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 acyr@carthage.edu

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