High seas, ahoy!

High seas, ahoy!

I should forever repent for even an ounce of inspiration this column may have given to the new Ottomans. Perhaps I should not have joked over an issue of national pride when in 2008 I said: “I wished the Greek top brass a merry reciprocation in buying the same aircraft carriers, spaceships and Martian weaponry (that the Turkish top brass may soon decide to buy).”

In recent months the Turkish aviation authorities, reflecting the newfound (and phony) Ottoman self-confidence, said the first Turkish spaceship would be in orbit by 2023. More recently, the state scientific research institute revealed that it would design, develop, build and deliver to the army within the next two years a 100 percent Turkish missile with a range of 2,500 kilometers.

Even more recently, Admiral Murat Bilgel, commander of the Turkish Navy, told the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine that “...taking into account the need to operate not only in the littorals but also on the high seas ... the strategic objectives for the Navy in the next 20 years are ‘the acquisition of another multipurpose landing platform with STOVL aircraft, air defense frigates and unnamed underwater vehicles.’”

In plain language, “multipurpose landing platforms with STOVL aircraft” are big vessels that aircraft with short take-off and vertical landing capabilities can land on and take off. If I were the navy commander, my personal strategic objective would be to try not to have more commanding officers in jail – since, as of last October, 25 out of 48 duty admirals, along with several officers below the admiral rank in the Turkish Navy, were in jail pending trial on coup charges.

But let’s go back to aircraft carriers and how in this land bad jokes such as mine can turn into bizarre realities. Last year, a big spread page article in Hurriyet showed an elegant photo of an aircraft carrier with a huge Turkish flag painted on its flight deck. Initially I blamed the phantasm on generous doses of ouzo from the previous night, especially when I read the big headline that said: Great news!
An aircraft carrier with a Turkish flag and a headline that says “Great news!” could only mean that such an enormously expensive war toy was now in the service of the Turkish Navy. But then I discovered a microscopic photo caption that read: Photoshop on USS Theodore Roosevelt.

And now, the top naval commander says that in 20 years such a photo will not have to be accompanied by that unnecessary photo caption. My curiosity awakens immediately. Since our government repeatedly says that its principal geo-strategic goal is to make our littorals seas of peace, why should we spend billions of dollars of tax-payer’s money on a naval platform to and from which warplanes can land and take off vertically? But of course, “the littorals” are not the point. The point, as Admiral Bilgel explains, is that we need such monstrous weapons systems for “high seas.”

Good, but that does not explain the irrationality either. Since the military officers cannot decide to buy the weapons they might fancy, and their shopping lists must be in line with the government’s security/threat perception white-paper, we should rather ask: which high sea does the government plan to have a heavy military presence on? Turkish military operations on the oceans? The invasion of Chile? Japan? Australia? Which political deliberations would justify such a big acquisition? Has the government endorsed that plan? Against which security target(s) in the next 20 years would Turkey use its aircraft carrier?

This must be the naval reflection of the oh-that’s-too-jolly neo-Ottoman inspiration, just like its ballistic reflection is the dream to build a 2,500-kilometer missile. True, a new empire without a legendary naval captain like Hayreddin Barbarossa, who secured Ottoman dominance over the Mediterranean before 1571, would have been incomplete. True, also, that the Turks would probably vote in favor of any weapons acquisition plan in a referendum asking whether the nation would rather endorse spending on aircraft carriers or schools.

But reality says the best playground for Alice is the Wonderland, not the Middle East.