NATO key to Turkey's security
NATO is Turkey's most important security guarantee in its dangerous and unstable neighbourhood.
By Tülin Daloğlu for SES Türkiye in Ankara -- 22/05/12
Given the increasingly difficult security situation along Turkey's borders with the Middle East, NATO membership remains essential for the country's security interests.
Leaders take part in the meeting on Afghanistan at the NATO Summit in Chicago on Monday (May 21st). [Reuters]
Speaking to SES Türkiye, Ali Rıza Alaboyun, Turkey's NATO Parliamentary Assembly Group chairman, outlined Turkey's geographical challenges given its proximity to numerous conflict zones including Iraq, Iran and Syria.
"Therefore, NATO becomes even more of a safe institution to establish regional peace and that is why it is important for Turkey," he explained, adding that Turkey is an island of peace and democracy at the heart of an unstable neighbourhood.
But the diversification of Turkey's foreign policy coupled with its stalled EU membership process has created the perception outside Turkey that the country is shifting away from the West.
For example, the Atlantic Council recently conducted a survey on the future of NATO, and asked leading scholars and politicians in Europe and the United States: "If Turkey has not become a member of the European Union five years from now, its orientation will be?"
Of 59 participants, 21 responded that Turkey would pursue "a revival of Ottoman power," and 12 said Turkey would be "more closely aligned with its Muslim neighbours."
"There is no shift in the axis of Turkey," Alaboyun said. "Turkey is just determining its foreign policy based on its regional needs and interests. While doing that, it is taking into consideration the international norms, human rights, mutual border security, [and] neighbourhood relations; none of these contradicts the values put forward by NATO or the UN."
Hikmet Çetin, a former foreign minister and NATO senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, questions who really expects Turkey to become an EU member in the next five years.
"It's not clear as to what will happen with the EU, but it is clear with NATO," he told SES Türkiye. "NATO will continue as one of the most important institutions of the Western world. No one should hope for Turkey's exclusion."
Çetin said that discussions about Turkey's alignment with its Muslim neighbours are based on "superficial analysis."
"Turkey faces a difficult time with Iraq, Syria and Iran, and other [neighbours] are not really so important," he says. "Whatever is being said about [Turkey's alignment with the Muslim world,] the reality does not seem to match with those analyses."
Ian Lesser, the executive director of the German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Centre in Brussels, told SES Türkiye that NATO will be moving into a stage where more and more contingencies will be in Turkey's neighbourhood as a result of the revolutionary developments in the Arab countries -- singling out the challenges in Syria and Iran, both sharing borders with Turkey.
"I don't think anyone is questioning whether Turkey is continuing its NATO membership," he said. "Even if the number for public support in Turkey to NATO is at historic lows, I think publics by-and-large believe that NATO is a good club to belong to. This is a consistent result."
Alaboyun agreed. "If there becomes a real debate about Turkey's NATO membership, I believe the public's support will be very, very high," he said. "The new generation lacks the knowledge as to what NATO's importance to Turkey is, or what Turkey's position in NATO is."