Strengthening Alliances: Resolving the EU-Turkey Impasse on European Security

By
John Hulsman

April 2001 - During the EU summit in Nice last December, America's allies seemingly resolved the longstanding issue regarding the relationship between the new European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF) and NATO. In exchange for the reaction force's use of NATO assets for peacekeeping, NATO would be guaranteed the de facto first right of refusal before the deployment of the European force could be considered. In addition, the reaction force would not duplicate NATO planning, thus precluding the development of two competing and parallel defense structures.

However, the celebration of this beneficial outcome was cut short when NATO ally Turkey, whose non-membership in the EU prevents it from full participation in EU reaction force decision-making, would not agree to support requisite North Atlantic Council provisions guaranteeing EU access to NATO planning facilities. The move effectively blocked the adoption of the Nice decision, which remains unresolved to this day.

In return for lifting its veto, Turkey has insisted that it be granted full participation in reaction force decision-making, since the force's deployment would require use of NATO assets, including those of Turkey. As it stands, the Nice decision calls for Turkey's military assets to be used while denying Turkey a full say in that use, leading to the current impasse between Brussels and Ankara.

A failure on the part of the EU and Turkey to resolve this dispute could encourage support for the Gaullist alternative vision of the ERRF: a European security force largely independent of the United States.

Washington's national interests are best served by supporting a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) closely tied to NATO. Current aggregate European defense spending trends make the evolution of the ESDP without relying on NATO capabilities extremely unlikely. The cost of duplicating the existing transportation, logistics, communications, and intelligence assets of NATO are prohibitive and nearly impossible to sell to European public opinion.

However, building a European force closely tied to NATO, along the lines discussed in Nice, could help narrow the military capability gap between Europe and the United States. A stronger ESDP might mean a stronger European contribution to NATO as well. But, without an arrangement that is satisfactory to both the EU and Turkey, any benefit the ESDP might accrue to NATO will not occur.

Now is the time for Turkey and the EU to work out their differences. France's armed forces chief, General Jean-Pierre Kelche, recently stated that France had its own timetable for the ERRF and would not wait for Turkey to give NATO the green light to endorse the Nice decision. Another French official commented, "The train is already moving. NATO is not on board. It is not the engine. It is not in the tender or even in the passenger compartment. It is still on the platform."

Such pronouncements are contrary to U.S. interests. Instead, the Bush administration should help change the course of this train by encouraging an EU-Turkey arrangement regarding the reaction force. However, Turkey may be hard to sway. Ankara believes that the EU will complicate existing problems, such as Cyprus, without adequately considering Turkey's interests. Despite the fact that many EU members are Turkey's allies in NATO and the EU has welcomed Turkey as a candidate for full membership in the bloc, some events have soured Turkey toward Europe.

"It is impossible to find a single [European] country honestly supporting Turkey's membership [in the EU]," said Turkish general Nahit Senogul, speaking at a symposium on the proposed European force and its implications for NATO. The recent vote in the French parliament proclaiming the killing of Armenians in the chaos of World War I as "genocide" and similar attempts in other European Union parliaments have complicated the issue by fueling the perception of alienation within Turkey.

Ankara is hoping that, as Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit put it, "the Americans will assess [Turkey's] case better." Turkey's ambassador to NATO, Onur Oymen, stated that Turkey remains strongly opposed to the EU's direct access to NATO facilities, but he commented that he expects the new U.S. administration to take a stance on the issue that will consider the concerns of all NATO allies.

Within the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney is widely viewed as pro-Ankara by the Turkish press. Turkey's Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu has asserted that Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice are "defending views parallel to those of Turkey."

The Turkish government's disappointment over Secretary Powell's decision not to visit Turkey during his recent trip to the Middle East and over Washington's failure to inform Turkey of the recent bombing of Iraq illustrates that the Turks expect more from the U.S. than from their European neighbors. Given this reality, the U.S. is in a promising position to convince Turkey that its interests will be better served by letting the European rapid reaction force develop as proposed in Nice with the blessings of Washington and Ankara.

Since the United States maintains better diplomatic relations with Ankara and Brussels than they do with one another, American leadership will be instrumental in breaking the logjam between Turkey and the European Union.

First, the United States can assure Turkey that the EU will not be able to use NATO assets to undermine the foreign policies of NATO states. In this vein, the U.S. can declare that Washington's policy will be to use its veto in the North Atlantic Council to block EU access to NATO assets for any operation that violates the vital national interests of a NATO member. A U.S. commitment in this regard will strengthen Turkey's diplomatic position vis-?-vis Brussels.

Second, the United States can press those NATO allies also in the EU to ensure that Ankara is given a clearly more important role in an ESDP process reliant upon NATO assets. Further, President Bush can add a stopover in Ankara during his visit to Europe in June, at which time he can further articulate these positions.

Through these steps, and because of America's strong relationship with Turkey, Washington can help persuade Ankara to support the ESDP.

A mutually beneficial EU-Turkey arrangement will allow Ankara to support the Nice decision on the ESDP, which, in turn, will allow the United States to ensure that the European reaction force develops in a manner that complements both American and Turkish interests. For this to occur, Turkish and EU fears, both real and imagined, must be dealt with through the creative use of American diplomacy. Although achieving agreement between Brussels and Ankara will be daunting, the United States must prevent Gaullist dreams from becoming reality.

-----------------------------------------------Dr. John Hulsman is Research Fellow at the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis International Studies Center of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

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