The crisis in Ukraine, which led to annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, had an immediate impact on the strategic situation across the entire Black Sea region. Russia emerged as a clear beneficiary mostly at the expense of Ukraine. The new situation will now have repercussions for other regional actors, in particular Turkey and Romania, and will lead to the increased involvement of the United States. However, Washington will likely prefer to support Romania over Turkey in an attempt to avoid the creation of a potential Russo-Turkic geopolitical duopoly in the region.
The annexation of Crimea has greatly increased Russia’s strategic footprint in the Black Sea region. From a military perspective, the peninsula can serve as an outpost for extending power projection towards southern Ukraine, the Balkans and Turkey. Now that Moscow’s military presence is no longer constrained by former legal agreements with the Ukrainian side, it can fully utilise the geostrategic potential of Crimea by implementing a broad spectrum of mutually reinforcing instruments. The Iskander surface-to-surface tactical ballistic missile, for example, with a 400 kilometre operational range, could cover the entire southern part of Ukraine – including important industrial cities like Odessa, Kryvyi Rih and Dnipropetrovsk, a large part of Moldova, the entire Romanian coastline and a significant part of the Turkish Black Sea coast. The surface-to-surface systems can be further complemented by long-range, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles providing a full spectrum of capability to strike ground targets, interdict maritime traffic and impose no-fly zones.
The range of power projection can be further extended by employing air and naval assets. The Russian air force, through newly gained access to ex-Ukrainian air bases in Crimea, now has a broader presence covering almost the entire Black Sea coastline, Transnistria and southern Ukraine comfortably within its operational range. It’s worth stressing that the location of the Crimea peninsula makes it a very attractive place for stationing airborne troops, naval infantry and Spetsnaz (special operations forces) for potential deployment in southern Ukraine. The deployment of troops would be further facilitated in the near future by the acquisition of Mistral amphibious assault ships, of which one is to be allocated to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The annexation of Crimea has also radically improved the capabilities of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. It has now gained unimpeded access to the Sevastopol naval base alongside an entire ex-Ukrainian naval infrastructure on the peninsula.
Before the Crimean crisis, the Black Sea Fleet had two cruisers, one destroyer, two frigates, ten corvettes and one diesel-powered submarine and constituted a major naval power in the region. Its potential was only exceeded by the Turkish Navy which splits its forces between the Black Sea and the Aegean and Mediterranean theatres. The potential of the Black Sea Fleet will be further increased after completion of an ambitious modernisation programme which will add six new frigates, six new submarines, a Mistral amphibious assault ship and several other smaller vessels. Assuming no radical changes to the naval potential of other countries in the region, the Russian Black Sea Fleet will soon equal or be greater than the combined fleets of all the other Black Sea coastal states.
Apart from the increase in its offensive capabilities, Russia will also see its defensive posture strengthen. Crimea offers Russia a strong forward defence point, particularly against potential air and sea incursions into the south-western regions of the Russian Federation. Anti-ship and anti-aircraft capabilities of Black Sea Fleet complemented by similar land-based systems on the peninsula will together create a strong line of defence ahead of the Russian mainland.
Consequences of the crisis have been almost entirely negative for Ukraine. Crimea was Ukraine’s window to the Black Sea and home to key naval bases in Sevastopol and Donuzlav Bay, which are now lost. The Ukrainian navy has, at least temporarily, lost most of its warships during the Crimean crisis and currently has only one vessel capable of full-scale combat operations – the Hetman Sahaydachniy. The loss of naval bases in Crimea leaves Odessa as the primary and only alternative place for the dislocated Ukrainian Navy. However this naval base is potentially well within the operational range of missile systems located in Crimea and due to its geographic location, a Russian blockade would be relatively easy to execute.
The annexation of Crimea has significantly changed the balance of power in the region towards a more duopolistic geopolitical arrangement – between Russian and Turkey. To some extent, this arrangement resembles one from the 18th or 19th century. From the Turkish point-of-view, the immediate impact of the crisis is rather negative since the country has to now face a more powerful and assertive Russian presence in the Black Sea region resulting in the deterioration of Ankara’s relative position versus Moscow. The newly expanded Russian military presence will likely put Turkey in a more defensive position in the Black Sea.
Ankara has often voiced concerns about Russian actions in the region in the recent years. With the annexation of Crimea, however, it avoided challenging Moscow directly and can be seen as a result of Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbours” foreign policy. There is also a notable increase in trade and economic relations between both countries along with a significant dependence on Russian energy for Turkey. Both countries also recognise each other’s strength and position in the region and understand that a direct confrontation would have far reaching consequences, potentially destabilising vast areas across the Black Sea, Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia.
The new balance of power also underlines Turkey’s role as the sole local actor capable of potentially challenging Russian expansion in the region. This increases the importance of Ankara on the international stage and elevates it further as an alternative to Moscow for smaller countries. Therefore, the crisis provides Turkey with an opportunity to capitalise on its status of a regional power. However, the extent of that impact will significantly depend on US policy choices and the degree to which Washington will actually decide to support Ankara directly rather than countering Russia by strengthening other actors in the region.
It’s already visible that one of results of the Ukrainian crisis will be an increased US presence in the region. Apart from more frequent naval visits to the Black Sea basin, Washington will likely extend different forms of support to its NATO allies. Despite Turkey being the strongest regional ally, it’s very likely that Bucharest will become a major, if not the main, recipient of increased US support. In general, Romania is likely to firmly establish itself, due to the degradation of Ukraine, as a third power in the region after Russia and Turkey. From the US perspective the country offers several strategic advantages. It’s the least dependent of the coastal states on Russian energy. It was also historically less pro-Russian than many other Balkan countries (e.g. Bulgaria, Serbia or Greece). In addition the country offers a good access point to several critical areas in South-Eastern Europe as it’s located in the direct vicinity of the Balkans, Ukraine and the Black Sea. Romania’s convenient position can be used as a logistical hub to serve US forces en route to the Middle East or Central Asia. The country already hosts US military personnel, mainly at the Mihail Kogălniceanu air base. All these factors make Romania a good candidate for a buffer to potential future Russian expansion.
In addition, the US may also have its own strategic interest in favouring Romania over Turkey. On the surface it may appear that Turkey would be the most natural candidate for receiving US support as the most prominent regional power capable of challenging Russian influence. However, further strengthening of Turkey at the expense of other regional countries could lead to the creation of a geopolitical duopoly transforming the region into a quasi-Russo-Turkic condominium. This in turn could significantly reduce influence of external actors thus potentially leading to marginalization of US influence in the area.
Furthermore, Turkey, due to its military and economic strength, could be a more difficult partner for the US. It’s also well possible that Ankara would actually see increased US presence as a factor weakening its regional position and a potential constraint on pursuing own foreign policy objectives. Bucharest, on the contrary, would not only be less willing and able to challenge US influence, but would rather see it as a factor elevating its position in the region. Thus, extending support to Romania not only creates a buffer against potential further Russian expansion but also helps to maintain a less concentrated balance of power in the region. That in turn would help Washington to maintain a more flexible and unimpeded access to the area.
The chain of events which unfolded due to the Ukrainian crisis has led to a significant change in the strategic situation in the Black Sea region. Turkey has to now face a larger and more assertive Russian presence, which will likely force it to deploy more resources to its northern flank and maintain a defensive posture in the Black Sea. While Russia, after more than 20 years, has managed to restore a significant presence in the area. It is not yet on the level achieved during the times of the Soviet Union, but is closer to its position during the 19th century.
By Mr. Adam Klus
Adam Klus is a PhD student of the Past, Space and Environment in Society Doctoral Programme at the University of Eastern Finland. His research interests include; geopolitics of Eastern Europe, country risk analysis, asymmetric threats, unconventional use of military force, and geopolitically disruptive technologies. He works as an investment professional and has several years of experience from financial companies in London and Helsinki.
Turkey is interested in continuing an effective partnership with Moldova in the military sector, by identifying beneficial projects to the armies of both countries. Turkish Ambassador to Moldova Mehmet Selim Kartal made a statement to this effect at a working meeting with Defence Minister Valeriu Troenco.
At the meeting, the sides discussed the importance of developing and deepening bilateral cooperation in the military field. The defence minister expressed his gratitude for opportunities provided to National Army staff to train professionally in institutions from Turkey, especially at the Partnership for Peace Training Centre (PfP TC) in Ankara.
“We appreciate the professional training of Moldovan officers and non-commissioned officers instructed at elite military schools in Turkey. After returning from studies, they bring modern standards, performance and projects directed towards the development of the defence institution”, said Minister Troenco.
For his part, Mehmet Selim Kartal also said that Moldova could count on Turkey’s friendship.
The diplomatic relations between Moldova and Turkey were established in 1993. Turkey is among the top ten most important economic partners of Moldova.
New rules on Turkish defense procurement that broaden the jurisdiction and procurement management powers of the country’s defense procurement agency are raising concerns over whether that power will be abused, analysts said.
The Turkish government on Oct. 7 launched a set of rules regulating the country’s procurement mechanism. Rules that would place more power into the hands of civilians have been expected since the Sept. 21 conviction of 325 military officers, which was widely viewed as the end of military dominance in Turkish procurement matters.
“We expect to gain more bureaucratic power enabling us to be quicker in start-up, assessment and finalization phases, as well as [providing] more flexibility in project management,” said a source with the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM).
Ceyhun Erguven, an Ankara-based analyst, agrees. “Whether these new powers will create an all-too-powerful SSM — and a one-man show in the personality of the prime minister — are to be seen in time. But ideally, the new rules should centralize the bureaucratic decision-making mechanism and create a more efficient system,” he said.
Under the old rules, programs were officially launched after lengthy back-and-forth negotiations between the SSM and the military, and then through further discussions at the Defense Industry Executive Committee. Now, once the user specifies a requirement, and the SSM approves it, the issue will go to the defense minister’s desk for final approval.
The SSM also will have powers to make sole-source purchases when it deems them necessary due to “national interest, confidentiality, monopoly of technological capabilities and meeting urgent requirements.”
One controversial article in the new rules states: “The SSM has the authority, without undergoing any legal responsibility, to accept or refuse bids or to assess them fully or partly or to scrap a bidding process entirely or partly or to award a contract to any contender it deems appropriate.”
This may create legal loopholes and disputes in the future, a second Ankara-based analyst said.
“Obviously, the SSM cannot make itself legally untouchable just because a Cabinet decree gives it powers to be as such,” he said on condition of anonymity. “That article can always be legally challenged.”
An industry source expressed fear that under the new system, the SSM, acting under orders from the prime minister, can decide to buy from company X without competition and totally at its own convenience.
Another rule in the 17-article plan states that any move to eliminate extraneous bidders — known as “short-listing,” which then requires remaining bidders to submit revised proposals — will be approved personally by the chief of the SSM, presently Undersecretary Murad Bayar. The undersecretary also has the authority to endorse final contracts after negotiations.
The new rules additionally empower the SSM to revise modernization programs within the budgetary limits and to agree or disagree to the acquisition of extra systems and services in return for contractors’ offset obligations. Previously, those revisions had to be discussed by the Defense Industry Executive Committee, which is chaired by the prime minister and includes the SSM chief, defense minister and top military commander.
An offset is an industrial payback offered by the selling country to the buying country in return for the purchase of defense equipment.
Government-to-government defense deals are exempt from the new procurement rules, but contracts in this category of deals also will be managed and signed by the SSM.
A new article regarding program management also gives the SSM full authority to determine company roles in multiplayer contracts and decide on division of work; examine complaints over bidding processes and decide on these complaints; inspect and examine individual programs and companies involved; and give final acceptance of systems.
The SSM official said that all contracts that had not been finalized before Oct. 7 will be subject to the new rules.
Industry sources said some of the competitions falling into the new jurisdiction include the purchase of long-range air and missile defense systems, valued at $4 billion; the purchase of a landing platform dock ship, valued at $500 million; acquisition of a batch of 119 utility helicopters, valued at $3.5 billion; and the upcoming light utility helicopter program, valued at billions of dollars.
Turkey marks 60th anniversary as a member of NATO. As a loyal ally of NATO, Turkey made historic choice of siding with the Western Bloc and since 1952, it has served as a strategic partnership in the Middle East in favor of Western Bloc.
“Protocol regarding Turkey’s membership to NATO was signed on 17 October 1951. Law on the accession of Turkey to the North Atlantic Treaty was endorsed on 18 February 1952 and Turkey became a NATO member together with Greece.”
The aim of the foundation of NATO was to constitute a Western block against the Soviet Russia(USSR) after World War II. Although NATO was not a legitimate organization since its foundation, it completely lost its legitimacy after the collapse of USSR. But because it is an imperialist project, NATO always gets a new form through new strategic concepts. When we look at the activities of NATO, we can easily see that it serves to American hegemony.Unfortunately, Turkey was/is always with NATO and has passed all the loyalty tests of NATO perfectly.
After the Justice and Development Party has come to the power, there were some debates about the Turkish foreign policies. Many Western politicians and diplomats commented Turkey’s ‘zero problem policy’ as an axial dislocation and disengagement from the Western Bloc. But even in those days, Turkey was always loyal to NATO and its policies in the region.
Today, we want to discuss Turkey’s “love” of the NATO in detail. We will try to look at the historical process and Turkey’s function in the region in favor of NATO’s policies. In the end of this discussion, we will question whether Turkey is ‘always’ with Western Bloc or not.
”It is not possible to understand things that happened by means of ignoring relations between NATO’s strategic concepts and U.S.’s globally hegemonic strategies” says Akif Emre, from the Turkish Yeni Safak Newspaper. We can add to this comment that even every membership process of NATO is not independent of U.S.’s allowance and globally hegemonic policies. In other words, when Turkey chose of siding with Western Bloc, it knew that Turkey will conform with the U.S. policies.
“NATO membership gave Turkey a Westernized identity and provided her with a say on European security. In return, Turkey assumed the defense of the southeastern part of NATO against the soft underbelly of the Soviets,” says Retired Lieutenant General Şadi Erguvenc.
“Turkey joined this alliance in 1952, alongside with its western neighbor Greece; when it was seeking means to strengthen its defense policy. Located at the heart of Eurasia supercontinent, Turkey’s geopolitical value was incontestably substantial. This geopolitical value was doubled with its relative proximity to the USSR, for very evident reasons,” says Gunes Unuvar. “A global attention was drawn to the conflict between the West and the East for over five decades, and NATO members have rarely shifted their attention elsewhere. It was the case for Turkey, as well – the Soviet threat inevitably approximated Turkey and NATO allies, therefore and especially the USA. Given to its geopolitical significance, Turkey was an important regional power which the USA particularly praised. With their foreign priorities and their shared notion of ‘threat’ during the Cold War, it was only normal that Turkey – NATO relationship was a crucial aspect of the very existence of NATO.”
As Sofia Hafdell says, with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the beginning of a new, uncertain world order, new members were incorporated into NATO from the former Eastern bloc, in turn testing Turkey’s strategic importance in its relations with the Western world. The perception of Turkey as a determined ally to NATO persisted, however, through its engagements by the US in the first Gulf War. While the underlying political structures had changed in the post-Cold War era, NATO and Turkey worked together to respond to the range of new risks and challenges resulting from an increasingly changing world order.
“Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, NATO adopted its act of collective defense against external threats under Article 5. Since then, the more diverse security environment led to NATO engagements far beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, and provided new importance to Turkey given its geographical and cultural position in contemporary ‘out of area’ missions” she says. “For example, Turkey’s strategic geography has helped facilitate European involvement in Afghanistan where Turkish troops have been stationed since 2001, holding command of the Kabul–‐based International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) both in 2002 and 2005”
Turkey’s contributions to NATO are put in order by U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs as follows:
“The Republic of Turkey has contributed forces to international missions under the banners of the United Nations and NATO since 1952, including peacekeeping missions in Somalia and the Balkan states of the former Yugoslavia, support to coalition forces in the Operation Desert Storm, and in the global war on terror.
Beginning in December 1995, the U.S. and several of its allies deployed peacekeeping forces to Bosnia for Operation Joint Endeavor. That contingent, known as Task Force Eagle, was comprised of 20,000 American Soldiers and forces from 12 other nations, including Turkey. The task force implemented the Dayton Agreement, the peace treaty that put an end to the three-and-a-half year war in Bosnia.
Soon afterward Turkish forces provided assistance in another Balkan region when they supported the NATO-led peacekeeping force known as the Kosovo Force. Turkey, along with other military forces, entered Kosovo in 1999 to support the NATO mandate to deter hostility, establish and maintain a secure environment, and demilitarize the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Turkey has played a key role in the global war on terror and helped to establish peace and security in Iraq and Afghanistan. Turkish forces have been deployed to Afghanistan since 2001 as part of the U.S. stabilization force and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. Since then Turkey has twice held the leadership of ISAF, has helped train thousands members of the Afghan National Army; has spent nearly $1 million dollars on anti-narcotics efforts; and has operated two fully equipped hospitals, two clinics and two mobile clinics that have treated around 650,000 patients annually.
Turkey provided extensive logistical support to American troops in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, including humanitarian airlift operations, refueling and sustainment operations and other military operations.
Recently European countries throughout NATO have joined with the U.S to begin laying the framework for a NATO-led missile defense shield in Europe. Turkey chose to support the development of the shield and the stationing of an early warning radar system on its soil.”
On the other hand, “we’ve had a long-standing military partnership with the Turkish Land Forces, we’ve trained together, we’ve fought together, and because of that close relationship and those experiences, our U.S. Soldiers are better trained and prepared and I believe, the Turkish Soldiers are as well,” said USAREUR Commander Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling in a USAREUR release about the general’s December visit and discussion with Turkish Land Forces Commander Gen. Hayri Kivrikoglu.
NATO-Turkey Relations after the Cold War
“In the post-Cold War world, the role of NATO and Turkey’s position within it has changed as both parties have had to adapt to new security challenges and keep the Alliance relevant and efficient,” says Menekse Tokyay. “With its active participation in a number of NATO missions, ranging from Afghanistan to Libya and the Balkans, Turkey has demonstrated that it is committed to playing a responsible leadership role within its strategic region and beyond.”
In the document of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the changing concepts of NATO are mentioned as follows:
“In recognition of the need to adapt itself to post Cold war realities, NATO has for some time been undergoing a comprehensive transformation process. The basic elements of this process were reflected in the Strategic Concepts of 1991, 1999 and lastly in the new Strategic Concept of 2010. This is a process of both internal and external adaptation. On one hand, NATO undergoes its forces through a comprehensive modernization process to preserve its collective defense and crisis response capabilities. On the other hand, the Alliance with the perception of ‘security based on cooperation’ reinforces its present political and military partnership mechanisms and also frames new ones to develop its ‘soft power’ capacity. The Partnership for Peace Program, Mediterranean Dialogue, NATO-Russia Council and NATO-Ukraine Commission, Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, relations with Contact Countries and comprehensive dialogue and cooperation built with Afghanistan and Pakistan are concrete examples to demonstrate NATO’s determination to this end. Furthermore, NATO’s open door policy and its collaboration with other international organizations such as the UN, OSCE and the EU prevail as important elements on this area.”
On the other hand, according to Assoc. Prof. Selcuk Colakoglu, there are different processes which correspond to different strategic concepts.
“Throughout the 1990s, NATO’s basic mission was to ensure that the countries of Eastern Europe made a rapid transition from communism and that they raised their standards as far as human rights were concerned. Mainly using the instruments of soft power, the goal of helping the countries of Eastern Europe to prepare for membership in the alliance was successfully completed with twelve of these countries becoming members between 1999 and 2009. The same humanitarian considerations led to air operations being successfully carried out in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995 and in Kosovo in 1999, and civil wars in these two countries were stopped” he says. “The terrorist attacks against the U.S. on September 11 caused a radical alteration in NATO’s security concept. The alliance discarded the concept of soft power which it had adopted in the 1990s and returned to its former approach of hard power against international terrorism and radical groups. To this end, NATO launched a military operation against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan on the grounds that it had given shelter to the terrorist organization al-Qaida. Afghanistan was outside the North Atlantic region which until then had been the geographic area for the alliance’s security operations. However, during its period in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011, despite all its military and civilian casualties, NATO failed to score the sort of success it was hoping for against the Taliban, something which raised questions about the use of land forces and military power.”
Axial Dislocation Debates and Missile Shield Radars…
Up to the ‘axial dislocation’ debates about Turkish foreign policies, it was taken into account as one of the most loyal members of NATO. But, when Turkey’s foreign policy turned its face towards to East, many commentators supposed that Turkey is abandoning Western Bloc and after this day, anything will be like former. But, all these anxieties got lost after Turkey’s acceptance of hosting missile shield radars on its soil in the NATO Summit in Lisbon-2010.
Although Turkish Foreign Minister said that Lisbon Summit was not a loyalty test because there is no any country that tests us like this; actually, his explanations were very optimistic because the U.S. generally has first call on Turkey’s issue. On the other hand, as Mostafa Zein emphasizes, “Turkey has never faced such a test in the past. It is true that it refrained from allowing the United States to invade Iraq from its soil, and sided with Iran in many stances, the latest being voting at the Security Council against sanctions on Iran.
However, this time its options are not many, especially after having crossed a great distance towards establishing itself as a regional power that has its own strategy in the Middle East and in Central Asia, far from the policies of NATO and the United States. Will it then abandon its new Ottomanism to follow Atatürk’s dreams of being European?“
Here, remembering the debates of axial dislocation will be very productive:
“As Turkey’s relations with Israel continue to deteriorate, its foreign policy has come under scrutiny in the West. The diplomatic spat between the two countries led to a trenchant bipartisan letter being sent to the White House criticizing Turkish policy and questioning its commitment to NATO” says Avnish Patel. “In other quarters, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is being accused of expressing a renascent ‘neo-Ottomanism’ as he re-aligns Turkey as a beacon for the Arab and Islamic world in the wake of the Arab Spring. The escalating hostile rhetoric towards Israel is indicative of a leader keen to shore up Islamist support domestically and to a wider regional audience.”
After these comments, Patel focuses on Turkey’s position on different issues in favor of NATO and the West.
“Yet Turkey is still an indispensible member of NATO and is still pragmatically robust against traditional Western enemies in the form of Iran and Syria” he says. “The decision to host the radar, being integral to the EPAA, politically reaffirms Turkey’s commitment to NATO. In the post-Cold War security environment it is a hardnosed security decision, indicating that Turkey is firmly under the Alliance’s security umbrella and forewarning those with hostile intentions towards it. In the talks preceding the declaration at the Lisbon Summit, Turkey campaigned that its regional neighbours (in particular Iran) not be named as a specific potential threat. There was an insistence on proclaiming the defensive nature of the Missile Defence system rather than explicitly antagonizing any single country. Despite these positive intentions linked to the ‘zero problems’ foreign policy as espoused by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Iranian fears have predictably not been assuaged. Whilst Turkey’s positioning within the EPAA secures its position within NATO, clarification is required on the issue of data-sharing with Israel. Presently the US has remained coy on the subject and further risks inflaming the current impasse between Turkey and Israel. Transparency is required on the US intention to collate data from Turkish, Israeli and other radar sites to create a comprehensive picture of the missile threat.”
“Turkey’s interests and hyper-active foreign policy sometimes result in a divergence from NATO or the stance of individual member states. However, experts note that initial disagreements between the parties end up with the alignment of Turkey’s policies with those of the Alliance,” says Menekse Tokyay. “The NATO-led military intervention in Libya and the anti-missile defense shield are often cited as recent examples.”
On the other hand, as NATO prepares to announce the completion of the first important phase of its ambitious nuclear missile defense system during the alliance’s Chicago summit this month, Turkey’s decision last September to host the early warning radar system for the shield has proved to be a turning point in the government’s relations with the West, said Professor Mustafa Aydın, the rector of Kadir Has University.
His answer to the question “Many believe Turkey’s decision to host the radars for NATO’s nuclear defense shield was a turning point in Turkey’s relations with the alliance and the U.S. Do you share this view?” in his interview, deserves to be thought over it:
“I agreed that it has been a very important turning point, but this decision was not just limited to refreshing mutual confidence. I look at the bigger picture. Turkey’s links to the West were questioned. Recall the discussions on whether Turkey was changing its axis. There was confusion. The [nuclear defense shield] decision is a psychological sign that Turkey, under the ruling Justice and Development Party, has chosen its side. What does Turkey want? It wants to be powerful in its region. It wants to have good relations in its neighborhood. But when it comes to joint decisions about the future of the world, Turkey says ‘We still want to move together with the West and want to cooperate more with the U.S.,’ and this [hosting the radars] is not an isolated decision. Look at the change in rhetoric of the politicians. Take the example of Syria. Turkey and the U.S. have similar policies and similar rhetoric on Syria. It was absolutely the opposite a bit ago. Turkey’s prime minister went to Egypt and told the Egyptians to have a secular constitution. Was his message to Egyptians, to Turks or to the West? We need to ask this question as the amount of oil bought from Iran starts to diminish. All these are messages that say ‘I will act with the West in shaping the world; I want to be an influential country in this region, but I’ll do this without cutting my links to the West’.”
The Arab Spring Process and Turkey’s role in the Middle East…
“Turkey’s increasing regional role makes it a strategic ally to NATO following dramatic changes in many Middle Eastern and North African countries. As these countries still transform, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen sees Turkey’s role in this region as crucial for the new strategic environment and future partnerships not only because of its size and location, but also with respect to its cultural and historical experience with neighboring countries” says Sofia Hafdell. “Further, the Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz believes that Turkey’s economic growth, Muslim identity, democratic values, and links with the West both as an EU-candidate country and military ally serve as criteria by which Turkey can act as a model for many countries in the MENA(Middle East and North Africa) region.”
Moreover, “Commemorative Meeting for the 60th Anniversary of Turkey’s Participation in NATO” in Istanbul Aydin University, it is said that in the context of events in North Africa and the Middle East Turkey, with its expertise and experience, has a special role as to the future in the region. “Turkey can rightfully claim its place as a leader and mentor in democracy, promoting a more peaceful, cooperative and prosperous Mediterranean and Middle East. NATO can and should firmly support Turkey in this role, because the security of NATO and of Turkey depends on the relationships that we forge beyond our borders. Turkey thus shapes security for the Alliance.”
In contrast to these comments, Mostafa Zein criticizes Turkey’s role in the Middle East in favor of NATO.
“Turkey does not get its reputation from the history of its empire, despite the theories of its Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and despite the attempt to renew Ottomanism and return to the country’s roots and to its neighborhood, after the illusion of exile to Europe. Neither does it get its reputation from the history of its army, which ruled it and upheld ‘its secularism and its democracy’ until the Justice and Development Party (AKP – Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) came to power, nor from oppressing Kurds and forbidding them from speaking their language” he says. “Turkey gets its reputation and its power from being the second military force in the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO). In other words, Turkey is the arm of the Europeans and the Americans in the Middle East, not to say the policeman entrusted with guarding Western interests, without being accepted into the European Union because of its ancient and modern Islamic history.”
“Such recent history could not be erased by the leader of the ruling AKP party Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His stances on Shimon Peres at the Davos forum, as well as his stance on the Gaza war, were only attempts at distinguishing himself from the Europeans and the Americans in order to prove that he had a regional role to play, without this meaning to depart from the interests of both, especially when it comes to issues that have a direct impact on his own domestic situation, such as his stance on the Iraq war.
Based on such a stance, Erdoğan started, from the first day of the events in Syria, behaving on the basis that this was an ‘internal Turkish matter’. He thus went on to exercise his policies on this basis. He hosted conferences for the Syrian opposition and adopted its slogans. Moreover, he contributed to shaping an Arab and international public opinion opposed to the Syrian regime, making use of the presence of those displaced from Jisr Al-Shughur on Turkish soil near the Syrian border.”
Moreover, according to Emine Deniz, Turkey is the key component for sustainable relationships between NATO and the Middle East and North Africa. As a NATO member, Turkey represents a military and economic bridge between the West and MENA. NATO must utilize Turkey’s connections to improve the Alliance’s relations with the region.
“Turkey’s importance is two-fold, political and military” she says. “As soon as the dictators were toppled, the most prominent concern in the Western world was the question of the Muslim Brothers and like groups and their rise to power. The legitimacy of this concern is open to discussion. However, I believe that Turkey’s contribution in the political arena to the region’s countries is not. Both the Prime Minister R. Tayyip Erdogan and the President Abdullah Gul during their visits to the region emphasized the importance of a secular state. The idea of a secular state may seem trivial, but it is not. Coming from leaders of a political party known for their religious faithfulness, advice on a secular state means a lot to the region’s leaders. Democracy cannot be forced upon nations unless they ask for it themselves, and bottom top approaches are important for consolidation of democracy. Role modeling and mentorship become important in that case, and NATO has the best role model to present available in its alliance, Turkey.
The second point is military intervention, namely R2P. Being the second largest military power in NATO, Turkey is an important ally in military interventions conducted by NATO. The country’s importance doubles, even triples, in the region due to the aforementioned relationship. In many Middle East countries, the military is part of the ruling elite of the old regimes.”
As Sofia Hafdell said, after 60 years of membership in NATO, both Turkey and NATO have vested interests in continued cooperation. Turkey’s role in the alliance remains important due to its strategic geography in reaching beyond the Euro-Atlantic region.
But on the other hand, as Pepe Escobar says, Turkey can be NATOstan. “But Cold War remix it is, and Turkey runs the risk of being just a paw in their game. Profiting from NATO’s new Strategic Concept, the ultimate goal of the US global missile dome – complete with cyber warfare and Prompt Global Strike – is to encircle the heart of Eurasia and isolate, who else, Russia, Iran and China. War is peace. Welcome to the pleasure dome. Welcome to NATOstan.”
In other words, between all these ‘exciting’ scenarios, it is most probably that Turkey will be only pawn in this game rather than being a play maker.
Marking the 60th anniversary of Turkey’s accession to the North Atlantic Alliance, the Secretary General stressed the country’s vital role. “Turkey plays an important role in our operations and we are particularly grateful for your steadfast commitment to our ISAF operation. Turkey has an important voice in our decisions. And Turkey has a vital part to play in shaping our partnerships”, he said.
The Secretary General highlighted Turkey’s crucial leadership role as the Arab Spring unfolds.“Turkey does more than just share our security: you shape it. Your experience and your expertise in the Middle East and North Africa are invaluable. They benefit the whole of NATO.”
On the other hand, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has also said NATO is still the main pillar of Turkey’s vision 60 years after the country’s accession to the organization, while declaring Turkey needs NATO more than it did back then. “Turkey became a member of NATO as a result of a strategic decision it made in the Cold War era, and it has become one of the top contributors of NATO in its regional and global peace efforts in the past 60 years,” Davutoğlu said. “Although a lot has changed in NATO and in Turkey, one thing has not: NATO has remained the main pillar of Turkey’s strategic planning and vision,” he added.
Unfortunately, the statement of Ahmet Davutoğlu is very dangerous for Turkey’s future. In recent years, we are talking about Greater Middle East Project more than ever. In this picture Turkey’s relations with NATO and the U.S. is very crucial.
“During the NATO Chicago Summit in May, the alliance is set to agree on a range of key priorities, including smart defense, stability in North African and Middle Eastern countries, and the missile defense capability, to which Turkey’s position is crucial.” says Sofia Hafdell.
We hope that Turkey reviews its relations with the world’s military mafia-NATO- and produces particular policies in the Middle East independent of NATO and the U.S.
U.S. lawmakers passed a sweeping $606 billion defense bill July 19 that exceeds a budget cap and faces a veto threat from the White House for failing to sufficiently rein in spending.
The bill would provide $518 billion for the Pentagon and an additional $88.5 billion for overseas contingency operations, specifically the war in Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts, for the fiscal year that will begin Oct. 1.
The 2013 Defense Department spending bill had originally come in at $519 billion, an increase of $1 billion over 2012 spending, but in a surprise move just before the final vote, lawmakers approved an amendment bringing the spending into line with current figures.
It’s still roughly $2 billion more than President Barack Obama requested, and about $8 billion above the cap set by last year’s Budget Control Act.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 326-90.
Democrats and Republicans are promising a major budget tussle this election year as the two sides square off over whether to raise taxes for wealthy Americans as well as slash federal spending in a bid to pare down the skyrocketing debt.
U.S. lawmakers failed to reach a deal last year over how to reduce the long-term deficit by $1.2 trillion, and default spending cuts are scheduled to kick in next January that could see the defense budget slashed by an additional $50 billion in 2013.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers praised the bill, saying it “supports and takes care of our troops at the highest level possible, keeps America at the forefront of defense technologies, and boosts key training and readiness programs to prepare our troops for combat and peacetime missions.”
“But in this environment of fiscal austerity, we must also recognize that even the Pentagon should not have carte blanche when it comes to discretionary spending,” the Republican Rogers said, insisting that the bill makes “common-sense decisions” on spending cuts.
Some Democrats were keen on making even deeper cuts, but three of their proposals to slash some $23 billion from the bill were rejected.
“The bloated Pentagon budget must be addressed if we are serious about solving our nation’s deficit,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who authored several cost-saving amendments that were turned down.
But although Republicans have stood firm in their desire to see defense spending levels maintained, Lee had a partner in Republican Mick Mulvaney, who authored the measure that successfully cut the bill by $1 billion.
“Austerity to me means spending less,” the tea party conservative said.
The bill saw lawmakers express their disgust with Russia’s stance on Syria, as they voted overwhelmingly for an amendment that ends the Pentagon’s arms contract with a major Russian defense firm that provides weapons to the regime in Damascus.
House Democrat Jim Moran, who introduced the measure, lambasted the Pentagon for its contract with Rosoboronexport, which he said sells mortars, sniper rifles and attack helicopters to Syria.
The Pentagon has procured some 33 Mi-17 attack helicopters from the Russian firm which are to be used by the Afghan military after U.S. operations wind down in Afghanistan.
“I should think it’s troubling to all of us that we are purchasing helicopters from a Russian firm that is directly complicit in the deaths of thousands of innocent Syrian men, women and children,” Moran said.
The Senate will now craft its version of the defense bill, but its fate is unknown. The House has passed several spending measures, but the Senate largely balks at them because they overshoot the spending agreement reached last year.
The defense ministers of Brazil and Turkey met in Brazil last month, where they signed a letter of intent to improve bilateral military ties and increase technology transfers. In an email interview, Oliver Stuenkel, an assistant professor of international relations at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, discussed the military relationship between Brazil and Turkey.
WPR: What is the extent of the current defense relationship between Brazil and Turkey in terms of military-to-military relations and defense-industrial ties?
Oliver Stuenkel: The defense relationship between Brazil and Turkey is still small and incipient, yet in 2003, Brazil and Turkey signed an agreement to work together in defense matters. As with the broader bilateral relationship, there is significant potential for stronger cooperation in defense. The recently signed letter of intent formalizes a move to “develop cooperation between the defense industries of both countries, including technology transfer and joint projects.”
An initial focus will lie on initiating personnel exchanges between the armed forces, developing platforms for regular meetings and knowledge exchange, and working together on issues around cybercrime. For example, Turkish soldiers are set to participate in a Brazilian military center that focuses on jungle warfare in the Brazilian Amazon. Both Brazil and Turkey are keen on increasing their capacity to develop modern military technology on their own rather than depending on foreign equipment. In some areas this is already the case — as with Brazil’s Embraer — but neither country currently possesses cutting-edge knowledge in naval technology, space technology, defense against cyberattacks or unmanned aircraft. The ability to develop such technology would not only provide both countries with greater strategic autonomy, but also allow them to export high-tech military equipment.
WPR: What are the main opportunities and challenges for the two as they attempt to strengthen the relationship?
Stuenkel: While they face very different regional security threats, both countries are intent on modernizing their armed forces. Brazil, for example, is keen on strengthening its naval capacity as it seeks to boost its dissuasive force to protect the natural resources located off the Brazilian coast in the South Atlantic. With commercial shipping trends dramatically increasing the strategic importance of the South Atlantic, the Brazilian government is also beginning to articulate a vision for a South Atlantic Security Space. It is currently building a fleet of nuclear and diesel-engine submarines to give it a meaningful presence there.
At the same time, both Brazil and Turkey may increasingly assume political tasks that require them to increase their military capacity. Brazil is engaging in defense cooperation with many of its neighbors, and has led the Minustah peacekeeping mission in Haiti since 2004. The Brazilian army is now withdrawing from Haiti, but we can expect to see a growing number of Brazilian peacekeepers in many future conflicts around the world.
NATO-member Turkey has an active deployment in Afghanistan, and its soldiers participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world, including difficult missions such as the ones in Lebanon, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
WPR: What are both sides looking for from heightened defense ties, in terms of both political goals and concrete outcomes?
Stuenkel: Since the end of the Cold War, and particularly over the last decade, both Brazil and Turkey have sought to diversify their partnerships. Turkey continues to be a candidate for European Union accession, but it has also established stronger ties with other rising powers such as India and China. In addition, it has built an impressive diplomatic presence in Africa, indicating that Turkey may seek to extend its sphere of influence to all the territory that once formed the Ottoman Empire. Brazil, for its part, has spent the past decade strengthening ties to Africa as well as emerging states such as China, India and Turkey. In addition, the Brazilian-Turkish partnership is an important element in both countries’ strategies to strengthen their global economic and political presence. For Turkey, Brazil is the most important actor in South America, while Turkey is Brazil’s preferred partner and platform to strengthen its presence in the Middle East.
Although Armenian politicians in their initial statements about the possibility of normalization of this country’s strained relations with Turkey following the parliamentary elections last Sunday were not upbeat, most people continue to expect to see an improvement in the troubled relationship between the two countries, urging Turkey to open its border with Armenia.
Sagis, a 57-year-old lottery ticket seller in Yerevan, who didn’t want to give his last name like many people here, says his great grandfather came to Armenia from Turkey’s Muş province. He said, “Neighbors should be friends.” Azniv, an 85-year-old retired teacher, told us, “We don’t need enemies, we need friendship.” According to Arman, a 37-year-old businessman who is country director of Fedex in Yerevan, Turkey and Armenia have no choice but to normalize their relations because they are neighbors.
Most Armenians here say the symbolic step in that direction would be for Turkey to open its border with Armenia, which it closed in 1993 following the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani soil, including Nagorno-Karabakh.
Tigren, 33, the co-manager of a Pizza Hut in Yerevan, says: “The border has to be opened. It will be good for us economically.”
The city that wants the border to be reopened most is Gyumri, the second-largest city in Armenia with a population of 160,000. Gyumri’s rundown streets and the visible poverty level of the city are in high contrast with the well-maintained streets of Yerevan.
Alexander Ter Minasiyon, a tourism agency operator in the city, says: “In Gyumri we know the difficulty of living in a border town near a closed border. To get to Kars, which is only 90 kilometers away, we travel 497 kilometers via Georgia. We lose about 10,000 tourists every year,” noting that the city of Kars on the Turkish border also wants the border to be opened. He added that there is a Russian base on the Armenian part of the border facing the Ani ruins [in Kars], and the soldiers don’t allow tourists to even look at the site across the border.
“The financial cost of the border being closed is huge. I don’t agree with the politicians who say we can get along without Turkey. We are losing a lot,” says Levon Barseghyan, who notes that Turkish products cost 30 times what they should cost because they are delivered through Georgia.
Vahan Khachatryan, a businessman who owns Gala TV, a network that broadcasts in the Gyumri region, says he has been looking for a Turkish partner for his soap manufacturing business, noting that the border being closed is causing delays in communication and transportation.
The irony lies in the Russian military units near the border that Gyumri wants to see open. The Russians are protecting the population from a “potential threat” from Turkey. There are also Russian troops and a radar unit inside the town.
Border towns on the other side are also suffering from the situation. “The illicit trade between Turkey and Armenia as of 2011 had reached a volume of around $280 million, according to unofficial figures,” says Noyan Soyak from the Turkish-Armenian Business Development Council (TABDC).
“It is possible to say that this figure can increase up to three times in a very short period. Opening the border would ensure that goods from the eastern and southeastern Anatolian regions arrive in Yerevan in four to five hours, shortening the time greatly,” Soyak adds. “We perceive the possibility of the trade volume between Turkey and Armenia reaching $1 billion, including tourism revenue, in three years if the border were open,” he said.
According to the TABDC, the most attractive sectors for Turkish traders and investors are textiles, machinery and the food industry, and, of course, there is great potential for untouched sectors such as transportation, energy and information technologies.
But Vartan Oskanian, a former foreign minister and an important figure in the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), which came in second place in the elections, points to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue as the main obstacle to opening the border. He said: “So our focus should be on Nagorno-Karabakh. If we can solve that problem, then Turkey will open the border.”
Gyumrian artist Aleksey Manukyan says: “The Karabakh issue is costing us dearly. We still have an eastern mentality; we can’t act pragmatically. People don’t voice this openly, but such is the situation.”
One person who can’t wait to see the day the border is opened is Karine Petrosyan, the chief of the Akhurian Train Station. She remembers that the last train from Turkey arrived in Akhurian in April of 1993. “I will retire 10 years from now. I want to see that train again before I retire.” She says the village of Akhurik, after which the station is named, has been affected negatively by the border closing. Many young people left the village. There are also people who say Turkey should first recognize the 1915 massacre of Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans in 1915 as genocide. One such person is Eleonora, a 25-year-old bank clerk. “We can’t possibly normalize our relations before Turkey admits the genocide.” Armen Pahlevenyan, a taxi driver in Gyumri, agrees. “Nothing can be described as normal unless Turkey recognizes the genocide,” said Pahlevenyan, whose great grandfather had to migrate to Gyumri from Kars.
Nana (19), a university student from Gyumri, says once Turkey recognizes the genocide, the past will stop haunting both countries.
Others, yet, prefer to look to the future instead of setting the genocide as a prerequisite for better relations. Smbat, a 55-year-old Armenian who didn’t want to give his second name, also has his roots in Kars. His family was forced to come to Yerevan during the 1915 incidents. “Whatever happened is in the past. We should now open the border. We want a better life for ourselves and for our children. We, as Armenians, aren’t after revenge. We want good neighborly relations. And Turkey should also want this.” Milla Kazanian (21) of Yerevan also agrees, saying: “The past is in the past. Now is the time to look forward. The border should reopen, and our relations should go back to normal.” Felix, an 18-year-old university student, said, “The past shouldn’t be an obstacle to the normalization of ties, but we would like Turkey to recognize the genocide.” On the Turkish side, there is concern that recognition would bring up the issue of reparations.
Galust Sahakyan, leader of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) parliamentary faction, meanwhile, indicated that Armenian leaders had their own red lines that will take priority over any form of reconciliation pact. He said at a meeting with a group of Turkish journalists on Friday, “For us, the Karabakh problem and the genocide issue are more important than a restart in relations with Turkey.”
“It is not enough to admit and then to apologize. Responsibilities such as returning land and paying compensation should also be fulfilled,” says Giro Manoyan, from the nationalist Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a socialist party that nevertheless is known for its staunch Armenian nationalism. The votes for the party fell from 12 percent in the 2007 elections to 5 percent in this year’s elections.
Gala TV owner Khachatryan says: “What’s important is that Turkey opens the border. When people can freely interact, they will say ‘we are sorry.’ The historical facts of the past should be accepted, and we should all look forward.”
Turkey and Macedonia signed on Thursday a memorandum of understanding including free zone agreement.
The two countries signed the agreement during Turkey-Macedonia Trade and Investment Forum in the northwestern province of Bursa.
Turkey’s economy minister said on Thursday that whoever invested in Macedonia would gain.
Zafer Caglayan said Turkey and Macedonia had signed free trade and industrial zone agreements some time ago, and their bilateral foreign trade reached 400 million USD in 2011.
“Our aim is to raise our bilateral trade to 1 billion USD, and to increase our investments in Macedonia to 500 billion USD,” Caglayan said during Turkey-Macedonia Trade and Investment Forum in the northwestern province of Bursa.
Caglayan said Macedonia was one of the most important centers in Europe for Turkey, and whoever invested in Macedonia would gain.
Zafer Caglayan promised to raise Eximbank’s loan to Macedonia to 100 million USD from 50 million USD soon.
Turkey’s exports to Macedonia were up 14 percent and reached 299 million USD, while Macedonia’s imports to Turkey rose to 92 million USD with a 82 percent year-on-year rise in 2011.
Turkish companies have 180 million USD of investments in Macedonia.
Also, Bursa Chamber of Commerce and Macedonia Chamber of Commerce signed a cooperation protocol on the sidelines of the meeting.
During the meeting, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said Macedonia had fulfilled NATO accession conditions in 2008 and the EU had ensured visa liberalization to Macedonia in 2009.
Gruevski said the EU told Macedonia that it had fulfilled all preconditions to launch accession talks, however his country could become a member of neither NATO nor EU due to political problems with Greece.
However, Macedonia was doing everything it could to overcome that problem, Gruevski said.
Gruevski also said that he believed that there would be no problems before Macedonia’s EU and NATO membership after the problem was solved.
“The U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq is reordering political dynamics not only in Baghdad but also in the broader Middle East. Nature abhors a vacuum, and a number of actors are seeking to fill the outsized role that America has played in Iraq over the last eight years.” says Sean Kane in his report ‘The Coming Turkish-Iranian Competition in Iraq’. “The two rising powers in the region, Iran and Turkey, share borders with Iraq and are rapidly becoming the most influential external actors inside the country.”
In this analysis, we will focus on the rivalry between these two rising powers in Iraq. Although it seems that the relations between Turkey and Iran are getting better in recent times, Iraq has become litmus paper in order to understand the real face of this friendly relationship. After a bit the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, first signals of conflict of interests between these countries began to emerge.
Neo-Ottoman and Neo-Persian Competition?
“From the sixteenth century until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Iraqi history was largely determined by the ebb and flow of conflict between Ottoman Turks and the Safavid Persians. After Persia converted to Shiism, control of Shia holy sites in Najaf, Karbala and Samarra became symbolically significant to the Safavids, and the Ottomans tried to maintain Iraq as a Sunni buffer against the spread of the rival sect. In this centuries-long struggle, military conflict between the two empires focused on Mesopotamia rather than Asia Minor.” says Sean Kane. “The last century—the British mandate in Iraq, several decades of a strong independent Iraqi state, and the post-2003 American occupation—has been a hiatus from the historical pattern of Turkish and Iranian struggle for preeminence in Iraq. U.S. troops are scheduled to withdraw by December 2011, and the Iraqi state is not yet reconsolidated. Is competition among the heirs of the Ottoman and Persian empires likely to resume?”
I do not agree with Sean Kane in his categorization and approach because it is possible to skip political categorizations of 21st century when we get to the historical roots of this competition. In other words, secular/religious and cultural Islam/political Islam categorizations are more suitable for me in understanding this issue. If we pass over the Turkish model in the region and ethnical and sectarian divisions in Iraq, historical reasons will be more attractive to us. So, we should look at the different elements of this equation.
As Iraqi foreign minister Hoyshar Zebari says, this is the fact that today, Iran and Turkey are the biggest players and rivals inside Iraq. Soner Cagaptay, from Hurriyet Daily Newspaper, witnesses to this reality so: “Although both Turkey and Iran opposed the Iraq war at first, the fact that they have supported opposing camps in successive Iraqi elections has rekindled their competition. Today, Ankara and Tehran eye each other warily; neither wants the other to have more influence in Baghdad or over the Iraqi Kurds.”
Revelation of competition after the withdrawal of the U.S. forces
“The efforts of the Shi’ite to have a control over the fate of Iraq half-opened the way going towards the split. The Shi’ite Prime Minister Maliki’s show of force, his trying to push the Sunni out of the cabinet and the political course, his lashing out at Turkey, and Iran’s using itself for Syrian politics should be assessed as the first steps in Iraq going towards split.” says Cetiner Cetin, ORSAM Advisory Board Member.
As he mentioned, in the last period, Nouri al-Maliki revealed the coldness they have had with Turkey for a long time by indicating that they are concerned about Turkey’s interfering, rather than Iran’s, in the Iraqi internal affairs. “Right after the accusing and critical statements of Maliki, who draws his strength mainly from Iran, about Turkey, his accusing political attempts against the Sunni Vice-President Tariq al Hashimi, who is known for his close relations with Turkey, and against the Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak are actually the first signals showing that there will be attempts to block Turkey’s effectiveness following the U.S. withdrawal.” he said.
Here, we want to focus on the roots of this competition.
The roots of this competition
“Eighteenth-century English statesman Lord Palmerston famously stated that nations have no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests.” says Sean Kane. “The starting point for forecasting the direction of Iranian-Turkish relations is therefore to examine each country’s interests in their old battleground of Mesopotamia.”
As he said, their political sway was made clear during Iraq’s extended 2010 cycle of government formation, when they were respectively instrumental in consolidating the two leading political groupings: Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya and Nouri al-Maliki’s National Alliance. While Turkey’s preference represents ‘secularism’; Iran’s preference represents ‘religious viewpoint’.
“Although Turkey and Iran have a lot of grounds on which to cooperate — the number of Iranians coming to Turkey last year was 2 million — the two countries struggling for leadership in the region have also opposing interests.” says Aydin Albayrak. “Iran is a major actor in Iraq, where it supports Shiite groups, whereas Turkey tends to support the secular movement while still maintaining good relations with Shiite elements.”
This means that although Iran and Turkey have good relations, their viewpoints are different from each other. “The relationship between Turkey and Iran has received heightened attention in the United States since the effort by Turkey and Brazil to negotiate a deal on the handling of Iran’s nuclear fuel in mid-2010. Although Ankara argues that Turkey’s new foreign policy platform of ‘zero problems’ with its neighbors and independent stance toward Western policy in the region poses no contradiction to its traditional Western alliances, some American policymakers and analysts view this approach as a realpolitik move by Turkey to reorient itself to the Muslim world, including Iran, based on Turkish economic and energy interests. Others believe that, despite this shift, Turkish and Iranian relations remain dominated by mutual mistrust and that the two countries view themselves as competitors for influence and preeminence in the region.” says Sean Kane. “More recently, a flurry of analyses has looked at Turkish and Iranian involvement in Iraq and whether the two countries consciously consider themselves rivals there.”
In addition to these, according to Joschka Fischer, while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is trying to maintain good relations with Iran, its ambition to become the leading Sunni power means that Turkey must sooner or later contest Iran’s influence in Iraq, as well as in Syria and Palestine. And that means conflict.
On the other hand, there are some commentators who reject the claims about the rivalry between Turkey and Iran. “Marina Ottaway disagrees specifically with the notion of a Turkish-Iranian rivalry in Iraq, arguing that Turkey has no interest in antagonizing Iran by playing the Sunni card in Iraq and has shown through its votes at the United Nations that it values good relations with Iran.”
What are roles of Iran and Turkey in Iraq?
“Ankara is now Tehran’s most viable rival for preeminence in the region, but compared to Iran, it has repeatedly failed to take decisive action.” said Alakbar Raufoglu. “With less than two months before American troops withdraw from Iraq, the question of whether Turkey is prepared to take the necessary actions to play a leading role in the region remains unclear. If Turkey fails, it risks ceding its influence to Iran.”
Moreover, according to Cetiner Cetin, now, we can more clearly see the fact that Iran does not intend to leave Iraq to anyone after the withdrawal of the U.S.
“The timing of the crisis shows that after the withdrawal of the U.S., Iran is not intended to leave Iraq to anyone else.” says Assist. Prof. Serhat Erkmen. “Another dimension of the timing of crisis is the fact that it came right after Maliki’s accusing and critical statements on Turkey. As it is well known, some time ago, Maliki revealed the distance with Turkey they have had for a long time by stating that he has hesitations not because of the possibility that Iran could interfere in the Iraqi internal affairs but that Turkey could do it so, in a statement he made to one of the U.S. journals.”
As we can see, many commentators and writers fear Iranian influence in Iraq. For them, Turkey is a balanced element in Iraq and they prefer secular Turkey to religious Iran.
“Turkey has the advantages of being neither Arab nor Persian and of demonstrating a newfound distance from Western powers. Its strategic goal of becoming an energy conduit from the Middle East to Europe also gives it a compelling economic interest in a unified and prosperous Iraq fueled by increased hydrocarbon production.” says Sean Kane. “Iran, on the other hand, has the advantage of religious and cultural ties with the majority of Iraq’s population, but its involvement in the country is toxic for the minority Sunni population and watched warily by all Iraqi nationalists.”
Additionally, according to him, “Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to represent the starkest opposing tendencies in Iraq, but Turkish influence is the most significant regional counterweight to Iranian preeminence. That Turkey is not identified with either pole of the region’s toxic ethnic (Arab-Persian) and religious (Saudi Wahhabi–Iranian Rule of the Jurist) divides means that it has greater acceptance in Iraq and potential for positive input. From the Iraqi Shia point of view, Turkey, despite being Sunni Muslim, is not perceived as a source of terrorist attacks in Iraq or intolerance toward Shiism in the way that the Wahhabi creed is.”
Here, it is required to look at the commonalities and differences between Iranian and Turkish policies in the region. Sean Kane summarizes these topics briefly:
“First, the commonalities. Both emphasize maintaining the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, particularly as it relates to their own restive Kurdish minorities, and avoiding a return to all-out sectarian conflict. Both also, somewhat reluctantly, accept the model of a federalized Iraq, but likely differ on the extent of decentralization this should entail.
It is on who should rule Baghdad and how that Ankara and Tehran have profound differences. As a secular democracy, Turkey publicly advocates for a genuine political process and broad, representative, and inclusive Iraqi governments in which no single group dominates. Although in practice tinged by its own Sunni orientation, particularly since the Islamist AKP came to office, Turkish political activity in Iraq does not approach Iran’s overtly sectarian approach. Tehran’s irreducible priority continues to be to ensure a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad that would turn a traditional security threat into a friendly state.
Tehran and Ankara also differ in their reactions to the U.S. policy goal of a sovereign, stable, self-reliant Iraq capable of positively influencing regional stability. Turkish officials assert that they cannot overemphasize the importance of a stable Iraq to Turkey, remarking that Turkey has paid a heavy price whenever Iraq is not stable, and that when Iraq is stable, the region is stable. The view from Tehran is radically different. Iraq has since ancient times been a rival and, more recently, a check to Iranian influence in the Middle East. This latter role encompasses the disastrous eight-year war Saddam Hussein launched in 1980, which included chemical weapons strikes against Iranian cities and the death and injury of as many as a million Iranians. Given this history, the prevalent view among Iran’s academic and political elite toward Baghdad is still one of mistrust and perceived threat. In fact, it is the veterans of that conflict that now rule Iran and they largely prefer a relatively weak, divided, and passive neighbor incapable of posing a future political or conventional military threat.
The third major area of diverging interests is trade. Both Turkey and Iran are vying to become Iraq’s leading commercial partner. Turkey sees Iraq as an integral part of its effort to become the economic bridge from the Middle East to Europe. Iran sees an opportunity to shift Iraqi trade eastward, away from its traditional orientation to the Arab world and Turkey, as part of its effort to become the connection between the Middle East and central Asia. Iran estimates its 2009 trade with Iraq at between $4 billion and $5 billion and has set a goal of increasing this to $20 billion within two years. Turkey estimates its own Iraqi trade at greater than $6 billion and expects it to grow to $20 billion within four years. In an ironic twist, the Kurdistan region has become the Turkish economic beachhead into Iraq, and Turkish companies now have leading roles in the construction, trade, and energy sectors in the north of the country. Iran, meanwhile, has the pride of place in southern and central Iraq, where it has become a leading investor in infrastructure, energy, and religious pilgrimage projects. Iranian scholar Mohsen Milani sees this as part of Iran seeking to realize a key foreign policy goal of establishing a ‘sphere of influence’ in Iraq’s southern provinces.
Despite the importance of trade with Iraq to both Iran and Turkey, the future of Iraq’s energy sector is even more significant and yet another area of difference. Turkey is not significant oil or gas producer but instead a rapidly growing hydrocarbon consumer. Moreover, a key strategic plank of its neo-Ottoman foreign policy is to become the main energy conduit from the Middle East to Europe. As a hydrocarbon consumer and transit point, Turkey stands to gain on two fronts from dramatically increased Iraqi hydrocarbon production. Consequentially, Turkish state-owned and private energy companies have directly invested in six gas and oil fields in southern and central Iraq and are major players in oil exploration efforts in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Iran is a hydrocarbon exporter, and, though it has explored gas transit deals with Iraq, its ability to tap its own vastly underexploited oil and gas reserves is precluded by international sanctions. Iraq’s ability to move forward with major international investment that Tehran cannot even contemplate for the forseeable future. Even partial Iraqi success in production increases could see Iraq overtaking Iranian production levels by 2015, and OPEC production quotas would therefore have to be recalculated.
Any possible continued U.S. military presence in Iraq is the final point of difference between the two countries. The Turkish parliament famously refused to provide permission for U.S. troops to use Turkey as an invasion route in 2003. Privately, however, they now express support for a small, continued U.S. presence in Iraq after 2011 on the basis of worries about Iranian dominance in Baghdad and the future of the trilateral security mechanism established between Turkey, Iraq, and the United States in 2008 for combating the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK). This mechanism, from the Turkish perspective, has proven useful in addressing a top national security concern and provided a diplomatic channel through which Turkey was able to conduct its outreach to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). For Iran, the national security priority is the departure of ‘encircling’ U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Tehran lobbied against the 2008 Security Agreement between Iraq and the United States that authorized the American military presence in the country until December 2011.”
When we compare the commonalities and differences in their policies, we can say that although it seems the direct opposite, their agenda is very different.
In that case, why many Western and American analysts emphasize the role of Turkey as a balanced element. If we can understand the expectations from Turkey in Iraq, it will be easy to show the whole picture.
What are the expectations from Turkey?
“Some suggest that the withdrawal of US troops has finally opened a new space for Iran to maneuver in the region that will strengthen Iranian domination. Some Turkish analysts suggest that the new Iraq is nothing but a new axis of an Iran-Damascus pact that enables Iran to have free geographical access from the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean.” says Emre Uslu, from Today’s Zaman Newspaper. “ Against this argument, some US experts, including political science professor Stephen Van Evera of MIT, think that ‘fears of Iranian domination of Iraq rest on the premise that Iraqi Shi’a identify so strongly as Shi’a and so little as Arabs or Iraqis that they will accept domination by Shi’a Iran. In fact, however, Iraqi Shi’a have a strong identity as Arabs and Iraqis. They have affinity for other Shi’a, but will not accept Iran or other non-Iraqis as overlords. Iranian dominance of Iraq is not in the cards’.”
In my opinion, this comment is very optimistic. It is a fact that the U.S. is afraid of Iranian influence and its receipt for this fear is Turkey’s balanced role.
As Vladimir van Wilgenburg mentions, a recent report by the United States Institute of Peace suggests that Washington should be less concerned about increased cooperation between Turkey and Iran because the two countries have different visions for the Middle East, suggesting that the “renewal of the historical Ottoman-Persian rivalry in Mesopotamia is likely as the dominant American presence fades.”
In addition to this reality, as we said before, it is very difficult to find any conflict between American and Turkish interests. So, many Western analysts suggest that Ankara’s engagement will be critical in limiting Iran and Syria’s (mostly negative) influence in Iraq.
“Walter Russell Mead, editor-at-large of the American Interest magazine, said Turkish success in Iraq would lead to a less pro-Iranian coalition in Baghdad, referring to Turkey’s rivalry over the country.
Mead connected any Turkish success in the Middle East as equal to Iran’s failure. He said ideologically, Turkey hopes to lead the Sunni Islam world while Iran aspires to lead the entire Islamic world. He also added that the same thing could be applied to Syria where Turkey’s success there could be spelled as Iran’s failure as well as loss of Iranian ties to Hamas.”
Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, also, says Iraq’s other Sunni-dominated Arab neighbors — such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait — should stop isolating Iraq’s Shiite government and embrace it instead. If they don’t, he says, then Iraq will only be pushed closer to Iran.
Moreover, “They (Turkey) are doing this throughout Iraq, in Kurdistan as well as in Baghdad and even Basra, which is not usually an area of Turkish influence,” said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. “The presence of a Turkish consulate in Basra is very much part of a strategy to dam in Iranian influence in Iraq through investments and trade.”
According to diplomatic columnist Semih Idiz for the Turkish daily Milliyet, Ankara shares Washington’s concerns about growing Iranian influence in Iraq. “The increase of the Iranian through Shia elements in Iraq, that is what Turkey will be worried about,” said Idiz. “And with Turkey there is a political competition going on for influence between Iran and Turkey.”
In addition to this, as Dorian Jones mentions, last month, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said Washington has proposed to take over the influential role of training Iraqi military personal, now that U.S. troops are pulling out.
“We have been contributing in training military elements in Iraq within the framework of NATO,” said Unal. “This issue has come up to the agenda, and of course, we will be considering it. According to Dorian Jones, such a move is seen as strengthening Turkey’s influence in greater Iraq and countering what observers say is expected growing Iranian influence with the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
When we look at the picture from this side, it, unfortunately, seems to us that Turkey’s regional role is shaping around the Western and American interests in addition to its own interests. This Turkey is distant from being an alternative to Shi’a-Sunni polarizations. It means that Turkey sooner or later contests Iran’s influence and interests in Iraq. It also refers to the Turkish role and model in the region:
“This is partly a replay of Ottoman era politics. The new Turkish Islamist government is eager to revive Turkey’s historical role as the leading power of the region. (Two hundred years ago the Ottoman Empire ruled everything from the Danube to the modern Iran/Iraq boundary and across North Africa as far as Algeria.) As Arab nationalism has failed and declined, Sunni Islam has replaced it as the leading political movement in much of that world. Arab nationalism was both secular and anti-Turkish; Arab nationalists regarded the Ottomans as an imperialist great power. But if Arabs look at the world through a religious lens, Istanbul used to be the seat of the Caliph.”
Is Iran the winner?
“When the United States’ last election surge withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi contest to produce a government, Iran stepped in to broker a settlement involving current PM Malaki (Malaki also serves as Minister of Defense and Minister of the Interior but is not a dictator) and the jolly Sadrists. Malaki, a Shia, happily recalls his days in exile in Iraq during the Saddam reign while Sadr hid out as a religious “student” in Qom when he was on the U.S. military’s capture or kill list post-2003.” says Peter Van Buren. “Both men remain beholden to Iran and continue to shift Iraq closer and closer to Tehran’s policy positions. Iran has its own proconsul in Baghdad, well-known locally but not discussed much in the west. The guy moved into the job after a tour as head of the Iranian special ops Qods Force.”
In parallel to this comment, according to some analysts, the real winner of the war in Iraq is neither the Iraqis, nor Americans, but the Iranians.
But, Emre Uslu does not agree with this approach. “Does this means that Iran will have the freedom to do whatever it wants in Iraq?” he asks. “A simple answer to this question is no. There are at least two reasons why that is. First, despite the fact that US troops have withdrawn from Iraq, US influence on Iraq still remains strong through US advisors and Iraqi dependence on US armaments. Therefore, the US would exert its influence on Iraqi leaders to limit Iranian domination in Iraq. Second, Iraq’s dependence on US weapons systems prevents Iraqi Shi’a leaders from opening up wholeheartedly to Iran. Therefore, beyond the identity issues to be considered, there are more complex issues for Iraqi leaders to consider when leading their country.”
“In the Middle East, there is room for one shah or sultan, but not a shah and a sultan.” says Soner Cagaptay. “Ankara and Tehran appear locked, once again, in their centuries-old competition to become the region’s dominant power.”
Although “Turkey adopted an attitude in favor of a broad-based government” in Iraq, Turkey prefers to be a side of the Iraqiyyah Party. Actually, this preference play along with a new Turkish role in the Middle East. As Sean Kane emphasizes, Turkey’s blend of Islam, democracy, and soft power is a more attractive regional template than Iran’s formula of Islamic theocracy and hard power.
This Turkey’s rising influence in Iraq will please the U.S. and Western countries. So, they encourage Turkey in order to be effective in Iraq. “Any attempt by Ankara to challenge Iranian influence in Iraq will likely strain relations with Tehran.” said Dorian Jones. “Those relations are already under pressure over Ankara’s support for the opposition against Tehran’s key ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”
On the other hand, as Veysel Ayhan mentions, “despite the fact that some Iranian writers argue that Iran defends the territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq, when one observes Iran’s policy over Iraq, it can be seen that Tehran has a policy of making relations with all the Iraqi groups.”
“This way, it is seen that it takes steps in directing all the groups in line with the interests of Iran or threatening them when needed.” he says. “It is also necessary to indicate that the countries defending the territorial integrity of Iraq are not pursuing a determined policy on this matter. On the other hand, the main target of the Iran regime is known to establish an Iraq that is easy to control and direct.”
As Brian M Downing emphasizes, sectarian conflict in Iraq is again a concern as the Shi’ite government seeks the arrest of a Sunni vice president whom they tie to an assassination team. But neither Turkey’s these approaches nor Iran’s privileged policies can solve the problems of Iraq. The stability and security in the region are not independently of the developments that may take place in Iraq and policies/influences of neighbouring countries.
In this game, Turkey should stay out of being a pawn for Western interests and adopt unique policies. In this way, Turkey may bring into a friendly connection with both Iraq and Iran. This approach will be approved from all the groups and fragments in Iraq.
Turkey is a traditional partner, and even more traditional rival at Russia’s southern borders. This 70,000,000-strong country is part of NATO, and the Turkic and Muslim people in Russia are the subject of Turkish “courtship.” Russia should be concerned about the strengthened power of the Turkish army that is already one of the top ten in the world.
Today, the Turkish army is the most organized, numerous and powerful state institution. Turkish army of half a million soldiers is the largest in size after the United States in the NATO military bloc. The Ministry of Defense of Turkey has five divisions: Air Force, Navy, The Army, Gendarmerie, and the Coast Guard.
Particular attention is paid to the creation of the modern Turkish arms. The efforts of the Turkish defense industry are aimed at developing and building their own aircraft, armored vehicles, tanks, and various electronics and missile weapons. Turkish Aerospace Industries Company is engaged in the development and manufacture of aircraft under license. The objective of this venture is the creation of unmanned aerial vehicles. It is important to note that most of the products produced by Turkish military companies are purchased by the national armed forces, and purchase volumes are constantly increasing. The Turkish fleet is larger than the fleet of any other country in the Black Sea due to the presence of new submarines and ships.
The foundation of the current Army was laid in 1920 by the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The armed forces are the guardians of the republican regime and secular values, separation of Islam from the state.
The formation of the army took place in the country’s harsh defeat in World War I, when a major contribution to the emergence of the modern Turkish army was made by Soviet Russia. The Republic of Turkey at the end of the World War I has experienced the devastation and foreign intervention, and was not recognized by the world.
Vladimir Lenin decided to help the young breakaway republic with gold and weapons. The far-sighted policy of Ataturk, who argued that Turkey shares the sympathies of Soviet Russia to socialism and intends to conduct an uncompromising struggle against the Entente, played its role. As a result, the new Turkey in 1923 gained international recognition, and Atatürk was very grateful to Soviet Russia for military assistance. He often visited the Soviet Embassy, and the members of the Soviet delegation were sitting next to him in the military parades as honored guests.
The beginning of history of Turkish aviation refers specifically to the 1920s, when many Turkish pilots were sent to the Soviet Union where they were taught by the best pilots and trained in the Soviet parachute centers. After the death of Ataturk in 1938, the army, as his brainchild, became the bearer of the ideas of secular government and democracy. Today, even the political opponents of Atatürk ideas do not dare to openly criticize him, the army, or the republic, because these three concepts have merged together for the Turks, and, touching one of them you automatically touch the others.
Ataturk bequeathed to his country under no circumstances to engage in European military power. The Turkish leadership must be commended for not tempting fate and not sending the Turkish army to the fronts of World War II. The country has kept the army, and in 1945, while the rest of Europe was in ruins, it was relatively prosperous.
However, later Ataturk’s will was violated when, yielding to the pressure of various political circles, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes decided to “test the strength of the army”, sending it to Korea in 1950 as a member of national contingents in the UN. After providing the “assistance” to the Western countries, Turkey was accepted in NATO. It was justified by the fact that the USSR posed a greater threat to the sovereignty of the republic, and that the goal was to strengthen the army and repel possible aggression from the Soviet Union. In 1974 the Turkish army has demonstrated its preparedness when on early morning of July 20 the naval and air forces of the trained airborne units landed in Cyprus. The army of the “Greek” Cyprus was defeated in a day. Turkish aircraft bombed the airport in Nicosia, Cyprus National Guard barracks and armored units. Marines landed in Kyrenia and blocked the ports of Larnaca and Limassol.
The official reason for the invasion of Cyprus was the overthrow of President Makarios by coup and the massacre of his supporters. Fearing ethnic cleansing of Turkish Cypriots, the Turkish Chief of General Staff Sanjar ordered the operation “to establish peace in Cyprus.” Despite the fact that the status of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) remains open, the Turkish Army that brilliantly conducted the operation must be commended. In the 21st century, the Turkish military were involved in peacekeeping operations under the auspices of the UN and NATO. They are stationed in Kosovo and Bosnia – provinces that once belonged to the Ottoman Empire. The Turks are fighting mainly on their territory with detachments of separatists from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
Today, there are increasingly more assumptions that Turkey is seeking domination in the Islamic world and creation of “Ottoman Empire-2.” These assumptions are in fact are not unfounded. In Istanbul, in particular, public institutions adorn the coat of arms of the Ottoman Empire, along with a portrait of Ataturk.
President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are doing everything to diminish the army’s political role in the country. According to the amended constitution, the ruling Justice and Development Party need not fear a military coup.
At the same time the Turkish army is very strong. Due to the geographical position of Turkey, its role is enormous. The country takes great interest in the political process in the Middle East and Arab world (in the context of the “Arab spring”). In addition, in the south-east Turkey an American missile defense system has been launched.
At some point in time, Russia and Turkey were at war with each other over 30 times. Now the Turks are actively “courting” the representatives of Muslim, particularly the Turkic peoples of Russia. Turkey is seeking to increase its influence in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Crimea. Finally, the Turkish army is one of the pillars of NATO. Today, Russia should pay special attention to its southern borders, where the powerful Turkish army is located.