The unfortunate accident and resultant death of 12 Turkish soldiers in Afghanistan has sparked a new debate in this country.
The debate primarily revolves around the question of why Turkey is in Afghanistan. I know there are many in this country who are not fond of NATO and question Turkey’s membership in this organization. The German Marshall Fund’s annual Transatlantic Trends surveys continue to reveal considerable skepticism toward that organization. However, Turkey’s security rests and has been resting on this important organization for decades. It is easy for a variety of sections of the elite to dismiss NATO but they are mostly unaware of the full security implications of such an argument. This year we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of Turkey’s membership in NATO and it has turned into an important opportunity to confirm the long-standing partnership.
Turkey has been a staunch ally within the Western alliance for decades. Its security has been enhanced against the Soviet threat throughout those decades. In a post-Cold War era, NATO still remains the most viable security umbrella for a Turkey that is now situated in a much more complex and volatile neighborhood. The turmoil associated with the Arab Awakening is only one aspect to the regional picture. The question of a nuclear Iran and the increasing instability in Iraq is another. Turkey’s NATO membership is especially valuable when putting the potential for an increased nuclearization of the region into perspective. Given the potential of Iran becoming a nuclear power or a power with a so-called “break-out capability,” Turkey needs to maintain its deterrence and counterbalance a potentially very destabilizing situation.
Those who ask what Turkey is doing in Afghanistan need to be reminded of these facts. Also, it is noteworthy that Turkey did not lose a single soldier in combat in Afghanistan. Turkey’s contribution to the ISAF operation there has been very much appreciated by the Afghans. Hence, the recent questions emerging from the situation at hand due to the tragic crash of a military helicopter in Kabul is rather inappropriate. It confirms once again a certain change in the mood of our people and contours of our foreign policy. Yet, there are enough people within the policy community who understand the significance of our membership in NATO. Needless to add, NATO is the Western organization where Turkey has a complete footprint and is well respected, especially after the recent decision to host an early warning radar system.
We remember with great sorrow our men and women who sacrificed their lives in various combat missions for our country. Our country’s security is more enhanced due to their great sacrifices. Although the recent helicopter crash occurred as a result of a technical failure, the incident reminded us once again how many of our men face serious security threats in a variety of missions. Trying to exploit the discussion into one questioning Turkey’s security arrangements is far from mature. Such a debate is also very much ill-timed given the multiple challenges and threats that are likely to be posed in the near future. Our region is going to go through important security challenges and Turkey will need to ensure its safety through the security umbrella provided by NATO.
The events in Syria have shown us that the days of hard power are not over yet. Hard power still matters and it is very much enhanced when complemented by soft power. Turkey has considerable soft power due to its standing and policies in the Middle East. That said, Turkey needs to maintain credible deterrence and the ready capability to confront security threats. NATO is a key piece in how the security elite in Ankara look at the region. This is rightly so and is likely to remain that way in the foreseeable future.