Wednesday, 08 May 2002


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By Ihsan D. Dagi (5/8/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: The main strategic choice that Turkey faces is presented as on the one hand the U.S./Israel axis, which would promote Turkey as a regional power in the Eurasian context; and on the other an EU-oriented policy that would include Turkey in that major political/economic blocks and focus on its economic development.
BACKGROUND: The main strategic choice that Turkey faces is presented as on the one hand the U.S./Israel axis, which would promote Turkey as a regional power in the Eurasian context; and on the other an EU-oriented policy that would include Turkey in that major political/economic blocks and focus on its economic development. The direction to be taken in foreign policy at this strategic crossroad will not only shape Turkey\'s foreign relations, but will also heavily influence its domestic politics. Integration with the EU is expected to bring prosperity and help dismantling the traditional authoritarian state apparatus and lowering the influence of the military; deepening the ‘strategic alliance’ with the U.S. and Israel, however, would sustain the current power configuration and the ideological, Kemalist nature of the state. According to opinion polls, over 70% of the Turkish people support the European line, as do all major political parties except the Nationalist Action Party. However, the state elite, mainly represented by the security establishment, has turned out to be very hesitant about the objective of EU membership – which requires a complete re-ordering of the political and economic system of the country. It is far from certain that the military has settled its mind about EU membership, given EU political preconditions such as education and broadcasting in Kurdish, civilian control over the military and resolution of the Cyprus problem. With this background, it is not surprising that the search for an alternative to the EU is led by the military, as disclosed by General Kilinc. The Eurasianists are a broad coalition that include Kemalists, nationalists and socialists. To them, the USA/Israel axis may serve to preserve the political status quo, compared to European demands for democratization and human rights – Eurasianists favor foreign allies who respect Turkey\'s \"particularities\" that entails a \"limited democracy\", and \"understand\" its clampdown of Kurdish and Islamists activists. Turkey can in this scenario be a significant player in the region without risking the Kemalist regime or giving in to Kurdish demands.

IMPLICATIONS: The Eurasianists are concerned that if Turkey becomes a member of the EU it would lose its ability to pursue its national interests in the region independently. Describing Turkey as a \"regional power\" they locate Turkey not in the European but Eurasian setting where Turkey can project its power over the region. Such a self-placement in the region is likely to lead to tension between Turkey and regional countries requiring both a strong military power and a political regime that is ruled by security concerns. Yet this is not considered a problem for the Eurasianists who call for a new strategic alliance with the USA, which has taken some roots in recent months since Premier Ecevit\'s January 2002 visit to Washington. Added to the attempt at accumulating military strength is the evolving strategic partnership with Israel, whom the Turkish government after an apparent demand from the Turkish General Staff recently granted a $675 million tank modernization project in the midst of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. A Eurasianist Turkey would certainly be more assertive in its policies towards the Caucasus and Central Asia as well as its southern belt. The key to its Eurasian strategy is the construction of Baku-Ceyhan oil-pipeline, through which Turkey would emerge as an important player in the distribution of Caspian energy sources adding both to its strategic significance and regional influence. Realization of Baku-Ceyhan with U.S. support would be regarded as an indication that Turkey has emerged as an indispensable regional power. Among the Eurasianists, the Kemalists may try not to confront the Russians in dealing with the states in the Caucasus and Central Asia, while the nationalists would press hard to establish a zone of influence in the region in competition with Russia. Both, however, would search for cooperation with the U.S.. Therefore the tune of Russian-American relations, improved after September 11 and during the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, are also likely to influence Russian-Turkish relations that have been swinging from competition to cooperation since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Against this stand, the Europeanists are concerned that the U.S. is encouraging and supporting the Eurasianist in the domestic power struggle. Given the troublesome state of Transatlantic relations and the seeming American determination to invade Iraq and check Iran’s movement in the region (both neighbors of Turkey), and Washington’s new military engagement in the Caucasus and Central Asia, it is not hard to see why the Bush administration would be encouraging the Eurasianists in Turkey at the expense of Europeanists. Being at the crossroads of the Eurasian and Middle Eastern strategic mass, Turkey is indispensable to American policies in the region, which locates Turkey mainly in its Eurasian, not its Transatlantic strategy. Turkey\'s entry into the EU may mean the loss of a reliable U.S. partner, since once a full member of the EU or at the stage of negotiating accession, Turkey would not be an independent actor, but be dependent on Brussels. Given the discrepancy between American and European perspectives on Iraq, Turkey may be forced to make a choice between the European and American lines should the U.S. decide to attack. At the moment, despite security and political risks involved in an operation against Iraq, Turkey feels bound to support a possible operation by the U.S.. But if Turkey moves closer to full membership in the EU, it is likely to move closer to the European line on Iraq – something that would not suit U.S. interests in the region.

CONCLUSION: The deadlock over Turkey\'s strategic choices is likely to break soon. If Turkey does not reach to the point of starting off the accession negotiations with the EU by the end of 2002, and meanwhile if the EU welcomes, which is almost certain, the membership of Cyprus without the Turkish side, the USA/Israel axis put forward by the Eurasianists as an alternative to the EU may well defeat the Europeanists in the domestic political struggle. In case, on the other hand, the EU develops by the end of 2002 a formula that keeps Turkey on the EU truck without provoking nationalist backlashes, the Europeanists would have the upper-hand. Even then, one should not expect that the Eurasianists would abandon putting a fierce resistance to EU membership and political reforms requested. Their power in the state apparatus, ability to stir the country with nationalistic fever, and their foreign alignment should not be underestimated.

AUTHOR BIO: Dr. Ihsan Dagi is a visiting Fulbright Fellow in the Department of Government at Georgetown University.

Copyright 2001 The Analyst. All rights reserved

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.


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