Turkey at 90, a guarantee for regional security
Former British Secretary of State for Defense Dr. Liam Fox. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SönmezThe Republic Day holiday reminds us of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s historic achievement in transforming his nation into a secular, democratic state. It is one of the most brilliant and significant stories of the 20th century and its impact is being felt ever more widely today. Turkey now stands as a prosperous and vibrant state at the global crossroads. It has an indispensable role in energy security, as an increasingly important economic player and as a strategic security partner.
As a British Conservative who has long supported Turkish aspirations to join the European Union, I am delighted that talks on membership are to resume on Nov. 5 after being stalled for three years. Despite the criticisms of the use of force in dealing with public demonstrations, the judicial reforms and political reforms introduced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have convinced the EU that the time is right to continue accession talks.
We should all welcome any renewed momentum in the EU membership process. From a British perspective, Turkey has become an increasingly important trade partner with bilateral trade reaching 9.1 billion pounds in 2011. Over 2,200 U.K. companies now do business in Turkey and the United Kingdom is Turkey’s fifth largest source of imports from the EU, valued at almost $5 billion. In 2010 our two countries agreed to an ambitious target of doubling bilateral trade by 2015, a target that has already been exceeded by around 40 percent. With Turkish GDP growing by over 8 percent (the fastest in Europe and the OECD), it is estimated that it may be the second fastest growing economy in the world by 2018, and will overtake the Spanish and Italian economies sometime in the next decade. The resumption of EU accession talks are likely to provide further impetus for the modernization of Turkey’s economy and business environment. This will be in the interests of all of us, not least because Turkey is a springboard to the growing markets of Central Asia and the Middle East, markets that are likely to grow in size and importance in the years ahead.
But it is not just the economic relationship that makes Turkey such a valued ally. As a former British secretary of state for defense, I am acutely aware of the strategic importance of Turkey in guaranteeing regional security. Turkey has been a full and vital NATO member for 60 years. From the dark years of the Cold War to the ISAF operations in Afghanistan, Turkey has shown a steadfast commitment to the alliance. As NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said when he visited Ankara, “article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty is still the world’s most powerful insurance policy. Its collective defense clause means you have 27 allies ready, and willing, to help defend you. That was true when you stood on the Cold War flank of the alliance. It is just as true today.”
It is not only Turkey’s role in the NATO alliance that contributes to security and stability. The leadership that Turkey has shown in trying to find peaceful and negotiated solutions to complex issues such as the bloody and destructive one that we see today in Syria is greatly welcomed. With the tensions that exist in the South Caucasus, the diplomatic skills of Turkey’s politicians are likely to be tested further, yet it is a region whose importance lies beyond its own immediate geography. Lying between Russia and Iran, and providing a vital link in the energy security chain between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, stability in the South Caucasus has a global importance. Turkey, as a key NATO member and a growing economic power, will have an important role to play in maintaining the stability and security of this important part of the world.
The same is true on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. The changes that have come with the Arab Spring have brought many risks, but also many opportunities. If, as democratic free nations, we are able to nurse the turbulence states in the region through their present difficulties then our dream of furthering economic prosperity and political reform may become a reality. As a partner in that process, Turkey has a unique and invaluable role. Sitting at the crossroads between north and south, east and west, astride both Europe and Asia and washed by the Mediterranean and Black seas, Turkey has an enviable vantage point from which to influence events in a positive way.
As the people of Turkey celebrate Republic Day, it is a chance for all your many friends in Britain, in NATO and the EU to recognize the importance of continuing to work together for mutual security and prosperity. In recognizing the historic nature of Atatürk’s legacy, we should also recognize the opportunity it brings for our mutual benefits in the future.
Dr. Liam Fox is member of Parliament for North Somerset and former British secretary of state for defense.