cancellation of the visit to Israel by Foreign Minister, Hikmet Cetin in July 1993 when Israel mounted attacks on southern Lebanon.
The positive climate created by the September 1993 Israeli-PLO agreement and the Labor-led Israeli government’s commitment to peace helped the Turkish government adopt a more independent policy towards Israel. Hikmet Cetin’s visit took place in November followed by the visits of Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, in November 1994 and President Suleyman Demirel in March 1996. This was the first time top-level Turkish officials visited Israel since diplomatic relations began in 1949. These visits were reciprocated by the Israeli Foreign and Prime Minister as well as the Israeli President. Relations expanded quickly as did trade. Israeli and Turkish officials in informal talks even began discussing how the two countries could cooperate in exporting democracy to the region.
This conspicuous improvement in Israeli-Turkish relations was accompanied by greater dynamism in Turkish foreign policy toward Israel’s Arab neighbors and commitment to support the Arab-Israeli peace process. Turkey became active in the Multilateral Working Group on Arms Control and Regional Security. In May 1993 it was given the task to guide the workshop on Military Exchanges of Information and Prenotification of Certain Military Activities. Turkey gave $2 million aid and pledged a $50 million credit to the Palestinians. At the October 1994 Casablanca economic summit it proposed a regional bank to facilitate economic activity. Relations with Egypt and Jordan improved and expanded in a significant way. In contrast to the Cold War era frequent top-level visits were exchanged between these countries. These developments led a prominent Turkish journalist on foreign affairs, Sami Kohen, to speculate about an emerging political alliance between Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Turkey supported by the United States. (4)
In spite of these positive developments, sensitivities and divisions in Middle East politics imposed limits on Turkish involvement. The enthusiasm over economic cooperation was disappointed and Turkey’s participation at the Amman and Cairo economic summits was more subdued. Similarly, Turkey has not yet delivered the pledged $50 million in credits to the Palestinians. In spite of Yasir Arafat’s personal request to President Demirel, to provide 60 election monitors for the Palestinian elections in January 1996, only 4 were sent. In December the Palestinian envoy in Turkey, Fuad Yaseen, complained that there was not greater Turkish involvement in support of the peace process (TDN, 30 December 1996).
The February 1996 Turkey-Israel military cooperation agreement caused an major uproar in the Arab public opinion and drew strong criticisms from governments, especially Egypt as well as Iran. The Syrian government accused Turkey of inciting disturbances in Syria in May and saw a major strategic threat from Israeli-Turkish military cooperation. Tension between the two countries led to troop build-ups along the frontier during June 1996. The situation was further aggravated when Iran offered to Syria a military pact similar to the one between Turkey and Israel (Turkish Daily News (TDN), 21 June 1996). The situation somewhat eased after formation of a coalition government between the Islamic Refah and conservative True Path Party.
The policy preferred by the new Prime Minister and Refah leader, Necmettin Erbakan, is in marked contrast from previous governments. When in opposition Erbakan had promised to scrap the military agreement with Israel and replace traditional Turkish foreign policy with one emphasizing relations with Islamic countries with a view to establishing an Islamic common market and what he termed an Islamic NATO (Erbakan, 1995:58-61). Internal politics compelled him not only to keep the military agreement with Israel but also authorize in December 1996 an additional one for upgrading Turkish F-4 fighter planes. He also ratified in January 1997 the free trade treaty with Israel signed in March 1996 (Yeni Yuzyil, 11 January 1997).
He has continued to try to implement increasing economic cooperation among Islamic countries by launching the idea of establishing a group called the D-8 composed of Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. The foreign ministers of these eight countries met in January in Istanbul to formalize its establishment. His ideas have been criticized as unrealistic given that existing cooperation schemes such as the Economic Cooperation Organization and Islamic Conference Organization have achieved little. Many have argued that his ideas are mostly for domestic political consumption.
Erbakan’s emphasis on building relations with Islamic states was evident in two foreign tours he took soon after coming to office. In August he visited Islamic countries in Asia followed by an October African tour. The fact that he went to radical Islamic countries such as Iran and Libya–Sudan was dropped at the last moment–generated considerable controversy in Turkey as well as in the West. Although pragmatic considerations welcomed the signing of a $23 billion natural gas deal Erbakan’s readiness to ignore Iran’s support for the PKK generated strong criticisms in Turkey. In December, Erbakan’s enthusiasm for an Iranian-Turkish defense cooperation agreement during Rafsanjani’s visit was blocked by the military and his coalition partners. His meeting with Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi in October triggered a major government crisis. Gaddafi’s remark that Turkey should not impede Kurdish independence brought a censure motion in parliament which the government defeated by a vote of 275 to 256 (Yeni Yuzyil, 17 October 1996).
Erbakan’s visits to Iran and Libya plus his close relations with radical, violent Islamic opposition groups such as FIS, Hamas, Hizbullah and the Muslim Brotherhood explains also why he was not well received in Cairo during his Africa tour. When Egypt’s president’s visited Turkey in July, Erbakan urged Mubarak to tolerate the Muslim Brotherhood. Mubarak told Erbakan that members of the Muslim Brotherhood had committed murders and that he could have them in Turkey if he liked them so much (TDN, 16 July 1996). Nonetheless, Erbakan held a meeting in Turkey with Muslim Brotherhood leader Hasan al-Bana in August. His decision to invite representatives of radical groups to Refah’s fifth Party Congress in October 1996 did not improve the climate.
Erbakan’s policies caused considerable concern in the country and conflict with the two traditionally important players in foreign and security policymaking: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the military. The Ministry’s general approach is characterized by pragmatism, conservatism and a pro-Western stance.
The military’s influence on security issues is usually exercised via the National Security Council (NSC), composed of the President, the Prime Minister, some cabinet members, the Chief of General Staff and the serving force commanders (Hale, 1994:290-91). The government tends to go along with its decisions. (Soysal, 1993:37; Ozcan, 1994:302-6). The NSC has been influential on policies concerning terrorism, Operation Provide Comfort, northern Iraq, relations with Turkey’s neighbors and the Armenian-Azeri conflict. The military has strongly advocated close relations with Israel and operates as a powerful lobby in this area.
The Foreign Ministry and military’s influence was clear after the formation of the new coalition government between the Islamic Refah and the conservative True Path (DYP) parties in June 1996. They played a very important role in persuading Erbakan, to reconsider his opposition to the U.S.-led military force based in southern Turkey tenforce the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. Erbakan was left in the embarrassing position of having to force his party to accept a U-turn and vote to extend the OPC’s mandate as well as to accept continued close relations with Israel including implementing the military cooperation agreement. The military forced Refah members of parliament to withdraw their opposition to the $6.3 billion defense budget in December.
The Foreign Ministry also advised against Erbakan’s visit on short notice to Egypt and his plans to visit Libya and Sudan on the grounds that both countries were widely recognized as supporting terrorism. After Erbakan went to Libya and was discomfited by Qadhafi’s remarks on the Kurds, the Ministry recalled Turkey’s Ambassador in Libya. However, he put the Ministry in an awkward situation by ordering a vote against a UN resolution critical of Iranian human rights abuses in December. A confrontation between Refah and the Ministry was also evident when Refah floated the idea of making Arabic a compulsory language for Turkish diplomats as well as obliging diplomats to fulfill their religious duties.
It is possible to argue that efforts to develop economic links with Iran may encourage moderation. Alongside an internal struggle between hard liners and pragmatists, Iran’s economy suffered deeply from the war with Iraq and the regime’s inept policies. Per capita income was halved between 1979-1989 (Hashim: 1995:10). There is growing recognition of a need for Western technology and investments (Hashim, 1995: Halliday:1994; Amuzegar, 1992). Turkey is critical for Iran’s trade with the West; while Iran could help supply Turkey’s energy needs both directly and as a route for bringing in Central Asian oil. But internationally Iran continues to be considered a state backing terrorism and, despite Refah’s efforts, there is still a general belief among the Turkish public, military and bureaucracies that Iran backs the PKK.
Erbakan’s policies has also been a source of concern for Palestinian leaders who have noted the prominence with which Hamas and Hizbullah representatives were received at Refah’s Party Congress. Many Refah officials do not consider the PLO and Arafat to represent the Palestinian people and have criticized the PLO-Israeli peace process. Anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist arguments have become standard in Refah political discourse and have frequently acquired antisemitic tones as well (Balim, 1996). The fact that the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s letter of congratulation and request for a meeting went unanswered reflects Refah and Erbakan’s position on Israel.
It is hard to see how a policy based on expanding relations with radical groups at the cost of offending governments who are trying to resolve their differences through negotiations can help regional security and stability or aid Turkey’s interests.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tansu Ciller, together with President Demirel continue to follow a more traditional approach emphasizing Turkey’s commitment to relations with the West and aspirations to integrate with Europe. Erbakan has yet to travel to the West and in December 1996 turned down an invitation to take part at a dinner given at the end of the European Union’s prime ministers’ meeting in Dublin. While Refah’s leadership of the government, however, does diversify the Turkish foreign policy agenda, it would be wrong to expect a major change of Turkish foreign policy. Structural, institutional and domestic political factors block such a shift.
Turkish National Defense Strategy:
Turkish defense strategy assumes Middle East countries would be deterred from attacking since that would invoke a NATO response. Article 5 of the Washington Treaty of April 1949 establishing NATO, committed member countries to defend any member facing aggression. In October 1951 it was extended to cover armed attacks “on the territory of Turkey.” At the same time, Turkey has a credible ability to defend its territory should deterrence fail, with a large army, a large part of its budget dedicated to defense, and receiving Western, especially U.S., military aid.
The Cold War’s end engendered insecurity among Turkish decision makers as Turkey’s strategic importance for the West seemed to diminish (Sezer, 1992). This concern coincided with the rejection of Turkey’s application for membership to the European Union and was aggravated by Iraq’s increasingly belligerent behavior towards Turkey over sharing waters of the Euphrates river. The Turkish decision to support UN sanctions against Iraq and shut down the Kerkuk-Yumurtalik oil pipeline following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait raised questions about potential Iraqi aggression toward Turkey and whether NATO would be committed to defend Turkey.
The matter was tested when Turkey asked for the deployment of units from NATO’s multinational rapid-reaction force in Turkey against Iraq (Brown, 1991:47). German reluctance to support this demand provoked bitter reactions in Turkey, which accused Germany of being an unreliable ally. However, in January 1991 additional NATO units arrived. This development together with the Patriot missiles’ deployment against potential Iraqi Scud attacks came as a relief. Although as Hale notes the NATO forces’ presence was “the most powerful deterrent facing Saddam Hussein, and illustrated the value of Turkey’s membership of NATO” (Hale, 1992:685), the experience left a bitter taste in decision-making circles.
Any sense of relief on credibly relying on NATO was short- lived. As Snyder notes a combination of factors including “a reduced US presence in and commitment to Europe’s security, lack of Western resolve in addressing the Balkan crisis, and an increasingly visible and aggressive Russian military presence in the Caucasus region, suggest to Turkey that its iron-clad links to NATO and the west are more fragile than they have been in several decades” (1996:179).(5) The discomfort felt was reflected in Ciller’s declaration at a meeting of the Western European Union (WEU) in November that Turkey would veto use of NATO forces in Combined Joint Task Forces (CJTFs) run by the WEU.
In June NATO members had accepted the possibility of CJTFs run by WEU using NATO assets. Turkey is only an associate member of WEU and Greece has blocked it from gaining full membership. In June the Turkish parliament rejected Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz’s request to send Turkish troops to a WEU military exercise to be held in Portugal. Kamran Inan, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs from the opposition Motherland Party argued, “Why should Turkey contribute to the defense of Europe if there is no guarantee that WEU would come to the defense of Turkey” (Cumhuriyet, 13 June 1996). At the same time Mumtaz Soysal, another former Minister of Foreign Affairs but from the Democratic Left Party, found it unacceptable that Turkey was treated as a European country only when it comes to ensuring Europe’s security and defense but not the other way around (Ibid.).
U.S.-Turkish defense relations too have suffered recently raising questions among Turkish decision makers about the reliability of that alliance. During the course of 1996 effective lobbying in the Congress by human rights organizations and by ethnic Armenian and Greek groups culminated in the U.S. aid to Turkey being cut, including suspension of the transfer of 2 frigates and 10 Super Cobra helicopters to Turkey. The U.S. administration inability to get the transfer of these arms through Congress caused considerable bitterness in military circles. This delay is especially of concern since the generals consider Cobra helicopters to be of vital importance in fighting the PKK. The government withdrew its order in November and to consider domestic production or alternate sources of supply.
In trying to deter possible aggression, and contrary to its NATO allies, Turkish defense expenditure has been steadily increasing. Between 1982 and 1991 they rose by 4 percent while the equivalent for European NATO states was only 0.6 percent (Senesen, 1994:12). This trend co. After Greece, Britain and the United States, Turkey had the largest defense budget in proportion to its GDP in 1994 (The Military Balance, 1995:39). According to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Turkey was the world’s sixth largest arms importer for 1994 (TDN, 5 July 1996). The General Staff has estimated that Turkish armed forces will need $150 billion for its weapon and modernization requirements in the next 25 years (TDN, 5 April 1996; 22 August 1996).
There are several reasons for this high level of expenditure. During the Cold War, Turkey maintained a large standing army and bought U.S. weapons systems. However, the U.S. arms embargo imposed on Turkey between 1974-78 as a result of Turkey’s intervention in Cyprus created an urgency to develop local defense industry. This was reinforced by a determination to modernize an army that still used some equipment of World War Two vintage. Since the late 1980s the defense industry has been built up and now produces weapon systems including surface-to-air missiles, submarines and ships, tracked armored vehicles, and transport planes. The most prestigious product is the F-16 fighter plane. Since 1987, 199 units have been manufactured of which 46 were exported to Egypt (TDN, 22 August 1996). In 1996, Israel helped upgrade 54 F-4s in Israel and 34 F-5s in Turkey (Ibid.).
Other factors prompting an emphasis on arms spending include the Gulf war, instability in the Caucasus, the return of Russia’s military to Turkey’s border, the PKK insurgency, high spending by neighbors, and the acquisition by some of them of missiles and weapons of mass destruction (Ozmucur, 1996:218). Turkey was slow to respond to the possession of these new weapons by Middle Eastern neighbors (Lesser and Tellis, 1996:21). Turkey lacks surface-to- surface missiles and has based its strategy on detecting and retaliating against missile launching sites in neighboring countries. In this context, it bought U.S. KC-135 tanker aircraft, due to begin arriving in late 1997. Meanwhile, it leases U.S. tanker aircraft and negotiates the possible purchase of U.S. early- warning planes. There are also plans to coproduce with Israel Popeye II precision guided missiles with a 150-mile-range that can be launched from F-16 and F-4s. Presently, the punitive strategy relies solely on F-16 aircraft.
Turkey’s approach to the Middle East should be a pragmatic one based on encouraging economic and functional cooperation. Turkey has already demonstrated such an approach in respect to the Black Sea region. The policies to be adopted ought to make the former Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hikmet Cetin’s remark (Cetin: 1992:9), “The surest way for nations to advance as peace-loving, politically stable partners is sustained economic development and increasing welfare” applicable to the Middle East. Turkey could start by enhancing both economic and political cooperation among a group like-minded countries who have already achieve a certain degree of political and economic liberalization domestically. Ultimately, the objective would be to encourage the emergence of “democratic peace” in the region (Carkoglu et al., 1997).
- See the Turkish-language weekly Tempo, no. 18, 1 May 1996.
- Calculated from Directions of Trade Statistics Yearbook (IMF, 1991) for figures in 1989 and from figures for 1994 obtained from the Undersecretariat of Treasury and Foreign Trade in Ankara.
- Information from interview with Serif Egeli, Chairman of the Turkish-Jordanian and Turkish-Pakistan Business Councils and former Chairman of Foreign Trade Association of Turkey, 11 October 1996.
- S. Kohen in Milliyet, 9 May 1996, p. 19. For similar views, see Mufti (1996).
- A similar view is shared by Lesser (1995:23).
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Kemal Kirisci is a professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Bogazici University, Istanbul. During the academic year 1997/98, he taught courses on Middle Eastern politics and international relations at the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota. His publications include Turkey and the Kurds: An Example of a Trans-State Ethnic Conflict (co-authored with G. Winrow) (Frank Cass, London, 1997) and The PLO and World Politics, (Frances Pinters, London, 1986). His most recent book co-authored with two other colleagues The Political Economy of Cooperation in the Middle East has just been published by Routledge of London.