Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Axis shield

Now that NATO’s Lisbon Summit is over, there should presumably be fewer concerns left as compared to ones earlier about where Turkey stands in its vocation on the ever-changing global map of power.

Overall, the summit seems to have achieved its envisioned results -- in general terms -- and the leaders got what they hoped for. There is now an agreement on a missile defense system which will cover the entire territory of NATO’s European allies (although there will be much work left on structuring the system and fine-tuning its command and control mechanism in a coherent and functional framework). The Russians have been “won”: There will for the first time in history be a coordinated defense model which aims to bring together Moscow and NATO to direct cooperation. Agreement has also been reached on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

Is Ankara, too, content? According to President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, yes, very much so. In the past weeks, there has been a lot of publicity and alarmism in the international press, as if Turkey had already shifted its axis in favor of its Muslim brotherhood, and would behave like an “enfant noir”; this occurred, with voluntary backing of the neocon camp and the Israel lobby. Gül was certainly right when he complained of “psychological warfare” targeting his country.

There was certainly a great deal of unease as the leaders entered the talks. It was not entirely about the missile shield. Beyond that, Lisbon came to symbolize a historic, defining point about NATO’s new collective defense model, and its global role in a rapidly evolving, volatile environment.

Ankara was deeply concerned and involved with the outcome, the (re)shaping of the Strategic Concept. Gül and Davutoğlu reaffirmed Turkey’s commitment to NATO’s updated mission, as they managed to help allies reach a smooth agreement on “indivisible defense,” which strengthens the level of engagement in the event of hostility against individual allies.

So, it looks as if the actors engaging in psychological war against the current Turkish administration ended with a considerable amount of disappointment. Turks played ball, but friction that marked the summit appeared between France and others.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy heavily insisted on specifying country and region, when the missile shield issue was on the table. It was hard to understand the reasons for his insistence because when it comes to projects such as the one agreed upon, the threat is not equaled to any specific country; it is a practice that dates back to the earliest days of the Cold War.

Why did Paris insist? One possible explanation is that Sarkozy wanted to expand ground by winning over powerful allies around the idea in order to corner, alienate and expose Turkey as an “enfant noir,” but if his plan was so, it failed badly for him.

The concealed idea to bash Turkey through the issue of Cyprus seems also to have backfired. Thanks to the fair attitude of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary-general, the unfair treatment of Turkey in the past decade was thoroughly exposed.

Furthermore, the difference between the old and new attitudes became even more apparent in an exchange between President Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Gül during the same dinner. When the issue of NATO-EU relations was discussed, the former two apparently asserted that Ankara was blocking them due to its policies on Cyprus.

Gül’s response was firm. “We have a crisis of confidence with you,” he said. “You do not stick to your promises. The EU promised Turkey would be part of the European Defense Agency, which never happened. The security treaty between Turkey and the EU has not been signed either. These have caused mistrust towards you. You must fulfill your promises.”

To the objection that the “EU has principles” and “it has to protect the rights of its members [Cyprus],” Gül’s response was also firm. “I agree that principles are crucial. Why then did you not remember those principles when you accepted Cyprus as a member? The principle was never to accept a member that has problems with a neighbor and that has a dossier of conflict at the UN Security Council. You may say that Cyprus as an EU member is a fact of life, but it is also a fact of life that Greek Cyprus does not represent the entire island.”

These words reflect the real fact that Turkey and Cyprus will remain big problems both for the EU and NATO as the symmetry created calls for a bold and flexible solution to satisfy all parties.

Nevertheless, the end result of the summit for NATO and Turkey may help all concerned relax. “This [agreement] can carry NATO for 10-15 years,” Gül said. Meanwhile, there is much work to do to consolidate Turkey’s position in the axis. Myths on Turkey “shifting away” have received a huge blow.

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