Friday, October 15, 2010
Turkey faces another critical foreign policy decision about joining the proposed U.S.-led anti-missile system that would shield NATO members against mainly possible Iranian threats in the next decade. The new system essentially was put forward by President Obama a year earlier, replacing the Bush vision in which Russia was perceived as a main threat. Just last week, news reports indicated that weapons inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, warned that Iran had passed a crucial nuclear doorstep, bringing it even closer to being able arm ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.
While Iran is hastily climbing to the top of the U.S’ enemy list, Turkish leaders find themselves in an awfully awkward position. In its “New Strategic Concept,” led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, NATO is shifting its security challenges, and sees that missile defense is an “essential military mission” for the alliance.
The U.S. has challenged Turkey to shift priorities and is pushing for the regional negotiator to join its ranks. Turkey feels compelled to counter perceptions that it is joining a club that is against one of its largest economic partners and Muslim neighbors. The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, repeatedly stated in recent years that it does not see Iran as a threat, as opposed to how the West views the Islamic Republic.
According to Jim Townsend, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy, Turkey tries to strike a balance in which it does not want to seem as “ambivalent” or “reluctant” to the U.S. demands, also not to offend Iran.
Many parts of the Obama administration’s foreign policy practices so far have been heavily criticized by international affairs authorities and former U.S. policy makers. From its war strategy in Afghanistan to its strategic and tactical missteps pre and during the Middle East peace process; its ambitious and so far failed outreach plan for the Muslim world to its weak stance against China’s unbending monetary policies to name but a few. However, there is one piece of the Obama foreign policy matrix that has received generally positive ratings so far: relations with Russia, which have been described as operating under a “reset button policy.”
In that, the Obama administration, to receive the Russians’ support on the front against Iran and being able to begin working towards the eradication of the nuclear weapons, chose to placate Russia’s demands to dismantle the earlier missile defense system for Europe. Nowadays, following 20 months of reset button policy, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen finds audacity to invite Russia to join the new project as a member of the shield, instead enemy.
The U.S. officials admitted last week that they have visited Turkey “a couple of times” to hold talks over the faith of the new missile plan and informed the Turkish side. According to the U.S. officials, even before the ministerial meeting on Thursday in Brussels between Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül with their U.S. counterparts Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, ball was in Ankara’s court, and that Ankara must decide which direction it wants to pursue.
There is clarity on the U.S. side and the decision is taken. And for Turkey’s geographic location, its proximity to the future Iranian threats plays an important role for the phased adaptive approach, “as we look at where the ballistic missile threats can come from, Turkey seems to us to be very much along the front lines,” Townsend said.
The U.S. leadership wants Turkey to own NATO’s new strategic vision of the next decade and asks Turkey to join new agreement to making a territorial missile defense as an alliance capability.
The Obama presidency, while closing ranks with the Russian leadership on many issues, applied track two policy to deter Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability. The AKP administration rejected the notion and countered those U.S. arguments by claiming sanctions do not work.
According to a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, by coming between the sanctions, Turkey did no do any favor to Iran or served for the peaceful future in the region, instead encouraged Iran on its non-consensual behavior and increased any military operation’s chance.
Now, as a further or secondary step, the U.S. is rallying the NATO members around a missile defense system, closing to strike a deal to construct a 21st. century’s umbrella for its members for a protection.
According to Steven Pifer, Director of the Arms Control Initiative at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, Turkey should at least see the plan as an “insurance policy” against Iran, even if it does not believe that Iran wants nuclear weapons.
Sally McNamara, senior European affairs policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, stated that “Obama is seeking NATO’s approval to make missile defense a core competency of the alliance. It is critical that Turkey supports him on this... Ankara is being asked to support the upgrading of missile defense to be a key NATO responsibility, which will be enshrined in the new Strategic Concept set to be agreed at the upcoming Lisbon Summit.
NATO already has theatre-based missile defenses... However, this is no longer an adequate defense posture in today’s environment, where the proliferation of ballistic missiles is growing, to both state and non-state actors. European missile defenses must be expanded to protect populations and territory.”
Semih İdiz, on his Friday column in the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, laid out clearly how the tension between Turkey and Israel was still boiling during Erdoğan’s late Pakistan visit and how this strained relationship is further spilling over into U.S.-Turkey relations, which İdiz recognizes as an “ideological divide between Turkey and the U.S...”
It appears that Turkey wishes to take its time before it decides on the matter, perhaps leaving a decision until as late as November, when the NATO summit convenes.
Nevertheless, the U.S.-led NATO leadership has taken a decisive turn, leaving very little room for Turkey to maneuver, or oppose the alliance's new strategic step.
What will or can Turkey do beside support the new vision, willingly or unwillingly?