Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find all his blog posts here. Col. Richard Outzen is a foreign area officer in the U.S. Army
For the moment, at least, Turkey has found comfort in NATO’s security. But Ankara’s long-term commitment to the alliance should not be taken for granted, because Turkey has at least two strategic alternatives to NATO.
The first is remaining ideologically agnostic, grouping with other emerging economic powers to maintain a truly nonaligned and balanced strategic approach. This entails acting in unison with the BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and China. (Though the “R” in that acronym could go missing if Turkish-Russian differences on Syria are exacerbated further.)
The second alternative is to recognize that Turkey has more in common with other emerging democracies than with economically dynamic authoritarian regimes. This form of nonalignment would place Turkey in a wider group referred to as IBSATI — India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia. Although IBSATI would leave more room for Turkish cooperation with the West than BRIC alignment, it could still preclude joint coordination with NATO.
For now, BRIC remains an analytic tool for investors more than for geo-strategists, and IBSATI is more of a pipe dream. Nevertheless, NATO should jealously promote and guard its “leading acronym” status in Ankara.
Buoyed by record-breaking economic growth over the past decade, the Turks are, once again, feeling powerful. Consequently, many Turks view world politics according to their desire to become a global player. So to maintain Turkey’s long-term commitment to NATO, the alliance should consider making Ankara feel important.
From Crisis to Cooperation: Turkey's Relations with Washington and NATO
It could, for instance, design a program for new democracies in the Arab world, similar to its post-Soviet Partnership for Peace initiative, and grant Turkey status as the lead nation in this endeavor. A NATO mechanism with a heavy Turkish flavor would excite far fewer antibodies among Arab partners than bilateral security cooperation programs run by individual Western nations. It would also give NATO an opportunity to invest in Turkey without a large armed presence.
For its part, the United States could cement Ankara’s commitment to NATO by protecting Turkey’s most vulnerable security flank: the Kurdistan Workers Party. Whenever Washington has appeared tone-deaf to Turkish concerns over Kurdish separatism and terrorism, as it did in the run-up to the Iraq war, Ankara’s response has been predictably bad.
On a practical level, NATO has made it clear that it sees Turkey as an indispensable member. During the recent NATO summit in Chicago, Turkey featured prominently in discussions of the alliance’s future strategic posture and defense capabilities. This conviction was further underlined with NATO’s recent decision to switch its land forces headquarters from Ramstein, Germany, to Izmir, Turkey.
Indeed, Turkey remains a necessary cornerstone of NATO as much in 2012 as it did in 1952. This is the silver lining of the Arab Spring: Turkey’s commitment to NATO, now revived, can be boosted further.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Soner Cagaptay and Col. Richard Outzen.
According to these writers, while still an important member of NATO, Turkey has options:
- BRIC (Britain, Russia, India, China)
- IBSATI — India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia.
- Remain AGNOSTIC, without formally joining any alliance
- Enhanced role within NATO, as lead on democracy programs for Middle East
Will NATO exercise the kind of imagination that these writers are proposing, including the multi-country program to help with the development of democracy in the Middle East, where, God knows it is certainly needed, even if those in charge resist?
As a nation whose wealth and stature are clearly growing, Turkey cannot and must not be taken for granted by NATO, especially as the Syrian conflict continues to escalate and calls for military intervention, even from what are considered moderate voices, increase.