Turkey’s pivotal role in ISIS battle — and beyond
Turkey has shifted significantly in the war against ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria), and is now striking the enemy directly and permitting the United States-led coalition to use air bases. On July 28, an emergency North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting was held in Brussels, at Turkey’s request. Alliance solidarity was reconfirmed.
At the same time, allies have urged restraint in new Turkish attacks on the Kurdistan Work- ers Party (PKK). Historically, the Turkish Kurd population has been characterized by strong separatist elements. The banned PKK is an extreme faction. Concern about regional instability related to the Kurds is one reason Turkey opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
For more than a decade, the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), an Islam-based religious party, has governed Turkey. This has complicated relations with the U.S., and other nations. However, despite strains our alliance with Turkey has essentially survived.
Many outside observers, espe- cially in Europe and the U.S., focus on signs of Islamic extremism in Turkey. Terrorist efforts in Europe since 9/11 have achieved decidedly mixed results but strongly reinforce such anxiety.
Turkey’s relative isolation within Europe adds to concern. The European Union has turned the nation’s application for membership into an ordeal. No doubt concern about Islamic extremism contributes to caution.
In fact, Turkish developments in important respects have been reassuring. The people remain committed to representative government. To date, terrorist acts in the country have boomeranged, with considerable hostility toward perpetrators of the criminal acts.
Turkey has a history of domestic military intervention, but the AKP has operated to avoid takeover by the generals. To be sure, tensions and some serious controversies have arisen between leaders of the military and the government, but so far coexistence has continued. There has been no repeat of the military takeovers of earlier periods.
Since the successful revolution in the 1920s led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey has been constitutionally strictly secular. The army serves as watchdog to keep religion at bay. Four times in the past half century, the generals have acted. At times, military intervention has been bloody.
Turkey’s geostrategic importance should be overriding for policymakers in the U. S. and other nations. Turkey commands sea and land routes, including the Bosphorus Strait, for shipping oil, gas and other important commodities. Governments in Ankara have in the past worked effectively with Israel, and current strains combine with some hopeful developments.
Ankara- Washington cooperation is strongly rooted. Turkey has been actively engaged in Afghanistan, including major military and diplomatic responsibilities. During the first Persian Gulf War, U.S. B-52 bombers deployed on Turkish soil, a potentially risky move by Ankara. Turkey played a vital Allied role during the Korean War; the U.N. military cemetery at Busan contains a large number of Turkish graves.
Germany and Turkey historically are military allies. Encouraging that partnership in today’s more stable world makes sense. Germany’s leadership is crucial to the EU, and influence steadily grows in Russia and Central Asia.
Turkey has participated in multinational diplomatic initiatives to end the Syria civil war. Syrian refugees streaming into Turkey have provided a major challenge, overall handled humanely by Ankara. Simultaneously, the current government’s ties with Iran cause concern.
U.S.-Turkey bilateral cooperation is vital as well as durable. The NATO alliance survived the Cold War, and is proving valuable in pursuing stability in Europe — and beyond. Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). He can be reached at email@example.com