Wednesday, 05 April 2006

IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM MODIFIES TURKISH STRATEGY AND POLICY

Published in Analytical Articles

By Stephen Blank (4/5/2006 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: Turkey has stated that it has sent messages to Iran asking it to desist from building nuclear weapons. Indeed, as an aspirant to membership in the EU it could do no less without enraging Brussels, and the key members of the EU who are leading the negotiations with Iran. But it has a delicately balanced relationship with Iran.
BACKGROUND: Turkey has stated that it has sent messages to Iran asking it to desist from building nuclear weapons. Indeed, as an aspirant to membership in the EU it could do no less without enraging Brussels, and the key members of the EU who are leading the negotiations with Iran. But it has a delicately balanced relationship with Iran. Its border with Iran has been quiet for centuries. Iran is also a major source of Turkish energy imports, providing almost a fifth of Turkey’s energy imports. Both Iran and Turkey also share common apprehensions about Kurdish independence drives in their own states and in Iraq as well as fears of re-emerging Kurdish terrorism in their two states. And with a Muslim- led AKP government in power in Ankara, Turkey undoubtedly is highly sensitive to charges about supporting non-Muslim regimes against Iran. Nevertheless, while it has made clear its apprehensions to Israel about possible Israeli preemptive strikes against Iran through Turkish air space, the Turkish government and military are clearly moving to protect themselves against possible Iranian nuclearization. Turkey has resumed bilateral military talks with Israel and is evidently upgrading intelligence cooperation with Washington, not only to counter Kurdish terrorism in Turkey but also to monitor developments in Iraq. At the same time the Turkish government, acting on its military’s urging, has now opened an international tender for anti-air missiles which could also be used as anti-missile missiles to block or deter potential Iranian attacks upon Turkey. Thus this tender has stimulated competition among foreign suppliers to provide it with the appropriate missiles and the main contenders appear to be America, Israel and Russia. The Russian firm Almaz-Antey is gearing up to to offer Turkey its S-300-PMU-2 missile known as Favorit, and Russia has evidently approached Turkey about co-production of the S-300 missile, perhaps in this variant. Such gestures are a part of the larger Russo-Turkish rapprochement that has been effected since 2003 through major gas sales, burgeoning trade and shared apprehensions about American policy in Iraq and about the EU’s demands on both states for reforms. Even if Moscow and Ankara claim to have also developed common interests with regard to developments in the Caucasus, it remains the case that for Ankara membership in the EU is the main priority. Consequently it could not, even if it wanted to, go against the EU on the sensitive Iranian issue. But this issue also clearly has the potential to influence Ankara back toward collaboration with Western powers like America and Israel.

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.

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