Turkey’s expansion of its own foreign policy over the last several years has caused concern among fellow NATO members as to the divergence of Turkey’s national interests from those of other NATO members. These concerns suggest that Turkey should be relegated to a continued role of a functional ally, providing only military support, rather than as a strategic partner for other NATO operations.
The most important divergence is on the issue of Iran’s nuclear development. Turkey’s foreign policy of “Zero-Problems” with its neighbors is focused on developing economic interdependence among countries in the region in order to promote security, stability, and economic growth. Turkey engages in good relations with Iran for energy, trade, and maintaining a peaceful, shared-border existence. However, Turkey’s favorable relations with Iran have extended to support of Iran’s nuclear development program, which other NATO members strongly oppose. Turkey voted against increased UN sanctions on Iran, alarming NATO members of Turkey’s loyalty to the alliance. Continued support of Iran’s nuclear development has also caused concern among NATO members, particularly the U.S., that Turkey’s government is becoming too friendly with other Muslim countries. Improved relations with other Muslim countries is also evidenced by Turkey’s deteriorating relations with Israel, another major concern of the U.S. Given the U.S.’s support of Israel, the unfavorable Turkish-Israel relations could be an issue which keeps NATO from considering Turkey to be a strategic partner in the region.
Although Turkey’s foreign policy of “Zero-Problems” is focused on promoting Turkey’s national interests, it is also a foreign policy that can be used in tandem with meeting NATO’s current challenges, which makes Turkey an ideal strategic partner for NATO. Turkey’s foreign policy vision is to engage in soft power diplomacy throughout the region in order to develop economic interdependency between Turkey and its neighbors, thereby increasing peace and stability in the region. This approach is implemented in a consistent and systemic global framework, meaning that Turkey desires to engage in peaceful relations with all nations in order to promote economic, political, and security ties for Turkey throughout the world.
One key aspect of this policy is that Turkey does not make threats to achieve its objectives, but focuses instead on common values, history, culture, and economic promotion to improve relations with each country. For instance, Turkey maintains that, while it is opposed to Iran’s nuclear development for weapons purposes, it is better to either persuade Iran not to continue its nuclear development or to engage in monitoring of development to ensure adherence to rules laid out in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Turkey is adamant that its foreign policy is consistent with NATO’s objectives, and that its “relations with other global actors aim to be complementary, not in competition” with, NATO’s policies.
The new security challenges for NATO include 1) new security challenges and threat perceptions; 2) the use of old tools versus new tool in dealing with stability, whether these involve the use of military hard power or normative soft power; and 3) the legitimacy of military intervention. Turkey’s commitment to helping with the first challenge is evident in the actions it has already taken, and continues to take, as a NATO ally. A commitment to the second and third challenge would define Turkey as a strategic partner. Although there is speculation that these two challenges are where Turkey’s interests diverge with NATO, it can be argued that Turkey’s foreign policy and national interests share the same objectives as NATO, and therefore a strategic partnership with Turkey would aid NATO in meeting these two final challenges.
Regarding the use of old tools versus new tools, Turkey is the only country in the region that can provide both. Due to the current insecure environment, Turkey maintains a powerful military for its own protection. However, it also is the second largest provider of military power in NATO, and has committed Turkish forces to NATO operations on numerous occasions. In a post-9/11 era, NATO is facing the issues of humanitarian intervention, peacekeeping missions, anti-terrorism post conflict reconstruction, and counter-insurgency. Turkey’s foreign policy of soft power diplomacy, along with its common history, culture, and ethnic ties to the region can be of considerable use with all of these challenges.
For instance, the U.S. has found its relationship with Turkey to be very beneficial in its Anti-Terrorism Training Assistance and Counter-Terrorism Financial Assistance programs. The U.S. has been able to train people in Turkey on these programs, and Turkey has then been entrusted to train neighboring states. Furthermore, Turkey is strong enough economically to be a foreign aid donor, which is has done with several countries, including a commitment of $300 million to Afghanistan in non-military aid. Given the budgetary constraints for the U.S. in funding these types of programs compared to defense expenditures, Turkey could be a good strategic partner in providing the necessary funding and training for these programs, which serve both Turkey’s national interests and NATO’s objectives.
Regarding the legitimacy of military intervention, Turkey has shown a commitment to NATO in the form of military engagement on numerous NATO operations. However, Turkey’s foreign policy of soft power rather than using threats and inciting violence shows that Turkey prefers non-violent conflict resolution. Given that Turkey is at the epicenter of Europe, Africa, and Asia, and its importance to regional stability, it is important to keep violent conflicts near Turkey’s borders at bay. As Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu stated, “In overcoming regional problems, the local dimension should not be ignored.” It is important to note that Turkey is a Muslim democracy focusing on building political, security, and economic ties with all nations, including fellow Muslim countries. Therefore, Turkey can have a positive influence on other Muslim countries without the need for military intervention, which would further NATO’s objectives of peace and security.
Turkey’s geographic location in the middle of Africa, Europe, and Asia make it a strategic ally for NATO. However, with its cultural and ethnic ties to countries in the region, its consistent foreign policy of “zero-problems”, its powerful military and strong economy, and its commitment to the alliance as part of its own national interests, NATO should consider incorporate Turkey as a major strategic partner in its grand strategy development for the 21st century.