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Turkey, Greece and NATO's integrating influence

HDN | 8/5/1997 12:00:00 AM |

By James M. Meyer / Turkish Daily News Ankara - In April of 1949 NATO was formed, consisting of twelve states on both sides of the Atlantic. This was increased to 14 when Greece and Turkey were admitted simultaneously in 1952, followed by West Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982. Up until now, most debate concerning NATO and its expansion has centered upon Russia. Indeed, the fact that NATO was created specifically to counter the post-World War II Soviet threat has naturally led people to reassess NATO's

By James M. Meyer / Turkish Daily News

Ankara - In April of 1949 NATO was formed, consisting of twelve states on both sides of the Atlantic. This was increased to 14 when Greece and Turkey were admitted simultaneously in 1952, followed by West Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982.

Up until now, most debate concerning NATO and its expansion has centered upon Russia. Indeed, the fact that NATO was created specifically to counter the post-World War II Soviet threat has naturally led people to reassess NATO's role in the region now that the Soviet Union is gone. Some claim that with the 1989 collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the breakup of the USSR two years later, NATO has outlived its purpose. Others point out that Moscow's efforts to dominate its immediate western neighbors is a Russian, rather than Soviet or communist phenomenon, and that NATO should remain in Europe and expand.

Putting aside all arguments regarding Russia, however, there is a second case to be made in favor of NATO expansion. In organizing the common defense of west European states against Russian expansion, NATO has managed to affect a level of cooperation among these states unprecedented in their histories. As debate continues as to whether or not NATO should expand eastwards, this aspect of NATO should be considered in greater detail.

One example of NATO's integrating influence is Germany. In March of 1952, West Germany joined the United States in rejecting a Soviet proposal to reunite Germany in exchange for its complete political and military neutrality. Three years later, a similar arrangement was accepted for Austria, when the Austrian State Treaty of May 1955 terminated that country's occupation on the basis of its neutrality.

Why the first proposal was turned down and the second accepted is a question that hardly needs answering: Austria was a small country with no future as a military power, and Germany was Germany. But why German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer himself balked at the reunification of his country is more interesting.

Perhaps more than any other postwar leader, Adenauer realized the necessity of tying Germany into a European framework. Economically, this was done at first with the European Coal and Steel Community, which has since evolved into the European Union. Militarily, this was done with NATO.

Relations between Greece and Turkey are another example of NATO's restraining influence on its members. In 1964, demand from Greek Cypriot leaders for union with Greece led to civil war on the island.Turkish public opinion was strongly in favor of military intervention in order to protect the island's Turkish population, and in August of that year, Turkish airplanes attacked the island's coastal fortifications. Diplomatic intervention by Turkey's NATO allies and by the United States in particular, however, led Turkey to call off its planned invasion of Cyprus at the last minute.

Ten years later, when a coup on Cyprus was carried out by army officers declaring their intent to bring the island into union with Greece, Turkey did intervene. But that Turkey's occupation of the northern third of the island did not develop into a general Turco-Greek war is a testament to the restraining influence that NATO membership has had on both countries.

Nor are such examples limited to the Cold War era. The 1995 Kardak/Imia crisis, in which both governments claimed sovereignty over an uninhabited islet in the Aegean Sea, demonstrated the real tensions that exist between Greece and Turkey. The membership of the two countries in a common military alliance, however, gives the countries' military and political leaders a forum for discussing disputes between their countries that they otherwise might not have. Furthermore, the NATO network obliges western Europe and the United States to involve themselves as quickly as possible in any disputes that arise, which up until now has always brought mediation before things got out of control.

Perhaps more than anything else, central and eastern European countries need the establishment of strong political and military links among them. Even before the July announcement in Madrid that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary would be invited to join the alliance, NATO's pacifying influence was already evident. In an effort to show their good intentions, countries in the East are showing a readiness to work out their disputes in a constructive manner. Hungary has signed a treaty recognizing Slovakia's borders, within which 500,000 ethnic Hungarians live. Budapest has also signed a historic treaty of friendship with Romania, where an additional 1.7 million Hungarians live and with which 50 years of enforced socialist alliance did nothing to stem nationalistic rivalries. It is only now, with both countries desperate to join NATO before Russia resurfaces as a power, that the two countries have decided to bury the hatchet.

Romania has similarly signed a treaty with Ukraine, which also has NATO aspirations, recognizing the two countries' borders. Northern Bukovina, which has historically been Romanian but which became part of Ukraine after World War II, had been a 50-year source of tension. Now, despite nationalist opposition on both sides, the two countries are working together to promote stability in the region.

Would Hungary, Romania and Ukraine be behaving in this fashion if there were no NATO? Perhaps, but then again perhaps not. NATO has made the recognition of current borders a condition for membership in the alliance, and this has no doubt encouraged the leaders of countries aspiring to NATO to make tough, mature choices. This is especially striking given the fact that the region's miserable economic climate -- which is only now beginning to turn around -- could have made petty nationalism such an easy diversion.

What Europe would look like today had Washington and Bonn accepted Stalin's offer is impossible to say. Likewise one cannot speculate as to how the Greco-Turkish relationship would have developed had those countries not joined NATO. To a large extent, of course, the behavior exhibited by all three of these countries was fostered by a fear of breaking up western unanimity in the face of the Soviet threat. Now that this threat has receded, however, the West is left with the framework of that unanimity, and it is clear that its bonds are still sturdy. Turkey and Greece have worked together now for 45 years, and this history is bound to have a steadying effect on their mutual relations. Germany, rather than finding itself an independent power in a post-Soviet world, is a responsible NATO ally and will remain so. The experiences of these countries should be kept in mind now that NATO is contemplating the East.

James H. Meyer is a free-lance journalist based in Istanbul.

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