MARCH 2003

TURKEY: PRICE OF ALLIANCE

Despite a dramatic reversal in parliament on 1 March, the Turkish ruling party, under acute pressure from the United States, seems likely to push for a second vote that, if successful, will bring the country around in direct US aid and secure future Turkish influence in the Kurdish northern region of Iraq.
By NIELS KADRITZKE



THE leader of the Justice and Development party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made an unusual suggestion to President George Bush in December. After the AKP's election victory in November, he proposed that if the European Union failed to set a date for entry talks, Turkey should be admitted to Nafta, the free-trade area linking the US, Canada and Mexico (1). This did not surprise the White House. Erdogan made his proposal on the eve of the EU enlargement summit in Copenhagen and signalled a major departure in Turkish foreign policy. Turkey no longer sees itself only as a geographical link between Europe and Asia. It feels able to choose between Europe and the United States, and to play one off against the other.

But US intercession is unlikely to help Turkey's bid for EU membership. Journalists covering the Copenhagen summit concluded it had had the opposite effect (2). The EU was not prepared to execute the US's bidding, especially if it had to pay for Turkey's new privileges. But although the EU leaders refused to set a starting date for accession negotiations, US pressure was probably a factor in their decision to fix a rather distant date for reviewing the situation.

This was clearly not enough for the prime minister, Abdullah Gül. Both he and Erdogan sought a commitment to a decision on Turkish membership by May 2004, since after that time any of 25 countries, rather than the present 15, would have the power to veto it. The Turks are worried that new member states may be even more reluctant than existing members to accept a Muslim country. Following the Copenhagen summit, the Turkish government wisely decided to use the time between now and 2004 to prepare the country, legally, institutionally and economically, for accession. By stating publicly that Turkey needed these reforms not only to join the EU but to strengthen its democracy, Erdogan increased Turkey's credibility as a candidate. But Turkey's pro-European forces still face three major domestic obstacles.

First, the new government has to contend with an entrenched Kemalist ruling class that has still not decided clearly in favour of Europe and continues to base its politics on the nationalism of Turkey's founding father, Ataturk. Second, accession cannot be separated from the issue of Cyprus, which the Kemalist elite, or the army at least, considers vital to national security. And Turkey will have to take an active part in any war against Iraq, underlining the role of Turkey and its army as a strategic partner of the US. Washington's overtures to Turkey, whose cooperation is vital to the opening of a second front on Iraq's northern border, are strengthening the eurosceptic tendencies within the Kemalist elite.

The inexperienced AKP is struggling hard to unravel these issues. The war in Iraq will be a formidable test for the new government, since AKP voters are even more opposed to Turkish participation than the rest of the population. Even the army has reservations, fearing war may lead to the break-up of Iraq and clear the way for a formal Kurdish state. Faced with a resurgence of separatism in the Kurdish territories, Turkey will do all it can to prevent that outcome. The Turkish high command has agreed with the US that Kurdish areas, especially the oil region of Mosul and Kirkuk, will be occupied by American troops, to forestall the creation of a Kurdish state. The decision to deploy Turkish troops beside US<\p>troops, taken by the National Security Council (MGK) (3) at the end of January, was apparently motivated by concern to ensure the US keeps its word (4).

The MGK's decision has already been set in motion by the Kemalist establishment. "The army and the top bureaucrats in the foreign ministry have laid the foundations for multi faceted cooperation with the Americans," notes the editor-in-chief of the Turkish Daily News in an account of the balance of forces. "It is now up to the government to secure official backing from parliament" (5). So the AKP, described against its will as Islamist, will be forced to implement the policy decided by the former power centre. From the point of view of the Kemalist elite, this has desirable side effects. The government will be forced to disappoint its supporters, and the unpopular decision to deploy Turkish troops will widen already perceptible rifts in the AKP leadership. The division of responsibilities between the populist party leader, Erdogan, and the prime minister, Gül, who also comes from the AKP but was an early supporter of Turkish participation in the war, could turn into open rivalry.

The MGK considers Turkish participation inevitable. Turkish interests in northern Iraq and its dependence on the International Monetary Fund leave no room for manoeuvre. Only the US could compensate Turkey for the economic consequences of war. So Turkey could either keep out and suffer the disruption of regional trade without financial compensation, or confirm its status as a strategic ally of the US by participating in the war, and be compensated for its contribution on the northern front (6).

Following the trial of strength over war with Iraq, the Kemalist top brass and senior bureaucrats succeeded in imposing their will on the government over the Cyprus issue. Shortly after the AKP's election victory, the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, had revived the moribund negotiation process. On 11 November he submitted a proposal for an overall solution based on a two-zone federation, which would enable Greek and Turkish Cypriots to join the EU as a single political unit. It would have been un realistic to expect agreement on that proposal before the EU summit.

But both sides accepted it as a basis for discussion - the Greek Cypriots immediately and Rauf Denktash, president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), reluctantly, under pressure from Ankara. After the EU summit Denktash rejected the Annan plan, which he branded a crime against humanity. Erdogan reacted angrily, calling Denktash an anachron ism. Following the announcement of the Copenhagen summit decision to allow the southern, Greek part of the island to join the EU, tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots took to the streets, brandishing the European flag and calling on Denktash to sign the Annan plan or resign.

Abandoned by his own people, Denktash accused the demonstrators of selling their birthright for a handful of euros and said he would resign only if Ankara withdrew its support. This was a give-away. Denktash proved he had no regard for the opinion of his fellow Turkish Cypriots and owed allegiance only to the authorities in Turkey. And what he meant by Ankara was not the elected government, but the Kemalist elite, which had always supported him. Once again, his friends backed him. At the end of January the MGK announced that the Cyprus issue was too important to be left to "our Turkish brethren" on the island. It was directly connected with the security of continental Turkey. The AKP leader was openly rebuked for saying that the wishes of the Cypriot people should be taken seriously. The idea that the Cyprus issue should be dealt with in the context of Turkish accession to the EU was wrong-headed and dangerous. Moreover the MGK fully supported Denktash's demand for recognition of the TRNC. This was an equivocal rejection of the Annan plan, which vests undivided political sovereignty in the future state of Cyprus. The Turkish doctrine of the strategic import ance of the island is as old as the Cyprus issue. That it is now being used as the main argument against the Annan plan is connected with the Iraq crisis. Mehmed Ali Birand, a leading Turkish journalist, argues that the military rejection front opposed to the UN proposal believes the Iraq operation will strengthen Turkey's hand on Cyprus and enable it to negotiate later from a better position (7). Turkey's opposition to the UN proposal has encouraged the Greek Cypriots to elect a president, Tassos Papadopoulos, who is less enthusiastic about the Annan plan. At the end of February Annan was still claiming an agreement was in sight.

What Birand calls entrenched forces will not only block a possible solution of the Cyprus problem. They will launch a two-pronged polit ical attack on the stubborn Turkish Cypriots, whose alleged lack of patriotism has been betrayed by their enthusiasm for Europe, and on Erdogan, who has dared to stand up to the Kemalist establishment. Turkish observers see this as a power struggle between the army and the leader of the AKP, which Erdogan is bound to lose, especially as his about-turn on the war issue will dent his popularity. So the Iraq war is strengthening all the forces that have always held back Turkish rapprochement with the EU. That is no accident. The most thorough reform Turkey has to carry out on the way to Europe will be at the army's expense. In its annual report on Turkey's progress, the European Commission always stresses the need for Ankara to impose, once and for all, the primacy of the political authorities over the military. Heinz Kramer, a German expert on Turkey, summarises the problem: "Democratic control of the army is formally guaranteed, but in practice the military leadership is an autonomous decision-making centre that largely escapes civilian control."

The required reform would subordinate the general staff to the ministry of defence, rather than the contrary. It would abolish what Kramer describes as the military leadership's absolute power of decision on policy and security issues (8). In Kramer's view, the civilian reform of the system will take a generation, since the army's role as guardian of the state is largely unchallenged. This could prove to be the main obstacle to Turkish accession. Europeanisation of Turkey clashes with traditional Kemalism. Ataturk's westernisation drive by no means implied the establishment of democracy as understood in the West (9). And Kemalist nationalism is incompatible with a partial transfer of Turkish sovereignty to the EU. It is particularly revealing that Turkey refused to sign the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court: the idea of a court with worldwide jurisdiction is as unacceptable to the Kemalist elite as it is to the US ruling class. The ideological convergence between Kemalism and US imperialism could strengthen the hand of those forces in Europe that will be tempted to question the date fixed for the start of negotiations with Turkey. To avoid this danger, Turkey needs a new political impetus that is European, rather than Kemalist or Islamist. When the war in Iraq is over, Turkey will still be on the shores of the Aegean, not somewhere west of the US. And millions of Turks will still be living in Europe, as they always have, not in California or the far reaches of the Nafta free-trade area
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Niels Kadritzke is a journalist in Berlin

(1) Reuters, 12 December 2002.
(2) See To Vima, Athens, 13 December 2002; International Herald Tribune, Paris, 13 and 14 December 2002.
(3) See Eric Rouleau, "Turkey's modern pashas", Le Monde diplomatique, English language edition, September 2000.
(4) Hurriyet, 4 February 2003.
(5) Ilnur Cevik, Turkish Daily News, Ankara, 3 February 2003.
(6) Jürgen Gottischlich, Tageszeitung, Berlin, and Turkish Daily News, Ankara, 30 December 2002.
(7) Turkish Daily News, 4 February 2003. The opposition Republican People's Party even demanded that the US recognise the TRNC in exchange for Turkish participation in the war against Iraq.
(8) Heinz Kramer, "Die Türkei und die Kopenhagener Kriterien", SWP Studies, Berlin, November 2002.
(9) A reference to Ataturk: "They say our government resembles neither democracy nor socialism. So what? We should be proud of resembling no one else. We resemble only ourselves!"
 
Translated by Barry Smerin


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