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by Miriam Awadallah Intern – Transatlantic Security
The European Union has been in negotiations over the admission of Turkey into the organization since the nation submitted its application for full membership twenty-four years ago. A number of issues have arisen over the question of whether or not Turkey fulfills the criteria of a nation suited to be a member of the EU, and these span from whether Turkey can be classified as “European” or rather, “Western,” given its location and cultural background, to various domestic issues within Turkey such as the protection of human rights. In addition, there are several European leaders who are apprehensive about EU enlargement and have expressed an unwillingness to admit additional states into the union. These concerns have fueled a heated debate on the issue of Turkey’s accession to the EU. Yet Turkey has several important contributions that it can bring to the organization in the areas of security and counterterrorism. This owes to its strategic location in Asia Minor, as the nation serves as a connection between Europe and the Middle East; its cultural heritage; and its experience in dealing with homegrown terrorism. Turkey and the EU have both been the victims of terrorist activities, and the two have much to gain from partnering to combat the growing threat of international terrorism.
I. A Brief History of Turkish-Western Relations Europe and Turkey share a long history of cooperation, stretching back to the era of the Ottoman Empire, when the Turks provided military assistance to the French and helped them defeat the Habsburg Monarchy. As a result of their contributions to the French campaign, a lasting cultural and political tie developed that still thrives to this day.1 The twentieth century marked the beginning of the institutionalization of the Turkish-European relationship, with Turkey joining a number of European organizations, beginning with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1963. In 1987, Turkey applied for membership for the first time to the European Union’s predecessor, the European Community (EC), but was rejected due to the fact that the Community was occupied with the integration of its newest members: Spain, Portugal and Greece. The Turkish government did not let this preliminary rejection dissuade it from pursuing integration with Europe, so it continued to cooperate with the West through various other institutions. In 2005, the European Union finally began accession talks with Turkey, showing its strong commitment to eventual Turkish membership in the Union and its appreciation for the assets Turkey would bring to the institution. The
Rana Deep Islam, “The Accession of Turkey to the European Union: Security Implications for Transatlantic Relations,” DIAS-Analyse: 6, accessed October 17, 2011, http://www.dias-online.org/fileadmin/templates/ downloads/DIAS_Analysen/Analyse29.pdf
two have experienced several “ups and downs” in their relationship, but the institutional bonds that developed cemented an important relationship between Europe and Turkey.2 Turkey has historically played a strategically important role for both the United States and Europe, beginning immediately after the Cold War in the case of the US. The Truman Doctrine was a huge step forward in terms of the West ensuring the security of Turkey in order to prevent it from falling into the Soviet sphere of influence, as it pledged American economic and military aid to the nation. The United States did not perceive Turkey as solely useful for maintaining European security, but rather has a greater asset in strengthening US influence in the Middle East in general; after World War I, the US began to develop stronger interests in the oil-abundant region. A strong partnership with Turkey meant that the US would gain the ability to foster closer relationships with various other Middle Eastern nations. Turkey entered the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) – the first military assistance organization in the region, along with Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and the United Kingdom – granting the US greater access to Turkish military facilities. In addition, Turkey proved its strategic importance during the Cold War by permitting the US to install Jupiter nuclear missiles around the city of Izmir, a symbolically
important step that the US took in order to prove to its European allies that it was willing to ensure their security. The approval of such actions is commendable of Turkey as many European nations were fearful to allow the deployment of nuclear weapons on their own soil, concerned that their nations would be the hosts of a major nuclear battlefield as a result.3 Turkey was admitted into Europe’s main security framework, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in 1952, transforming Turkey’s position in the international community. As a member of NATO, Turkey has been able to significantly improve its counterterrorism policy – benefitting the West tremendously. If Turkey, the link between Europe and the Middle East, is able to promote stability domestically and therefore in the region as well, there will be less of a security threat to Europe. Former NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson once remarked on the importance of Turkey to the security alliance, stating that its ability to serve as a model for the Muslim World and integrate into Euro-Atlantic structures gives it the unique ability to influence other nations to adopt
friendlier policies and positions toward the West. Turkey’s accession to the EU would afford the same benefits to the organization.4 Within the NATO framework, Turkey has made significant contributions to various NATO missions, specifically in Afghanistan. Unlike Western nations, Turkey possesses a unique “soft power” in the Middle East and Afghanistan that can aid the West in achieving its goals. This owes to Turkey’s cultural and historical background as a great Muslim power, which has afforded it the ability to develop a unique partnership with countries in the region. The Afghan people trust the Turks in general due to several unique aspects of the Turkish nation, including the fact that they do not share a border with Turkey, and that Turkey has never expressed any imperialistic goals toward Afghanistan as many other nations have in the past.5 The soft power that Turkey has over Afghanistan applies to other Middle Eastern nations as well.
Jennifer Guo, “Turkey’s Accession to the EU: A Mutually Advantageous Future,” Carlton Review of International Affairs 1 (2009): 60, accessed October 17, 2011, http://assets.panda.org/downloads/jhaider_carleton_ review_of_international_affairs_volume1.pdf 5 Ayedmir Erman, “How Turkey Can Help out NATO in Afghanistan,” The Christian Science Monitor, February 9, 2011, accessed October 11, 2011, http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2010/0209/How-Turkeycan-help-NATO-in-Afghanistan
II. Turkey’s Role in the War on Terror Modern terrorism is an extremely attractive form of asymmetric warfare, as it is an inexpensive and very efficient means used to achieve social, political, and strategic goals. As a result, terrorist activities have increased throughout the world in the post-World War II era. It has become an unfortunate part of the international security environment, threatening each community and way of life, and terrorist organizations have been able to use modern technology such as the Internet to spread their propaganda on an unparalleled scale.6 The terrorism plaguing the international community today is characterized by both an ideological and theological fanaticism that preaches hatred of one’s enemy, and terrorist organizations that have adopted this ideology have created a truly deadly threat to their enemies through their combined use of modern warfare, communications, and transportation to launch their attacks. This threatens not only the spread and promotion of democracy globally, but also the health of national and international economic systems, the civil rights of people, and the stability of the state. Terrorism has the potential to destabilize the entire international system as we know it. Therefore, in recent years, it has become necessary for states to
Inan Ozyildiz, “Turkey’s Vision of Combating Terrorism,” Royal United Services Institute (2009);1, accessed October 11, 2011, http://www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/Turkey_terrorism.pdf
cooperate with one another and create strong counterterrorism policies to combat this grave danger.7 Recently, in the post 9/11 era, Turkey has proven itself to be a useful and necessary partner in the war against terrorism. Not only is it in a strategic location, but it has committed itself to combating terrorism in the region and globally. Turkey is one of the key countries demanding the creation of an international alliance against global terrorism, and it played a very active role in development of United Nations Security Council resolution 1373 – an important piece of antiterrorism legislation which aimed to create barriers to the organization and funding of terrorist activities.8 Indeed, Turkey has played an active role in multilateral efforts to combat terrorism, putting its own domestic experience with terrorism to good use. During the period of 2009-2010, Turkey assumed a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council and used it to push one of its main priorities: to develop stronger counterterrorism efforts within the UN framework. The nation has signed and ratified all twelve UN conventions on combating terrorism and has continued to not only support, but also contribute to the work of the UN’s Counter-Terrorism Committee.9
Yonah Alexander, “Some Perspectives on Turkey’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy,” Royal United Services Institute (2009): 4, accessed October 11, 2011, http://www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/Turkey_terrorism.pdf 8 Islam, “The Accession of Turkey to the European Union,” 616. 9 Ozyildiz, “Turkey’s Vision of Combating Terrorism,” 7.
What makes Turkey a truly unique asset to the global fight against terrorism is its experience in dealing with the many aspects of terrorism. It has dealt with many groups, which have included extreme left and right wing movements challenging the Turkish regime. The international terrorist organization Al-Qaeda poses a real threat to Turkey, just as the West is experiencing. Turkey is a nation composed of a majority Muslim population with a democratic and secular society, putting it at odds with the ideology of Al-Qaeda, which advocates a pure Islamic state based on Sharia (Islamic) law. In 2003, Al-Qaeda operatives attacked Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul – the deadliest and most devastating attacks in Turkish history. Ever since these attacks, Turkey has become vigilant about deterring Al-Qaeda and similar groups from operating within its borders. What is important about Turkey’s position on fighting terrorist groups is that it makes no distinction between these organizations, no matter what their goals are or the ideology they espouse. It is the Turkish position that all terrorist groups should be combated with equal determination and that international cooperation can only intensify these efforts, making them more successful.10 Not only is Turkey strategically important in the global fight against terrorism, but it is an ideological asset as well. As mentioned
Yonah, “Some Perspectives on Turkey’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy,” 4.
above, the majority of Turkey’s population is Muslim, and it serves as a model to other Middle Eastern nations due to the fact that it possesses a secular constitution and a democratic form of government. This is crucial to the spread and promotion of democracy throughout the Middle East, as it disproves the common notion that Islam and democracy are incompatible. Perhaps other Middle Eastern governments will adopt Turkey’s form of government as well, allowing for greater cooperation with the West, thus diminishing the threat posed by terrorism globally. Turkey possesses much stronger ties with Middle Eastern nations such as Syria and Iran, which are generally hostile toward the West. Conceivably, Turkey could utilize its ability to foster close relationships with both the West and other Muslim nations to forge deeper ties between the two and promote mutual cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
III. Turkey’s Homegrown Terrorism Turkey understands the importance of a strong counterterrorism policy as it has had to deal with a tremendous amount of terrorism domestically due to the “Kurdish issue.” The Kurds are an ethnic group that can be found in various parts of the Middle East, specifically in Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. They trace their history back to as early as 2400 BC, when they inhabited the same land as they do today.
Although they adopted the Islamic religion after the invasion of the Arabs in the seventh century, they have maintained a distinct culture from their Middle Eastern counterparts – laying down the framework of separatism that would plague them for centuries. When the Allied powers redrew the borders of the Middle East after World War I and II based on their interests, the Kurds were one of the many different groups vying for their own autonomous state. They were denied one due to the fact that the territory that comprises the Kurdish state lies in the oil rich province of Mosul, which the British wanted to maintain its control over. In addition, the Turkish government began limiting the instruction or speaking of Kurdish in public places.11 In 1978, Abdullah Öcalan formed the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), claiming representation of all Kurds in order to establish an autonomous Kurdish state and attain greater political rights for Kurds in Turkey. This raised the larger issue of ethno-nationalism that plagues Turkey today. The PKK epitomizes the greatest threat to Turkey’s security and can be best characterized as a member of a wave of ethno-nationalist terrorism. The organization was founded as a Marxist-Leninist one, and began terrorist operations in 1978 that were divided into three different phases: strategic defense, strategic
“Brief History of Kurdistan,” accessed October 17, 2011, http://www. mtholyoke.edu/~jlshupe/history.html?
balance, and strategic attack.12 During the strategic defense phase, which involved guerrilla activities and armed propaganda, the PKK hoped to defeat the Turkish Armed Forces in South Eastern Turkey, allowing for the attainment of their ultimate goal: a separate Kurdish state. Between 1984 and 2008, the PKK conducted approximately 43,500 terrorist attacks in Turkey, killing 5,669 civilians, 4,967 members of the Turkish armed forces, 1,335 voluntary village guards, and 217 police officers. Members of the civil service were targeted, as they were perceived to be in league with the Turkish government. The PKK believed this would weaken the Turkish state.
The PKK was never able to move past this first phase and this is mostly due to Turkey’s counterterrorism strategy. Turkey adopted a State of Emergency, which allowed its armed forces to assume responsibility for state security. The adoption of several strong pieces of anti-terrorism legislation, which have been deemed controversial by several international organizations due to potential human rights violations, have allowed the Turkish government to combat terrorist activities within its borders. What is important to note about the PKK’s activities and its general lack of success in Turkey is the fact that the PKK is also operating in a number of European countries as well. An
Nihat Ali Ozcan, “PKK Terrorism in Turkey,” Royal United Service Institute, (2009):9, accessed October 17, 2011, http://www.rusi.org/downloads/ assets/Turkey_terrorism.pdf 13 Ibid, 10.
elaborate network was set up in the 1990s, and it has been used to transport terrorists from Turkey into European safe havens, on top of running prostitution rings in order to raise the majority of funds to finance the PKK. This led Turkey, representatives from EU member states, and twelve Mediterranean partners to form the EuroMediterranean Partnership in 1995 after meeting in Barcelona, Spain. It is through this cooperation that Turkey and Europe are able to work as a team to develop efficient strategies on how to handle and combat this form of terrorism, which is becoming more widespread.14
IV. Relations with Hostile States As mentioned above, Turkey maintains relations with a number of Middle Eastern nations that the West considers hostile, specifically Syria and Iran. Both Syria and Iran have promoted and supported terrorist operations against Turkey; Iran has supported extremist groups while Syria has supported activities of the PKK. This relationship has been transformed over the years; neither Tehran nor Damascus condone any form of terrorist activities in Turkey. They now cooperate and even fight against these terrorist groups. Turkey used to avoid involvement in the plethora of issues plaguing the Middle East, but in the 1980s it recognized the importance of its geostrategic
position and the necessity of developing regional policies in accordance with this position. Turkey has attempted to create strong relationships with its neighbors and to cooperate with Iran and Syria in order to alienate the PKK and other extremist organizations in the region. In the case of Syria, the two nations have expanded security cooperation and reached agreements on several issues, including trade, tourism, and cultural cooperation, increasing their interdependence and forging a stronger bond.15 Iran supported terrorism in Turkey due to its revolutionary ideology that sprouted out of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and thus supported the PKK with the intention of destabilizing the regime and transforming Iran into the regional leader. Unfortunately for the Islamic Republic, several different factions of the PKK began operating in Iranian territory, causing the plan to backfire. In 1992, a security agreement was signed which established the Joint Security Committee, which meets every six months and helps promote relations between the Turks and the Kurds. It is this framework of cooperation between Turkey and both Syria and Iran that would deliver a favorable and important contribution to the European security strategy.16
Ihsan Bal, “Turkish Foreign Policy towards Iran and Syria,” Royal United Service Institute (2009): 13, accessed October 17, 2011, http://www.rusi. org/downloads/assets/Turkey_terrorism.pdf 16 Ibid, 14.
Turkish membership in the EU would also afford the latter to access to the intelligence necessary to gain leverage over hostile states. While the EU already cooperates with Turkey on counterterrorism, full membership would lead to added benefits that the union does not have access to at this point in time; intelligence sharing being one of them. Not only do Iran and Syria possess nuclear ambitions, but they have also been deemed state sponsors of terror by funding various organizations such as Hezbollah, which is active in Lebanon, and the Palestinian organization Hamas. Although both nations have attempted to downplay their involvement with terrorist organizations, citing humanitarian assistance in some cases, it is clear that the two support the ideology and movement of these groups and show their appreciation through donations.17 Their activities have prevented the promotion of stability, peace, and democracy throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, and have generally harmed the health of the overall international system. As Turkey maintains relations with these states, the EU can utilize this to gain greater leverage over the two nations and deter their activities.
Country Reports on Terrorism: 2008 – Chapter 2. Country Reports: Middle East and North Africa Overview, prepared by the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, US Department of State (Washington, DC, 2009), http:// www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2008/122433.htm
V. Conclusion Turkish membership into the European Union can only be viewed as a positive from a security perspective. The threat of terrorism rooted in an ideological and religious hatred for the West is rapidly growing and there is a clear need to develop strong counterterrorism policies that will defeat the various organizations that have sprung up in recent years. Turkey is strategically important in the global fight against terrorism, as it serves as a link between the European continent and the Middle East. In addition, Turkey’s experience in dealing with terrorism domestically for over forty years proves that Ankara would be a strong partner in dealing with the looming threat of terrorist activity that hangs over Europe. To develop stronger policies to fight terrorism, the EU needs a member such as Turkey, which possesses both the experience and relationships needed to combat terrorism globally.
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