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Iran's Nuclear Program Modifies Turkish Strategy and Policy

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  • Iran's Nuclear Program Modifies Turkish Strategy and Policy


    Wednesday / April 05, 2006

    By Stephen Blank

    Every analysis of the consequences of Iran's nuclear and missile
    projects has stressed that successful completion of those programs
    would dramatically transform Eurasia's security situation. We can
    already begin to see this happening with Turkey which shares a border
    with Iran and which has become increasingly nervous about Iran's
    nuclear and missile program. Turkey still seeks to join the EU, is
    effecting a rapprochement with Russia, and is also simultaneously a
    member of NATO. It also still has a substantive working relationship
    with Israel, particularly among both states' armed forces, and is
    still insecure regarding Kurdish terrorism and aspirations to a
    state. Iran's activities threaten to transform the balance around
    Turkey and have led to clear signs of new modifications in Turkish

    BACKGROUND: Turkey has stated that it has sent messages to Iran asking
    it to desist from building nuclear weapons. Indeed, as an aspirant to
    membership in the EU it could do no less without enraging Brussels,
    and the key members of the EU who are leading the negotiations with
    Iran. But it has a delicately balanced relationship with Iran. Its
    border with Iran has been quiet for centuries. Iran is also a major
    source of Turkish energy imports, providing almost a fifth of Turkey's
    energy imports. Both Iran and Turkey also share common apprehensions
    about Kurdish independence drives in their own states and in Iraq as
    well as fears of re-emerging Kurdish terrorism in their two
    states. And with a Muslim- led AKP government in power in Ankara,
    Turkey undoubtedly is highly sensitive to charges about supporting
    non-Muslim regimes against Iran.

    Nevertheless, while it has made clear its apprehensions to Israel
    about possible Israeli preemptive strikes against Iran through Turkish
    air space, the Turkish government and military are clearly moving to
    protect themselves against possible Iranian nuclearization. Turkey has
    resumed bilateral military talks with Israel and is evidently
    upgrading intelligence cooperation with Washington, not only to
    counter Kurdish terrorism in Turkey but also to monitor developments
    in Iraq. At the same time the Turkish government, acting on its
    military's urging, has now opened an international tender for anti-air
    missiles which could also be used as anti-missile missiles to block or
    deter potential Iranian attacks upon Turkey. Thus this tender has
    stimulated competition among foreign suppliers to provide it with the
    appropriate missiles and the main contenders appear to be America,
    Israel and Russia. The Russian firm Almaz-Antey is gearing up to to
    offer Turkey its S-300-PMU-2 missile known as Favorit, and Russia has
    evidently approached Turkey about co-production of the S-300 missile,
    perhaps in this variant. Such gestures are a part of the larger
    Russo-Turkish rapprochement that has been effected since 2003 through
    major gas sales, burgeoning trade and shared apprehensions about
    American policy in Iraq and about the EU's demands on both states for
    reforms. Even if Moscow and Ankara claim to have also developed
    common interests with regard to developments in the Caucasus, it
    remains the case that for Ankara membership in the EU is the main
    priority. Consequently it could not, even if it wanted to, go against
    the EU on the sensitive Iranian issue. But this issue also clearly has
    the potential to influence Ankara back toward collaboration with
    Western powers like America and Israel.

    IMPLICATIONS: Should Ankara gradually return to enhanced security and
    defense cooperation with the West, the results would be seen in the
    Black Sea and Caucasus areas as well as vis--vis Iran. Such an
    outcome is by no means a certainty, but it is revealing just how
    important Turkey is as a player in its various regions that Moscow is
    again willing to raise Iranian ire by providing Turkey with these
    missiles for after all, they would be intended primarily to deter
    Iranian threats. This shows Turkey's growing importance to Russia, if
    not to other actors. In other words, should Iran continue with its
    missile and nuclear programs, doing so would undoubtedly begin to
    affect the postures and calculations of all the key players in
    Eurasia. This means that the potential repercussions of an Iranian
    program would be felt in Iraq, throughout the areas of Kurdish
    habitation in Iran and Turkey as well, and in the greater Middle
    East. But they would also resonate throughout the Caucasus and Black
    Sea areas if not also throughout the Caspian and Central Asia. For
    example, to the extent that Turkey can draw closer to the West and
    possibly accelerate the negotiations over its entry into the EU, it is
    also possible that some progress could be made with regard to the
    Nagorno-Karabakh talks. Those deadlocked at the last bilateral meeting
    of the principals in Rambouillet and at the meeting of the Minsk group
    in Washington. But, as this author has argued elsewhere, Turkish entry
    into the EU would obviously bring about a changed situation or place
    pressure on Turkey to alter its posture vis--vis Armenia which could
    then generate further movement toward resolving this war. Enhanced
    cooperation with Russia, on the other hand, might result in less
    financial support for Chechens coming from Turkey which would lead to
    different possible outcomes in Eurasia. If Turkey is forced to
    maintain a deterrent posture against a truculent Iran, this could also
    force NATO to consider once again the question of defending Turkey, an
    issue that generated a huge fiasco in 2003 and contributed to the
    undermining of Turkish trust in its allies and in America. This time,
    a more positive stance toward the issue of defending Turkey, not just
    against missile attacks, but also against foreign-backed terrorism,
    might go far to restore some of the previous warmth in Turco-Western
    relations. Indeed, Prime Minister Erdogan alluded to this when stating
    that NATO membership indicated Turkey need not worry of Iranian nukes.

    CONCLUSIONS: Presently it is far to early to predict how Turkey's
    relationships with its most important interlocutors will evolve, and
    it is in any case premature to make predictions as the way the Iranian
    issue will unfold is unclear. Nevertheless it is important to realize
    the issues involved and the stakes for all concerned with regard to
    Turkish strategic options, because those will be crucially influenced
    by the overall course of events with regard to Iran's nuclear and
    missile projects. Turkey is forced to balance its defense, energy,
    trade, anti-terrorist and Kurdish concerns along with those of
    relations among key players America, the EU, Russia, Israel, Iraq,
    Iran, and the Caucasus as it tries to navigate among the potential
    shoals of alternative solutions to the anxieties caused Iran's
    programs. Turkey's answers to those issues, will in turn help define
    the parameters of what is possible in all these volatile regions of
    the world and its relationships with all these key actors. As the
    Chinese ideogram puts it, crisis signifies both danger and
    opportunity. The crisis generated by Iran's missile and nuclear
    programs constitutes both a crisis and an opportunity, not only for
    Turkey, but also for all its partners.

    AUTHOR'S BIO: Professor Stephen Blank, Strategic Studies Institute,
    U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA. The views expressed here
    do not represent those of the U.S. Army, Defense Dept. or the
    U.S. Government. leid=4136