Turkey's armed conflict with the PKK started in 1984 when the organization announced a Kurdish uprising. Now in the 21st century, the conflict continues with no peaceful solution on the horizon. Implicit arms embargoes also continue as the US Congress has long been dragging its feet in selling highly sophisticated US drones to Ankara.
Through an initiative called the democratic opening, launched in 2009, Turkey for the first time displayed a resolve to find ways in which the long-standing terrorism problem could be solved through political means. Secret talks between the PKK and state officials began in Oslo, as part of a search for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. However, recordings of the talks were leaked in the media last year, striking a serious blow to the peace talks, which were halted. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan later confirmed that the talks were conducted on his orders. The Oslo talks revealed the government's determination at the time to solve the Kurdish problem through non-military means.
There is no question that the leaking of the recordings by unidentified sources served the interests of those who wanted to kill the democratic opening process intended to solve the decades-old Kurdish and terrorism problems. Since last year, policies initiated to solve both problems peacefully have been offset by the intensified conflict against the PKK by the security forces. The latest Turkish pressure being exerted on the US administration for the sale of US-made Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as well as the Reapers version of the Predators is a strong indicator that Turkey's security-first policies will continue for the foreseeable future.
During their recent but separate visits to the US, Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and President Abdullah Gül pressed the US military and political leaders to ensure the sale of drones critical in pinpointing the PKK targets accurately. The US Congress, which has the final say in the sale, is reluctant to authorize the export of those weapons to Turkey.
Turkey placed its request to buy four Predator and two Reaper drones nearly four years ago. However, Ankara's mounting pressure on the US for the sale of those weapons began recently in parallel with the intensified fight against the PKK.
There are two critical issues that should be questioned as regards the resumption of pressure from Turkey for the arms sale:
1. It is a fact that very few nations in the world produce highly advanced UAVs, with US Predator drones being the most sophisticated. Yet, Turkey's continual search for weapons, including attack helicopters and UAVs from foreign sources, is problematic. This is because Turkey should have been able to produce such advanced weapons itself, given its high expenditure earmarked for defense. However, the civilian government's failure to audit military expenditure has led to an uncontrolled arms buy, while preventing Turkey from being able to produce critical technologies in the country. Turkey ranked seventh last year, with around $14.5 billion in defense expenditure, in the 28-member NATO, according to financial and economic data relating to NATO defense published on April 13. NATO figures on Turkey do not reflect extra-budgetary resources earmarked for defense since these figures are unavailable to the public. Thus, NATO data on Turkey do not reflect exact figures on this country's defense expenditure. According to the same NATO study, Turkey is followed by Spain in terms of the level of defense expenditure with around $14 billion during the same year. Although Spain comes after Turkey in terms of defense expenditure, Madrid's defense exports more than doubled in value to 2.43 billion euros ($3.1 billion) in 2011, according to a report released on May 25 by the UK-based Jane's Defence Weekly. Turkey, on the other hand, aims to increase military exports in the next four years from only $1 billion to $2 billion by 2016.
2. Turkey's renewed search for weapons from outside sources is illustrative of Ankara's policy to continue the armed conflict and policy of continuing a political solution to the problem. Since last year the security forces have intensified their fight against the PKK, and the Turkish government has not introduced any legal measures to address the Kurdish question such as allowing the Kurds to be educated in their mother tongue.
Gül and Özel put the utmost pressure on the US for sale of the UAVs to Ankara. However, it is unfortunate that Turkey does not put similar effort into solving the Kurdish question through political means.