The Clash of Security Identities: The Question of Turkey's Membership in the European Union

By Oguzlu, H. Tarik | International Journal, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

The Clash of Security Identities: The Question of Turkey's Membership in the European Union


Oguzlu, H. Tarik, International Journal


The author is a PhD student at the University of Bilkent, Turkey. He would like to thank one anonymous referee.

THE MAIN CONTENTION OF THIS ARTICLE is that security considerations play a vital role in determining the attitudes of the European Union (EU) and Turkey towards each other. The more the Turkish elite sees the ongoing accession process and future membership in the EU as a way of enhancing Turkish security, the more willing they will be to shoulder the costs involved. The more EU members believe that Turkey's membership will contribute to EU security, the more willing they will be to pay the costs of Turkey's journey to Brussels.

Even though it might seem that this is a two-way street, in reality Turkey's chances of EU membership are strongly bound to its performance in successfully adopting distinctive EU values and norms, which are less about security than they are about democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and transparent and impartial procedures. The often-heard Turkish argument is that, if the current members of the EU display a strong desire to turn their club into a global security actor with fundamental interests in Turkey's vicinity, usually defined in conventional strategic terms, they would be more accommodating towards Turkey's EU membership. But that argument simply does not hold for two main reasons. One is that 'strategic security considerations are marginal to the EU in the consideration of Turkey's full membership'(1); the other concerns the fact that the EU of today is a civil rather than a military power.(2)

Given the legacy of the EU's enlargement history, one could safely argue that the compatibility of Turkey's strategic-security conceptualization with that of the EU would certainly not lead the EU to extend full membership to Turkey. Strategic-security similarities contributed in the past only to Turkey's placement in the EU's 'near abroad' as a strategic actor.(3) Therefore, what is required for Turkey's membership in the EU is not that the EU should evolve into a global military actor but that Turkey should embrace the many faceted identity of the EU. The danger for Turkey is that placing too much emphasis on 'strategic-security compatibility,' without internalizing the normative basis of the EU's distinctive identity, would in the long term make it less likely for the Europeans to conceive of any role for Turkey beyond its current presence as a strategic partner and insulator on the periphery of the EU.(4)

This article begins with a short analysis of the conventional Turkish understanding of Turkey-Europe security relations, usually defined in strategic-security terms. Then an attempt is made to account for the main factors that have both fundamentally challenged this conventional view and contributed to Turkey's further estrangement from the EU in the post-cold war era by revealing the differences between Turkey's concept of the EU and the reality. Finally, I conclude that while the EU has not become a strategic security actor in the aftermath of the cold war, nor has Turkey succeeded in complying with the EU's membership criteria, which reflect the distinctive security norms of the European Union. However, the events of 11 September 2001 may provide Turkey with its longed-for opportunity to come closer to the EU in security terms even as it maintains its strategic security relationship with the European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This will not be an easy task, and it will be greatly affected by the nature of Turkey's co-operation with the United States against global terrorism.

THE DYNAMICS OF TURKEY-EUROPE SECURITY RELATIONS: 1923-90

One can safely argue that an identity-security nexus has long been at the heart of Turkish perceptions of the EU, a legacy of the centuries-old relations between the Ottoman Empire and Europe.(5) Given that the Empire came to an end as a result of European attempts to dismember its territories, the Turkish elites of the 1920s tended to be 'cynical' about the European powers; they did not want to see the fate of the Ottomans repeated. …

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