AKP takes U-turn on hosting US radars

AKP takes U-turn on hosting US radars

The year 2012 will mark the 60th year of Turkey’s membership in NATO. With the decline in Turkey’s public support for NATO, it would be naive to expect any celebrations.

Turkey is one of the most active members of NATO, with its contribution to the operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo. In contrast to other member countries, it does not suffer from casualties. The real reason behind the unpopularity is most probably the identification of NATO with the U.S. for the ordinary citizen.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has used rhetoric that not only reinforced that identification. It also created the impression that the relationship between Turkey and NATO is not a mutually beneficial one but one that is based on a one-way street where Turkey as a front state is tasked with protecting Europe. This approach has affected public misconceptions about Turkey’s decision to host a radar system as part of NATO’s missile defense system.

The perception in the public is that: 1) the U.S. and Europe see Iran as a threat, which is not a view shared by Turkey, and 2) the U.S. wants to deploy radars in Turkey against Iranian missiles and now after initial hesitations (the causes of which were not clearly explained to the public) Turkey has accepted to host the radars (for reasons that again have not been explained to the public).

But the real picture is far from waht the public perceives. Since the early 2000s, NATO (with the consent of Turkey) has been working to build its own ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, while the U.S. was looking for a foothold in Europe against the Iranian threat. Talks on BMD between NATO and the U.S. started in 2002. When the Bush administration decided to deal with this issue through bilateral agreements with Poland and the Check Republic, Turkey was among the first NATO members to object, arguing this would unnecessarily provoke Russia and undermine NATO solidarity. It was Turkey’s preference for U.S. and NATO’s BMD efforts to merge. Actually, when it appeared that NATO’s BMD system would not cover Southeast Europe, it was again Turkey that warned the alliance on the indivisibility of defense.

In other words Turkey (rightfully) sought to be included under NATO’s anti-missile umbrella. In return it was only natural to be asked to host the radars since Turkey is the nearest country to the region with the biggest perceived threat. Though it was the U.S.’s preference to have the system in Turkey, Bulgaria had already accepted to host them in case Turkey refused. In other words Turkey was not indispensable.

Talks for hosting the radars between Turkey and the US have been going on for a long time. The government preferred to deny these talks fearing Iranian reaction. This is where the government is in an acute contradiction, for it goes ahead with plans to built Turkey’s own BMD capability. Which means it does fear the ballistic missile capabilities of its neighbors.

Instead of depending on (supposed) allies, it is obviously much more preferable to be able to rely solely on yourself for your own defense. But BMD systems are very costly and benefiting from the system of the alliance that you have been part of 60 years would be much more cost effective. After all, this is why you become a member of an alliance