Turkey’s role in transatlantic relations

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Turkey’s relations with the EU have become a pivotal issue in the evolving EU-NATO relationship but security concerns still need to be ironed out, says Sinan Ülgen in an April discussion paper for the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM).

EDAM chairman Ülgen explains that the birth of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) in 1998 effectively ended the old European security framework under the auspices of the Western European Union (WEU). But Turkey had built up a series of acquis with the EU under this system, he says, meaning it had to start from scratch once the WEU was shelved. Thus the EU and Turkey had to “undergo a redefinition”. 

The effectiveness of the ESDP is still jeopardised by the frosty relationship it has with NATO, believes Ülgen. He says there are difficulties regarding the practical division of labour between the two. To overcome these problems, he says two issues have to be sorted out: 

Firstly, the French attitude to NATO must change (it has traditionally favoured a more European approach as opposed to a transatlantic approach). With Sarkozy warming to the US, Ülgen expects France to “support a more harmonious NATO-EU relationship”. 

Secondly, tensions in the EU-NATO relationship are here to stay as long as the EU and Turkey leave the Cyprus issue unresolved, claims Ülgen. The Cyprus issue flared up in 2002 when under an EU-NATO agreement, the EU was allowed to use NATO resources under so-called ‘strategic cooperation’. NATO understood this to exclude non-NATO countries, whereas the EU saw this differently, explains Ülgen, and as a result, the EU supports Cyprus’ inclusion in dialogue with NATO, whereas Turkey blocks it. The result, argues Ülgen, is an effective moratorium on dialogue between the EU and NATO on strategic cooperation. 

However, Turkey’s 92% alignment rate with the EU when it comes to foreign policy statements – and its tendency to be more inclined towards the EU’s security strategy than that of the US – shows that Turkey is in fact closer to the EU than first appears, he says. “From a policy perspective, [its] natural ally seems increasingly to be the EU”, he adds. 

Ülgen laments the lack of mutual trust between the EU and Turkey and blames “real and imaginary barriers” that European countries have raised, resulting in the failure of foreign policy to fulfil its potential. 

Turkey is under increasing pressure to lift its veto on Cyprus, says Ülgen, and has agreed to allow meetings of the EU 27 with NATO on a case-by-case basis (like on Darfur or Kosovo). On the other side, the Cypriots have been trying to gain concessions from Turkey in their EU accession process, which has further strengthened Turkey’s resolve to use its ‘NATO card’ to balance the equation, claims Ülgen. Turkey will not allow Cypriot entry into NATO unless there is a political settlement on the status of the island, he adds. 

Ülgen says the Cyprus issue must be resolved one way or another as any more failures will solidify EU-NATO problems. He concludes with a number of recommendations: 

  • Confidence-building measures must be introduced between the EU and Turkey as the EU-NATO relationship rests to a large extent on the EU-Turkey one. 
  • A package of compromise deals could be offered to Turkey in return for the country lifting its veto on Cyprus. 
  • To overcome institutional problems within the transatlantic relationship, increased dialogue between the EU and NATO should take place. France’s recent friendly gestures towards the Americans are a starting point here, says the author. 

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