Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Re-Examining the "Base": The Political and Security Dimensions of Turkey's Military Presence in Somalia

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Re-Examining the "Base": The Political and Security Dimensions of Turkey's Military Presence in Somalia

Article excerpt

Introduction

On September 30, 2017, Turkey officially opened a major military training installation in Somalia's capital Mogadishu. Omitting mention of Turkey's military presence in Northern Cyprus, Turkish and international media described the facility as Turkey's largest foreign military "base." For some observers, the opening of the facility, following the establishment of a base in Qatar and military intervention in Syria, was further evidence of a more muscular turn in Turkish foreign policy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (1) Taking this further, some pundits extrapolated from these moves a desire by Ankara--or, more specifically, Turkish policymaking elites--to resurrect some vestiges of the former Ottoman Empire. For Decottignies and Cagaptay, the establishing of the Qatari base, which predated the inauguration of the Turkish facility in Mogadishu, signaled, using a rather implausible historical analogy, Turkey's return to the Indian Ocean after more than four hundred years, whence the Ottomans battled (unsuccessfully) with the Portuguese for supremacy. (2) Explaining Turkey's current foreign policy in Somalia as somehow driven by its Ottoman past provides meagre explanatory power at best and ignores the political and security goals of both Turkey and Somalia. It also ignores Turkey's increasing presence and significant investments in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. (3)

There are, of course, some plausible reasons for linking Turkey's Somalia decision to a more assertive military posture. Firstly, foreign military "bases" are most commonly thought of as part of a state's infrastructure for war-making; that is, a critical means through which states project military power abroad. When looking back over the latter half of the 20th century, it is easy to see why this rigid interpretation of an overseas base's raison d'etre is prevalent. For, during the Cold War both rival blocs built up global networks of bases as part of a strategy that sought to "confront, encircle or intimidate the other side." (4) The military rationale behind positioning forces abroad has, however, changed markedly since 1991, owing to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emergence of non-traditional security threats and the widening of tasks that militaries across many parts of the world are asked to perform by their governments. (5) In global basing trends, Cold War legacy bases have largely made way for smaller locations--often designated as 'installations,' 'facilities,' or, in the particular lexicon of the U.S. defense establishment, as 'forward operating sites' or 'cooperative security locations' (rather than bases) (6)--from which, and in which, various security-related tasks are performed, ranging from kinetic counter-terrorism operations to the delivery of training assistance to partner governments' security forces. (7) This is increasingly true on the African continent where a host of states and international actors have established a military presence, either in the name of security assistance (8) or to partner with local allies to counter-terrorism in the region. (9)

With a broadening of the functions overseas military deployments perform, understanding what is behind a foreign troop presence requires closer inspection than perhaps before. Nonetheless, because any presence of foreign military forces--in cases where they are not imposed on the host--is a conscious surrender by the host state of its military exclusivity within its territory, it is ineluctably a highly political decision. For this reason, new deployments offer great potential for analyzing relationships between the sending state and the host, as well those of both states with other state actors. Turkey's new military presence in Mogadishu is thus an opportunity to explore wider questions about Ankara's evolving and deepening involvement in Somalia and the region. Equally, analyzing Mogadishu's decision--and, as will be shown below, it was a decision; Turkey has not imposed a military presence on Somalia--to agree to this Turkish mission can shed new light on successive Somali Federal Governments' (SFG) national security priorities and how they manage their external relationships. …

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