Only Erdoğan can save NATO

Only Erdoğan can save NATO

On Feb. 18, 2012, it will be exactly 60 years since Turkey joined NATO. There have been three generations since that date in 1952.

Becoming a NATO member was Turkey’s strategic and historic preference.

And in these 60 years, it’s all water under the bridge. Especially after the Cold War ended, the world has changed a lot. The fixed position of Turkey during the Cold War’s static equilibrium has been replaced by a Turkey that is adopting an independent foreign policy even though it may be regarded as problematic and controversial.

Today, both NATO and Turkey have similar issues, such as replying with the necessary responses to new challenges about security.

Meanwhile, relations between NATO and Turkey are also being tested.

The joint elements on defining and responding to new threats should be more than the minimum so that Turkey’s relationships with the alliance can be sustained.

In the midst of the Arab revolutions, in which NATO is an intervening party, it becomes a must that Turkey-NATO relations are discussed.

At the beginning of last week, the meeting I attended in Brussels had this aim. Last Tuesday, I learned at a meeting organized by the International Relations Council of Turkey, which is based at Kadir Has University, and NATO Public Diplomacy Division that NATO was preparing a campaign in Turkey for the 60th year of its membership.

Through conferences, round-table meetings and visits, contacts will be made with the media and civil society, allowing the alliance to present itself to Turkish society. General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen will probably visit Turkey on Feb. 18 to mark the 60th anniversary of Turkey’s anniversary.

The fact that NATO feels the need to explain itself to a country that has been a member for three generations is a sad situation from the point of view of the alliance. And at the same time, it is an understandable reaction.

Given that only 37 percent of the country thinks “NATO membership is important regarding the country’s security” (Source: 2011 Transatlantic Trends survey), then it becomes clear why NATO wants to increase its level of acceptance.

According to NATO officials, “misperception” or the “wrong conceptualization” of the alliance is not the only reason that NATO support in Turkey started dropping after the end of the Cold War. The deterioration of Turkish-U.S. relations as well as the decrease in the support for the European Union also plays a role in this. The principle of computational fluidity applies to Turkey’s relations with the West in general.

 NATO officials agree that in Turkey there exists a wrong perception that the alliance is “a Western body governed by the United States that serves the interests of the U.S. and is used in interventions in the Islamic World.”

In their defense, they argue that NATO’s Bosnia and Kosovo operations saved Muslim populations. They reply to the “U.S. hegemony” perception by noting that Turkey has as equal a role in NATO as any other member.

On the other hand, they accept that NATO’s stances on terrorism in Turkey and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) issue have caused the negative perception to deteriorate even further.

Even though they categorize the PKK as a “terrorist organization” and condemn PKK attacks, NATO’s stance stops there because the alliance sees Turkey’s terrorism issue as “the internal problem of a member country.”

On the issue of the continuation of membership in an updated NATO, a feeling of disconnectedness and emptiness is prevalent in the majority of the Turkish public.

Behind closed doors, however, Turkish officials say, “NATO is good for Turkey.” This is because, according to them, Turkey, through its NATO membership, is included in all global policy and security debates and has the capacity to prevent any development it does not want.

NATO’s issue in Turkey is that there is no leader that says so with a loud voice to the own population. During the meetings, a striking proposal came from academic Ahmet Han from Kadir Has University.

“The most valid remedy is that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally praises Turkey’s NATO membership and NATO to the Turkish nation,” he said.

As a leader who has praised secularism to Arabs, maybe it is only Erdoğan who can save NATO’s image.

Kadri Gürsel is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared on Nov 27. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.