Turkey's moment of truth

Τετάρτη, 24 Νοεμβρίου 2010 11:29
The NATO Lisbon summit was one more test of the new orientations of Ankara’s foreign policy. More specifically, in the Portuguese capital Turkey’s Islamist leadership was called upon to choose between the Alliance consensus on the Iranian threat and its own more benign view of Teheran’s nuclear program. And, as it has repeatedly done in similar circumstances in the past, it chose to fudge the issue. The Turkish delegation went along with the decision to develop a NATO-wide missile defense capability, but succeeded in barring any mention of Iran in the Summit Declaration.
This of course is not the end of the story. The fundamental divergence of views remains; with President Sarkozy expressing the dominant opinion in the Western world, as he stated that “[n]o name appears in the document, but let’s call a spade a spade: today’s missile threat, it’s Iran” (AFP, 20-11-2010).
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants to have its cake and eat it too. It dreads breaking with the West – not least for domestic reasons, i.e. for fear of a backlash from the Kemalist establishment. But at the same time it insists on pursuing an – as yet not clearly defined – Middle Eastern agenda, which tends to put it at odds with Western interests and policies.
For the moment, the Turks seem to get away with it. Despite Ankara’s cuddling up to Middle Eastern governments and organizations hostile to the West and its break with Israel, the major Western capitals continue to see in Turkey a valuable geopolitical and strategic asset – and some, an important commercial partner – that should not be “lost”. And, consequently, they are willing to be patient with her vagaries – all the more so, since the doors of the European Union are, and in all probability, will remain firmly shut to her accession.
The Lisbon Summit Declaration announced only the general outline of the Alliance missile defense. The – crucial – organizational and technical arrangements are to be worked out within the next seven months. And it is a safe bet that Ankara will do its utmost to have the best of both worlds: to play as central a role as possible in the shaping of the missile shield; and at the same time to keep its Iranian connection intact.
But the AKP government is no longer truly trusted in the West. Its real intentions are still obscure. And it is therefore highly unlikely that the major NATO allies would offer it the institutional possibility to create major difficulties for the anti-missile project.
Most serious analysts agree that the national interest of Turkey militates against the emergence of a nuclear armed Iran; and there is no reason to believe that the AKP leaders do not share this assessment. While one can safely assume that they are eager to contribute to a diplomatic resolution of the confrontation between Teheran and the West – in order, among others, to avert a Western military action that would place them in an impossible position.
Yet equally clear is their determination not to give up their Middle Eastern Islamist agenda. And, as a result, their attempts at mediation between Teheran and the West present an ambiguity, which, according to a well known Turkish columnist, has led an – unnamed – Western diplomat to query whether “Turkey is an extension of the West into the East, or an extension of the East into the West”. (Simh Idiz, Hurriyet Daily News, November 22nd, 2010)
For the rest, Western tolerance of Turkish dissent will last only as long as Washington and its European allies entertain hopes for a peaceful solution of the Iranian issue. If Teheran persists in its nuclear ambitions, it is very likely that the United States will harden its stance. In the wake, especially, of the recent Republican electoral victory, President Obama will probably find it necessary to intensify the pressure on the Ayatollahs; and even to seriously consider resorting to the military option he has hitherto publicly evoked pro forma, but perhaps not very seriously envisaged.
And in such a case, Turkey herself will come under pressure to clarify her loyalties. It will be her moment of truth. Sitting on the fence will no longer do. The Turks paid dearly for their dilatory tactics during the first phase of the invasion of Iraq – but this time the price tag will almost certainly prove even steeper.

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