Turkey has much to demand back from NATO: Academic
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“Turkey is much more active than most NATO members. It contributes to all NATO missions. When you look at our contribution to NATO, we have a lot to ask back. In other words, NATO most probably owes us more than we owe NATO,” the chair of the department of political science and international relations at TOBB Economics and Technology University has told Hürriyet Daily News.
How would you evaluate Turkish-NATO relations?
We became a member of NATO after Turkey deployed troops to the Korean War in 1950 and also due to the efforts of the U.S. ambassador to Ankara at the time. NATO membership has made Turkey more visible in the international arena.
But this membership came at a big cost; 772 soldiers died in Korea. This was never questioned in the political atmosphere of the 1950’s and 60’s. But the military’s performance in the war had earned Turkey a tremendous reputation in the U.S.
On the other hand, NATO has built a security community in a region, namely Europe, which has seen the highest number of wars in the world. NATO members made peace with each other by not only stopping fighting against each other, but also by harmonizing their military and security policies. NATO’s mission was not just to act as deterrence against the Soviets, but also making peace among its members.
Take Turkish-Greek relations for instance. The countries could have gone into a war because of Cyprus or disagreements over the Aegean Sea. They came to the brink of war in the mid-1990’s. If war was avoided, one of the reasons for that was the fact that they were both NATO members. So when we discuss whether we need NATO or not, we need to take into consideration the importance of the compromise culture that creates peace among its 29 members.
Looking back, how do you think Turkey’s membership has evolved?
Each country has a veto power. Looking from a different perspective, a country can prevent any unwanted decision in NATO. We need to take into consideration this aspect as well when we talk about staying in or out of NATO. When you are out you cannot prevent undesired decisions to be taken.
But the debates around NATO are only natural. Other countries have also questioned their membership to NATO. Look at France under Charles de Gaulle or Greece. But then let me also add that both wanted to get back and tried hard and long to get back in.
But why do you think there is a questioning currently in Turkey?
For long years we have not questioned NATO much. That was also due to Cold War circumstances, an outcome of the Soviet threat. The public was never officially told that 100 nuclear bombs were deployed in Turkey for instance. When the public found out about it later, people deep down felt a sense of being duped. Currently, however, when we question NATO issues we do it in an exaggerated way due to these past resentments.
So would you say there is an emotional overreaction?
In terms of civil-military relations, everything pertaining to NATO and security issues belonged in the realm of the military. The soldiers have not governed relations with NATO in a transparent way due to their institutional culture based on secrecy. In the current state of civil-military relations, NATO has become an issue for domestic political discussions. We need to find the right balance. It is only natural to question any issue. But let’s not forget that NATO is a diplomatic platform where we manage our multilateral ties. We should not lose this.
So you’re saying that being out won’t be in the interest of Turkey.
Correct. But we have to see that membership came with its gains but as well as its costs. The fact that the nuclear missiles deployed in Turkey was used as a trump card against Moscow during the Cuban crisis behind Turkey’s back created an erosion of trust. Second, we were in the frontline
against the Soviets and this brought to us an incredible military burden.
The resources that could be used for Turkey’s industrialization were used for military spending.
What I want to say is this: Whatever assistance we received from NATO, we paid it back more than we got with our contribution to NATO. Our contribution has increased especially after the Cold War, in Yugoslavia or Afghanistan. Turkey’s presence as a Muslim country in these two geographies has contributed to NATO’s legitimacy.
Wouldn’t you agree that NATO membership has contributed to the army’s current capacity and strength?
Following WWII, the Turkish military was shaped in accordance to a Western structure. NATO brought a tremendous training, standardization and governance to the Turkish military.
Would you agree that the Turkish public does not know much about Turkish-NATO relations?
NATO is the U.S. in the eyes of the Turkish public and the reaction to U.S. policies becomes a reaction to NATO. But reacting to NATO is actually the same thing as reacting to ourselves. The NATO secretary-general is in fact Turkey’s employee, Turkey is one of his 29 employers. The perception of seeing NATO as a foe is a result of equating NATO with the U.S. and the lack of communication that dates back to the time when NATO issues were handled by the military. And also during the Cold War years, ideology was more important than national interests. Currently, national interest is naturally above ideology.
It contributes to all NATO missions. When you look at our contribution to NATO, we have a lot to ask back. In other words, most probably NATO owes us more than we owe NATO. At the 70th anniversary of NATO, Turkey entered its 67th year as a member of the alliance with good and bad days.
And I would argue that we are not going through the hardest days.
WHO IS HALDUN YALÇINKAYA?
Haldun Yalçınkaya is the chair of the department of political science and international relations at TOBB Economics and Technology University in Ankara.
He graduated from Kuleli Military High School and later the Turkish Military Academy. He completed his post-graduate studies in international relations at Istanbul University. Yalçınkaya studied “peacekeeping” for his master’s degree and “transformation of war” at the Ph.D. level. He served in Afghanistan in 2005 during his military service. He joined the Changing Character of War Project in Oxford University between 2009 and 2010.
He is the founder of the Turkish Peacekeeping Database (TUBAKOV-www.uik.org.tr/tubakov)
He published two books and several academic articles on international security issues. After serving more than 10 years at the Turkish Military Academy, he has been professor of international relations at TOBB University since 2013.