Turkey and NATO’s Missile Defense Shield Initiative

Tar?k O?uzlu
Turkey’s relations with the West might deteriorate in the days ahead if Turkey and its partners within NATO could not agree on a consensus formula concerning the installment of some parts of missile-defense capabilities on Turkish territory.
At issue are the modalities of Turkey’s participation in the US-led missile-defense project.  This was first proposed by the former US president Bush and later revised by Obama administration in such a way to help lessen Russia’s suspicions. Lately, NATO’s Secretary General Rasmussen made it clear that NATO should have this capability as part of Alliance’s new strategic identity/mission.
From the very beginning, Turkey has been considered the most appropriate site for the radar stations to be deployed. Due to Turkey’s proximity to Iran, Turkey’s cooperation has been considered vital for the success of the whole project.
It seems that in the run-up to the NATO’s summit meeting in Lisbon on November 19-20, 2010, Turkey will be increasingly exposed to pressures not to scuttle the project by denying the Alliance the right to use Turkish territory.
Looking to the issue from Turkey’s perspective though, some preconditions need to be met for Turkey to approve the entire project. First, Iran should not be explicitly named within NATO’s new strategy document as the major threat to the security of the allies. The installment of the missile-defense capability should be justified in more general terms without mentioning any particular country in advance. Second, the costs of this project should be shared among allies equally. Third, this capability, if deployed, should protect the entire territory of the Turkish Republic, rather than serve as a shield only against Iran’s alleged ballistic defense capabilities. Fourth, NATO should do its best to secure Russia’s non-resistance to this project, if not full cooperation.  All such preconditions appear to suggest that Turkey now takes an utmost care to help avoid the negative consequences of this project on her improving relations with Iran and Russia.
Worth mentioning in this context is that Turkey has in recent years adopted a very cautious approach concerning some issues on the agenda of NATO’s transformation. Of all, NATO’s enlargement towards Ukraine and Georgia, NATO’s transformation into a global policeman and the NATOization of the Black Sea region attracted Turkey’s opposition the most. Turkey’s benchmark on such issues has been how such developments would impact her relations with Russia and Islamic countries around the globe.
This particular stance on the issues concerning NATO’s transformation should be interpreted within the framework of the general change in Turkish foreign policy. ‘Gone’ is Turkey’s automatic following of the Western leadership with a particular view of helping prove Turkey’s western identity. ‘In’ is Turkey’s growing determinism to help improve her relations with neighbors as well as crate a regional order in the image of Turkey’s national interests. The material changes at the systemic regional and internal levels have undoubtedly helped produce a conducive environment for such changes to take place in Turkish foreign policy understanding. The more Turkey adopted an ‘Ankara-centric’ world view, the more its approach towards its long-time allies in the West reflected caution, prudence and suspicions. Such Turkish stance has also been impacted by the growing reluctance of the Europeans to offer Turkey credible membership prospects inside the European Union.
That said, any potential crisis between Turkey and other members of the Alliance on the missile-defense issue will likely embolden those who have been arguing for a long time that there has now been a shift of axis in Turkish foreign policy and Turkey has finally turned its face away from the West. Deteriorating relations with Israel in the post-Davos era, Turkey’s active engagement of Hamas and Besir’s regime in Sudan and Turkey’s recent ‘no’ vote in the UN Security Council concerning the sanctions on Iran have been the prime examples cited thus far. A potential Turkish opposition to this NATO project will offer a new example in this context.
My expectation is that both Turkey and other members of the Alliance, most notably the United States, will increase their efforts to reach a consensus on this issue by the time the Alliance summit convenes in Lisbon next month, for ongoing security cooperation within NATO still serve their interest. It would be too risky an action to take on the part of Turkey and other allies to scuttle this project. Otherwise, not only will suspicions on Turkey’s new direction get strengthened but also the Alliance will fail to protect itself against the dangers of proliferation of ballistic missile capabilities.

»» Associate Professor Dr. Tar?k O?uzlu, Bilkent University Department of International Relations


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