Keeping Turkey under control and on board is becoming a serious challenge for the United States and the European Union (EU) as the Turkish public and government are frustrated with Western double standards and hypocritical policies.
Turkey, an ally of the West and a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 1952, is now also looking towards East. The United States, the EU and Israel are watching Turkey with great caution and perhaps with certain nervousness.
Under the leadership of President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has been building relations with its neighbors, under a doctrine called ‘zero troubles with neighbors’.
The Justice and Development Party pushes for Turkey’s EU membership but at the same time demands justice and respect from its European partners.
Europe accepts Turkey as a military partner, but the EU seems to have less appetite for a political partnership with Turkey. Germany and France, especially, have been creating obstacles in the way of Turkey’s joining the EU.
German and French opposition to Turkish membership of the EU is rooted in history. The attitude of the EU’s biggest states towards Turkey has its roots in religious and cultural hatred of Turks.
At the same time the unashamed Europe expects that Turkey accepts NATO plans to establish a missile system in Turkey, but the popular Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has made it clear that the West should stop taking Turkey for granted. He has placed conditions for accepting NATO’s missile system.
The Turkish authorities insist on building a NATO, rather than an American missile system. Turkey has demanded that the system should be deployed in all the NATO member states and that Turkey will not allow NATO to use the proposed system against a country.
Prime Minister Erdogan wants the proposed missile system under the Turkish command. Some experts believe that the NATO missile system in Turkey is targeted against Iran and Russia but Turkey says that no country should be named as a threat or potential target of the missiles.
Turkey is unlikely to change its stand over the missile system when the matter will come for discussion at the NATO summit in Lisbon on November 18-19.
Ankara’s growing military cooperation with China is another diplomatic move that has caused panic in Western capitals. Recently, Turkey and China have conducted two major military exercises.
The first exercise, ‘Anatolian Eagle’ was held in October in which Chinese military aircraft had participated. It forced the Pentagon to issue a public statement saying that the Turkish government had promised to protect US defense technology during its military exercises with China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). Some US analysts think that the drill may have compromised key NATO war-fighting secrets.
“The government of Turkey is committed to the NATO Alliance and the continuation of strong ties to the United States, and Turkey assured us they would take the utmost care related to their possession of U.S. and NATO technologies,” a US military officer told Inside the Ring.
The second and the latest Chinese-Turkish joint military exercises took place in early November at Turkey’s Commando school and Training Center. Members of China’s special services participated in the second round of exercises, which both sides say were planned a year ago.
Turkey is developing a strategic partnership with China in areas of trade and security.
But the main change in Turkey’s foreign policy is its warming relations with Iran. Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Turkey and Iran both were US allies. But as a result of the Islamic Revolution, Iran redeemed itself from the US influence and formed an independent foreign policy which was against US and Israeli interests in the region. Turkey, however, remained a staunch US ally throughout the Cold War.
In the post Cold War period, however, racist Western policies and the West’s unconditional support for Israeli aggression gradually turned the Turkish public opinion against the West. The US attack and subsequent occupation of Iraq was a turning point. The Turkish parliament rejected a US request for the use of Turkish territory for logistic support to the occupation of Iraq.
Moreover, the Turkish public has been extremely unhappy over the West’s support for Kurdish rebel groups and the persistent anti-Turkish bias among some EU member states.
In this backdrop the Justice and Development Party won the 2007 vote and undertook a wide reform agenda that included changes in the country’s foreign policy.
The new government of Prime Minister Erdogan has changed the focus of Turkish foreign policy from the West to the East. Turkey is positioning itself as a leader in the Middle East. A part of that policy is the re-establishment of relations with the region’s key country, Iran.
Turkey and Iran have already signed major agreements in the energy sector under which Iran would export gas and electricity to Turkey. Iran exports 10 billion cubic meters of gas to Turkey per year. Turkey will be a transit country for the export of Iranian gas to Europe. A new pipeline will be built to supply gas to Italy under Nabucco Project.
Regular state visits have taken place between the two countries, and areas of mutual cooperation have extended to several other fields.
A major breakthrough occurred this year when Iran accepted Turkey and Brazil mediation in its nuclear talks with the West. Iran offered to send its nuclear fuel to Turkey for enrichment.
On May 17, 2010, Turkey and Iran agreed that Iran would ship 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU), in exchange for 120 kg of 20 percent-enriched uranium in form of fuel rods.
The agreement displeased Western and US authorities who accused Iran of dividing the international community to gain the time needed to develop nuclear weapons — an allegation fiercely rejected by Tehran.
Also in May 2010, the killing of nine Turkish peace activists by the Israeli troops caused further strain in Turkish-Western relationship.
The strong reaction by the Turkish prime minister over the Israeli attack on Gaza flotilla — an aid convey that was taking food supplies for the besieged Palestinians in Gaza — came as a surprise to Israel and its Western supporters. But the incident brought Turkey further closer to Iran and the Arab world.
Prime Minister Erdogan won hearts of the millions in the Middle East by standing up to Israel.
Mr. Erdogan’s popularity among the Middle East masses is causing frictions with the West, which is suspicious and fearful of Turkey’s new role. Nevertheless, the shift in Turkish position is driven by the country’s national interest and the Turkish public supports it.
The deep global economic crisis has shaken confidence in the Western capitalist system. Western powers are rapidly losing the capacity to force their will upon countries like Turkey, Iran or Pakistan.
Sooner than later, the Western world will learn that its own economic survival depends on giving up imperialistic policies. The use of military means to pursue diplomatic goals is no longer effective. Western powers will have to compromise and accommodate some non-Western powers in the same way they have accepted the role of China, India and Brazil.
Shiraz Paracha is a journalist and analysat. He can be reached at: email@example.com