IMPLICATIONS: Should Ankara gradually return to enhanced security and defense cooperation with the West, the results would be seen in the Black Sea and Caucasus areas as well as vis-à-vis Iran. Such an outcome is by no means a certainty, but it is revealing just how important Turkey is as a player in its various regions that Moscow is again willing to raise Iranian ire by providing Turkey with these missiles for after all, they would be intended primarily to deter Iranian threats. This shows Turkey’s growing importance to Russia, if not to other actors. In other words, should Iran continue with its missile and nuclear programs, doing so would undoubtedly begin to affect the postures and calculations of all the key players in Eurasia. This means that the potential repercussions of an Iranian program would be felt in Iraq, throughout the areas of Kurdish habitation in Iran and Turkey as well, and in the greater Middle East. But they would also resonate throughout the Caucasus and Black Sea areas if not also throughout the Caspian and Central Asia. For example, to the extent that Turkey can draw closer to the West and possibly accelerate the negotiations over its entry into the EU, it is also possible that some progress could be made with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh talks. Those deadlocked at the last bilateral meeting of the principals in Rambouillet and at the meeting of the Minsk group in Washington. But, as this author has argued elsewhere, Turkish entry into the EU would obviously bring about a changed situation or place pressure on Turkey to alter its posture vis-à-vis Armenia which could then generate further movement toward resolving this war. Enhanced cooperation with Russia, on the other hand, might result in less financial support for Chechens coming from Turkey which would lead to different possible outcomes in Eurasia. If Turkey is forced to maintain a deterrent posture against a truculent Iran, this could also force NATO to consider once again the question of defending Turkey, an issue that generated a huge fiasco in 2003 and contributed to the undermining of Turkish trust in its allies and in America. This time, a more positive stance toward the issue of defending Turkey, not just against missile attacks, but also against foreign-backed terrorism, might go far to restore some of the previous warmth in Turco-Western relations. Indeed, Prime Minister Erdogan alluded to this when stating that NATO membership indicated Turkey need not worry of Iranian nukes.
CONCLUSIONS: Presently it is far to early to predict how Turkey’s relationships with its most important interlocutors will evolve, and it is in any case premature to make predictions as the way the Iranian issue will unfold is unclear. Nevertheless it is important to realize the issues involved and the stakes for all concerned with regard to Turkish strategic options, because those will be crucially influenced by the overall course of events with regard to Iran’s nuclear and missile projects. Turkey is forced to balance its defense, energy, trade, anti-terrorist and Kurdish concerns along with those of relations among key players America, the EU, Russia, Israel, Iraq, Iran, and the Caucasus as it tries to navigate among the potential shoals of alternative solutions to the anxieties caused Iran’s programs. Turkey’s answers to those issues, will in turn help define the parameters of what is possible in all these volatile regions of the world and its relationships with all these key actors. As the Chinese ideogram puts it, crisis signifies both danger and opportunity. The crisis generated by Iran’s missile and nuclear programs constitutes both a crisis and an opportunity, not only for Turkey, but also for all its partners.
AUTHOR’S BIO: Professor Stephen Blank, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA. The views expressed here do not represent those of the U.S. Army, Defense Dept. or the U.S. Government.