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December 6, 2010
Summary: At the end of the Lisbon Summit, almost all of Ankara’s primary concerns were addressed, including not naming Iran or Syria as threats to obtain ballistic missile capability. As a result, Turkey went along with all the decisions taken collectively by the Alliance. The Lisbon summit proved that Turkey is firmly anchored in the Western security and defense community of democratic countries and that Turkey’s strategic Westernness appears alive and well, despite some hiccups. As for its sociopolitical Westernness, devoid of a forceful EU anchor, the energy and stamina to build it will have to be generated by Turkey’s inner resources.
NATO Summit: Implications for Turkish Foreign Policy
by Soli Özel
To the disappointment of some and the relief of others, Turkey did not emerge as the game-changer at NATO’s Lisbon summit in November. In the end, Ankara did address almost all of its primary concerns. The Turkish government made its position clear in the buildup to the summit: Iran or Syria would not be named as threats to obtain ballistic missile capability. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu played down the notion that Turkey’s neighbors pose a danger to its NATO allies. “We do not have a perception of threat in our adjacent areas including Iran, Russia, and Syria and the other adjacent countries,” he said. “NATO should exclude any formula that confronts Turkey with a group of countries in its threat definitions and planning…We do not want a Cold War zone or psychology around us.” Turkey did not want to be used as a flank or frontline state in a potential new Cold War, he added. The government was also intent on ensuring that the proposed missile defense system would cover all of Turkey. Some journalists close to Turkish officials raised the question whether information collected by the system would be shared with Israel. That concern, along with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s eleventh-hour intervention demanding that Turkey “have the finger on the button” of the missiles deployed on its territory, were primarily directed at the domestic audience. After the summit, the Prime Minister acknowledged that NATO would be in control of the system. Reports suggested that the Defense Ministry was content with the proposed system, which it believed would help solve Turkey’s ballistic defense problem. The United States’ involvement would reduce the cost Turkey would incur for the deployment of its own anti-ballistic system. In fact, most in the foreign policy and security establishment were in favor of missile defense and had no particular problems with the new Strategic Concept. Discussion of costs and financial assistance, however, has been left for a later date, a point muted by enthusiasm about the system. For the most part, Ankara emerged successful. The government could tell its anxious base that the Alliance’s position did not violate its “zero problems with neighbors” principle. Conveniently, many details about the proposed missile defense were left to be sorted out at subsequent meetings. Turkey’s behavior at the Lisbon summit revealed a country choosing to remain firmly anchored in the Western security and defense community. The choice must have been difficult but clear. It signals that the autonomous role Turkey had painstakingly made for itself in the region over the last few years will be more restricted than anticipated or desired.
OFFICES Washington, DC • Berlin • Paris • Brussels BelgraDe • ankara • BuCharest
There were two main reasons Turkey objected to naming countries that pose a threat. The first was domestic public opinion, which is increasingly permissive of the Iranian nuclear program and less supportive of NATO. The government was afraid of facing fierce opposition, particularly from its core constituency, to a program perceived to take an aggressive stance against yet another Muslim country. At the moment of reckoning, the government chose its alliance commitments over domestic political expediency. In order to market this move at home, the government presented as the primary bone of contention Iran’s specific identification as a threat, rather than acceptance of the missile defense system. So when Iran’s name was kept out of the final document, Turkey could present this as a victory. The other reason Turkey adamantly opposed the naming of threatening countries was the fear that a provoked Iran would redouble its nuclear efforts and seek more advanced missile capabilities, developments that Turkey is loath to see. , Turkey also may have decided the international community’s ongoing containment of Iran were taking their toll and that Tehran might be more accommodating from here on, although this is less clear. This is somewhat related to Israel’s role in the missile defense system. Most everyone in Ankara — indeed in the country — is convinced that Iran does not represent a real threat to NATO members. As such, the missile defense system is likely to be used to help Israel protect itself. geopolitical position, its historical experience. Now she is being properly situated.” In an earlier piece (“The back and forth of Turkey’s Westernness”) I argued that there were two ways of defining the “Westernness” of Turkey, or posing the question about the country’s identity. One considers Turkey’s strategic orientation. In that sense, with the Lisbon summit and the commitment to a new strategic vision for NATO, Turkey’s fundamental strategic choice in favor of Atlanticism has been reconfirmed. The other definition of Westernness is concerned with Turkey’s political character. What kind of country is Turkey likely to be? As I put it then, “Turkey must be a democratic and secular state where rule of law is the supreme value. The challenge for the Turks is whether or not, in this most difficult transition period from a tutelary democracy toward a genuine one…they can forge the institutions and the political structure necessary to get there… Thus, the issue of ‘losing Turkey’ is about the character of the country more so than its strategic orientation.” This is the issue that President Gül addressed. It is therefore not coincidental that the President is also the only principal, apart from chief negotiator Egemen Bağış, who speaks consistently in favor of the EU process and Turkish membership. Turkey’s democratization benefited from the EU accession process. Major accomplishments — such as the phenomenal civilianization of the polity, and major steps taken toward establishing the fundamental tenets of a bona fide democracy — were not exclusively a function of that process. But without the presence of the EU membership framework, dramatic progress in a relatively short time would not have been accomplished. If NATO was Turkey’s institutional anchor in security matters, the EU was its anchor in matters of liberalization, rule of law, higher human rights standards, and democracy. Eleven days prior to NATO’s Lisbon summit, the European Commission published its annual progress report on Turkey. This was the 13th such report prepared for Turkey since 1998 — more than have been created for any other candidate country. As membership remains a distant, if not illusory goal, there will be more reports so long as there are negotiations. The report holds a mirror to Turkey and accurately enumerates its accomplishments and remaining problems, particularly on corruption, due process, and media freedoms. It is more critical
One up, one down
Many observers view the decision to support the Alliance consensus as a strategic choice. It reflects the geopolitical realities of the country and its corresponding sense of belonging. After this summit, these observers say, we can lay to rest the debate over Turkey’s strategic direction and whether or not the country has changed its axis. But President Abdullah Gül turned this decision into one that also encompassed Turkey’s choice for the social and political values that would guide the restructuring of its polity. In an interview given to journalists accompanying him on the trip to Lisbon, President Gül said the following: “Let those who complain about a shift of axis look at the rising values in Turkey. It is the rule of law, democracy and human rights that are ascendant in our country. As our democracy’s deficiencies are addressed, Turkey is becoming a country that inspires those around. There may be those who envy this or are harmed by this. Turkey’s axis was wrong in the past. It did not properly take advantage of its
of the government than any previous Commission report. It gives the impression that from now on the Commission will be more forcefully scrutinizing the Turkish government and its practices. Yet the progress report this year was greeted by the public with yawns and a general shrugging of shoulders. The pro-government press paid scant attention to the report and ignored its critical assessments. In the mainstream press, only the committed took it upon themselves to analyze the report and comment on it. The government — in the person of State Minister and chief negotiator Egemen Bağış — thought the Report “smelled of membership” very soon. But besides Bağış, no other government member seemed to care. In fact, the Commission’s strategy document lamented the fact that the Union was not sending a clear message on membership commitment to Turkey. All of this demonstrates that the EU no longer has the same impact on Turkey’s political development. The public is thoroughly disenchanted with the EU, as is amply demonstrated by the GMF Transatlantic Trends figure showing 38% of Turks who think EU membership would be “a good thing.” So long as the Cyprus issue remains a hindrance, or the sense of double standards and unfair treatment continue to seep into Turkish consciousness, it will be difficult to rekindle the passions of an earlier time. The EU is not in any shape to make the strategic decisions that could clear the path. Yet it may still move on Cyprus, so that negotiations retain a semblance of life. In sum, as the NATO summit demonstrated and reinforced, Turkey’s strategic Westernness appears alive and well, despite some hiccups. Its socio-political Westernness, devoid of a forceful EU anchor, will need to rely on the energy and stamina generated by Turkey’s inner resources.
Soli Özel, Lecturer, Bilgi University; Columnist, Haberturk
Soli Özel teaches at Istanbul Bilgi University’s Department of International Relations and Political Science. He is a columnist for the national daily Haberturk and is senior advisor to the chairman of the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association. Additionally, he is the editor of TUSIAD’s magazine Private View.
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