Academic journal article Military Review

The Turkish-American Crisis: An Analysis of 1 March 2003

Academic journal article Military Review

The Turkish-American Crisis: An Analysis of 1 March 2003

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

TURKISH-AMERICAN RELATIONS FACED a serious crisis on 1 March 2003 when the Turkish Parliament voted down the Turkish government's motion to deploy American troops in Turkey and open a northern front into Iraq. (1) What went wrong? How did this decision affect bilateral relations? How can we prevent such incidents from happening again? Given the importance of the strategic partnership between Turkey and the United States, these are important questions worth exploring.

The decision itself arose from several Turkish miscalculations. The Turkish public and parliament were mostly against war. Although the administration, army, and foreign ministry were not crazy about the idea of war, they did not wish to disrupt relations with the United States, a strong ally. On the other hand, they were reluctant to appear to be part of an effort to remove a neighboring country's regime by force, regardless of how bad that regime was. The European Union, which Turkey was trying to join, was divided on the issue of Iraq.

Several factors came together to produce the outcome of 1 March 2003. The domestic political environment in Turkey prior to 1 March 2003 was fragmented. There was no clear single point of contact for negotiations with the United States. In addition, U.S. war plans matured around the time of Turkey's general elections. The soon-to-be-elected party had no idea what was happening. Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP), which had only come to power in November of 2002 and was inexperienced in foreign policy, resented U.S. policies. It was difficult for a party with its Islamic beliefs to get Turkey involved with large-scale military operations against a neighboring Muslim country. Moreover, the Turkish public remembered that Turkey had to deal with a refugee crisis and a huge loss in tourism revenues after the previous Gulf War. Concerns about the creation of an autonomous Kurdish state in northern Iraq led to fears about a Kurdish secessionist movement. Finally, the military, the president, the parliament, the prime minister, the foreign minister, and the National Security Council all disagreed with each other.

In this uncertain environment, the government decided to require two motions from parliament, instead of one. When the first motion passed with a comfortable margin, the United States naturally thought that the second one would pass as well. However, it did not. And the crisis ensued. (2)

What Were the Stakes?

Turkish-American relations expert Soli Ozel remembers that to create a northern front, the United States requested the use of Turkish airbases near Istanbul and the Black Sea, permission to deploy 80,000 to 90,000 American troops on Turkish territory en route to Iraq, permission to station 250 planes at Turkish airports, and the use of 14 airports and five sea ports. In return, the United States would establish a 20-kilometer security zone in northern Iraq. Up to 50,000 Turkish troops would go into this zone, some 30,000 of whom would be under U.S. operational command. The United States also promised that it would not allow the Kurdish political parties in northern Iraq to send their forces to Kirkuk, a multicultural city with a majority of Turcoman residents, and that fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and their bases in northern Iraq would be eliminated. Turkey would also receive $6 billion in grants or $24 billion in long-term loans. The Turkish government had already approved U.S. technical personnel upgrading several bases and sending men, vehicles, and materiel to the port city of Iskenderun. Even though these developments indicated a willingness on the part of the Turkish government to satisfy Washington's demands, the task itself turned out to be more complicated. (3)

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The domestic political environment in Turkey during the period leading up to the infamous "motion" was one of uncertainty and dysfunction. …

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