International Papers

Turkey, Cut Cold

Despite warnings that deep divisions within NATO will severely damage the organization’s credibility, France, Germany, and Belgium continue to block NATO efforts to shore up Turkey’s defenses against an Iraqi attack. France’s ambassador to Britain explained his country’s position in the Independent:

We are told that the issue is the protection of Turkey. To assume that Turkey needs to be protected from retaliation by Iraq is to assume a military intervention against Iraq. This means we are, in fact, requested to support Nato’s endorsement of the principle of a preventive war against Iraq. We cannot back Nato’s involvement in a war against Iraq even before the question of the use of force has been put to the Security Council, let alone authorised by it. This would mean putting the Nato cart before the UN horse.

Canada’s Globe and Mail observed: “The first thing to know about NATO is that the United States is responsible for two-thirds of all military spending among the 19 member-nations. The second thing to know is that the alliance operates by consensus. … Power is sure to clash with principle when a country like the United States can be frustrated by a country like Belgium.” The editorial said the current crisis could easily have been averted, but it wasn’t because both sides are using Turkey as a dry run for the coming struggle at the U.N. Security Council with the United States and Britain pushing for military action against Iraq, and the Franco-German bloc arguing for expanded weapons inspections instead.

The Financial Times reported that Turkish officials have been “deliberately cool” about the affair, “in contrast to the furious US criticism.” Turkey’s restraint is motivated in part by the nation’s strong opposition to war in Iraq and partly by its desire to maintain good relations with the United States. On Thursday, the Turkish Parliament voted to permit the United States to modernize bases and ports that could be used by U.S. troops in transit to Iraq; another debate on allowing U.S. troops to use the bases is scheduled for next Tuesday. Ankara has requested billions in loans, aid, and compensation, which the United States is likely to grant, pending congressional approval. (The FT suggested a figure of $3 billion in grant aid and $20 billion in loan guarantees.)

The Guardian pointed out that Ankara has its own Iraq agenda: “Turkey, which already maintains troops in northern Iraq, is moving heavy armour and reinforcements to its south-eastern border. Ankara says its aim is to protect ethnic Turkmens and stem a 1991-type refugee exodus. But it makes no secret of its intention to seize a large swath of Iraqi territory once war begins.” Another key Turkish objective is preventing Kurdish statehood. The prospect of a large-scale, long-term Turkish presence in Kurdish areas may well resuscitate the dormant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the group that fought for independence for Turkey’s 15 million Kurds, and that declared a cease-fire three years ago. According to the Guardian, Turkey has refused permission for British troops to deploy “in support of American ground forces preparing a northern front against Saddam Hussein’s regime” because senior officers fear the British “are trying to influence the Iraqi Kurds to create distrust for Ankara.”