Turkey in NATO and towards CSDP

By Chappell, Gareth; Terlikowski, Marcin | The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Turkey in NATO and towards CSDP


Chappell, Gareth, Terlikowski, Marcin, The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs


In recent years, international partners have become more accustomed to an assertive Turkey, especially in relation to important security issues. Hence, Turkey has duly acquired the nickname "Enfant Terrible," both in NATO and with regards to Turkey's approach to CSDP. In NATO, Turkey's assertiveness has occasionally undermined the consensus until allies have acceded to Turkish demands. Regarding the EU, Turkey, although unable to influence decisions directly, has indirectly blocked cooperation with NATO since 2004. Although Turkey's policy is perhaps not surprising as disputes have occurred in the past, the number of instances in which Turkey has politically been at odds with the majority of NATO allies as well as involved in EU-related disputes, has nonetheless increased dramatically since 2009. As a result, analysts have questioned whether Turkey is moving away from Euro-Atlantic security structures and seeking new, as yet undefined, frameworks for international action.

Although Turkey is redefining its role in NATO, there is no reason to believe that Turkey will stop being a reliable and committed ally. Regarding the EU, especially CSDP, Turkey will continue to adopt an unconstructive approach, which will be exacerbated by the rigidity of the EU's position. As a consequence, EU-NATO relations will continue to be adversely affected and will remain in a state of deadlock in the coming years, at least at the political level.

A Reliable Ally, but Unwanted European

Turkey joined NATO in 1952. The decision enjoyed strong political and public support at the time and throughout the Cold War. NATO, by way of U.S. power, underpinned Turkey's security, which at the time, was under threat from the Soviet Union on account of a troubled history and Soviet claims to Turkish territory.1 Located to the south of the Soviet Union, Turkey was of equal benefit to the Alliance and acted as a bulwark against the expansion of Soviet influence into the Middle East. In addition, Turkey supplied important bases and facilities for the forward deployment of U.S. short and medium range ("tactical") nuclear weapons along with the monitoring of Soviet compliance with arms control agreements. Thus, from a security standpoint, Turkey's focus on NATO membership as a lynchpin of its security policy was a logical choice. Membership also furthered Turkey's ambitions to be seen as an equal partner by western Europe and stood to symbolise Turkey's connection to the "West." In return, Turkey remained for NATO a "special" member, whose strategic importance has always been recognised. Political, military and economic support followed. The allies pursued various efforts to ensure that the situation in Turkey excluded the possibility of Soviet involvement in Turkey's internal affairs.

After 1989, Turkey's policy towards NATO remained essentially unchanged. Turkey continued to host U.S. "tactical" nuclear weapons and retained key elements of NATO's command structure (Allied Air Command in Izmir) despite a deep reform, which limited the number of Allied command cells. Nonetheless, there were still some frictions during the 1990s. Turkey initially had reservations regarding NATO enlargement. Turkey stressed that NATO's "open door" policy should not restore tensions with Russia, which may have provoked the latter to increase its military presence in the South Caucasus.2 Still, Turkey ultimately agreed to expand NATO to include Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in 1999 and has since supported every round of NATO enlargement. In particular, Turkey has championed membership for the countries of the Balkans, but has been more reserved regarding Georgian and Ukrainian membership, mainly for fear of antagonising Russia.3

Turkey also had reservations regarding the expansion of NATO's core tasks beyond that of territorial defence, which was the Alliance's main function during the Cold War. Turkey, attached to NATO's role as a guarantor of territorial sovereignty and security, appeared reluctant to see the Alliance undertake additional 'out of area' tasks. …

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