Turkey, NATO, and the New Strategic Concept

December, 2010

On 19-20 November, NATO summit was concluded in Lisbon, Portugal to come to a decision on its new Strategic Concept that is to serve for the next ten years as a roadmap of the Alliance. Alliance has taken into consideration three missile defense related activities as the components of this policy: the Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defense System (ALTBMD) Capability, Missile Defence for the Protection of NATO Territory, and Theatre Defence cooperation with Russia. Especially the second proposed system became a source of concern for the Turkish authorities in terms of its security and relations with the neighbors which basically consists of protection of all Allied territory and populations from any nuclear, biological, and chemical attacks/threats by conducting anti-ballistic missile shields and foresees an enhanced cooperation with the EU and UN as well as with the other Allied countries around the globe. A study for the system had been launched after the 2002 Prague Summit in order to examine the feasibility of such a system and the results approved by NATO’s Conference of National Armament Directors in April 2006. Lastly, at the April 2008 Bucharest Summit, technical details and the military and political aspects of a European based US missile defense system was put on the table that resulted in an agreement stating the desire of leaders for the system. Therefore, this issue at stake is neither something new nor a sudden advance, and not beyond Turkey’s cognizance as a member of the Alliance. The question in here is why this missile system shield has been put on the agenda recently in a way that kept busy the media and the authorities anxiously. The first reason comes to mind is that NATO’s Lisbon Summit was approaching so that a decision should have been made and Turkey needed to figure out policies and priorities about how to deal with the system. Yet, this only might be the official aspect of the issue.

At this point, other than the official dates, the context meaning international, regional, and domestic developments and political environment should be taken into consideration. It can be claimed that one of the most burning aspects of the issue was the relations with Iran, and possibly with Syria considering the threat perception of the missile system on the one hand and Turkey’s foreign policy goals that is known as “zero problem” policy on the other. Given the problems between the US and Iran and the concerns of the US about Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the question at stake was about from which country/countries this threat is being expected to come. Obviously, one of them was Iran, if not the only one, as reflected on the international press until recently. For example, according to a report published by the Washington Post on October 14, 2010, it was stated as:

NATO is scheduled to vote at a summit in Lisbon next month on whether to make missile defense a formal part of its mission. If it does, European alliance members would plug their individual defense systems into a broader missile shield that the Obama administration is building to guard against potential attacks from Iran.”[1]

On the other hand, Iranian authorities announced their suspicion and concerns with a press release given by the Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast at the moment the issue came out by stating that this shield system of NATO may disrupt security in the region.[2] Therefore, what Turkey demanded at the first place was not to cite any countries as a threat in the agreement in order to prevent any hostility to occur between neighboring countries and Turkey in accordance with its foreign policy goals. However, even though Turkey stood firm about not addressing any country, some circles criticized the government by questioning the risk of construction of a defense shield. The question in here was that if Turkey has no threat perception why it should accept the missile shield and risk a crush on its territory which may jeopardize its relations with neighbors by allowing deployment of a shield.

The other issue Turkey concerned was that the defense system should have covered all the member states’ security basing on the principle of “indivisible security”. One aspect of this demand is again related to not to reflect any threat perception by Turkey to regional countries. Because, if the system was not to cover all members and to be built only in eastern European countries (such as Romania, Bulgaria or Poland) and Turkey then this would be more likely to be understood as targeting some specific countries. The other aspect is to prevent any implication that might connote Turkey as a frontier which contradicts Turkey’s policies and is not suitable with its place in NATO as a long standing member. During the Summit, this concern of Turkey was satisfied by the inclusion of such statement in the decision document. Yet, it is controversial whether this decision was only due to the Turkey’s request or a result of goal of the Summit to build enhanced cooperation with the EU in general.

These two issues, not to cite any country as threat and inclusion of protection of all member states’ territory and populations, which were accepted in the Lisbon Summit on November 19-20 were pointed out as a glorious success of Turkish authorities in the media. However, the question of whether approval of these points levered the situation of Turkey and was convincing for the neighboring countries or not remains. Moreover, another concern, which was being argued critically before the Summit and almost disappeared after it was concluded, is the issue of command of the missile shield if it was to be built on Turkish territory. Obviously, Ankara stepped back on this request because Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who had claimed that “It [command of the system] should definitely be given to us, especially if it is a plan within our borders, covering our land. Otherwise it is impossible to accept such a thing” on November 16 said “We have said that the command system should be at NATO” after the Summit has been concluded.[3]

As a last point, it should be stated that it seems like agenda of the Summit was not that much concerned about building a missile shield on Turkish territory, rather the relations with Russia and gradual removal of NATO forces in Afghanistan by leaving the authority to Afghani forces around 2014. NATO-Russia relations had been soured due to the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008 and NATO’s involvement in it by Georgian side therefore this summit was expected to be a turning point for reconstruction of relations. In addition, NATO had agreed with Georgia on its membership to the alliance which disturbed Russia considering the perception of being encircled by NATO members whereas Allied members were concerned with Russia’s potential power and stance as a non-member and its supply route to Afghanistan. However, by this Summit, concerns of both sides are satisfied to some extent: NATO-Russia Council (NRC) agreed on pursuing a joint missile defense system and Russia accepted to support Afghani forces in the context of NRC Project. Moreover, it is stated in the text that NATO do not posses threat to Russia rather security of two parties is seen as intertwined so a strategic partnership is expected basing on reciprocity. Deriving from these agreed principles, improvement of relations between Russia and NATO is evaluated as leverage for the Afghanistan war and implementation of the new Strategic Concept in a more effective way. Nevertheless, putting aside these aspects what this new policies will bring is not clear and foreseeable yet due to the changing dynamics of international politics and potential unexpected threats to the world security.