January 30, 2004
Europeanizing Turkey: U.S. Expectations and Cyprus Realities
Delivered to: 24th Annual Conference of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations
By John Sitilides, Executive Director
The Western Policy Center

Can the security concerns of the Turkish military, which has close historic ties to the U.S. military establishment, become openly and transparently integrated into the political concerns of Turkey's civilian leadership, which is clearly focused on completing the formal process of fully Europeanizing the Turkish nation-state? The months leading up to the December 2004 European Union summit should provide the answer.

On the heels of the U.S. visit of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, I will posit that Turkey is viewed in Washington, through the prism of the European Union, along a three-phase continuum of immediate, tactical, and strategic interests.

The U.S. viewed Turkey as a strategic partner in NATO containing the Soviet Union until 1991, and then containing Saddam Hussein in northern Iraq until early last year. The new U.S. strategy, steered by President George W. Bush and National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice under the generational project of transforming the Middle East and the broader Muslim world towards liberalism, accountable government, the rule of law, and full human and civil rights for all citizens, will look to Turkey's increasingly democratic secularism to inspire its neighbors to reject fascism, tyranny, and extremist fundamentalism.

Prime Minister Erdogan has already begun to move Turkey in that direction, espousing what he terms "conservative democracy" as he expands ties with Iran, Syria, and Pakistan without compromising Turkey's secular principles, a foolish path that eventually led to the undemocratic ouster of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan in 1997.

But, for the American strategy in the Muslim world to eventually succeed, the Turkish model of political and economic development must succeed. From Washington's tactical perspective, that requires Turkey to become fully integrated into European institutions through a process of accession to the European Union that secures and renders irreversible the country's ambitious - some might say astounding - political, economic, legal, and social reforms.

This process will lead, as it has for other recent EU members and aspirants, to greater affluence for Turkey's citizens and greater democratization throughout the country. Dr. Henri Barkey has correctly noted that Turkey's historic inability to implement painful reforms on its own has made the European Union accession process such an attractive option. Moving forward on a committed path towards Europe provides Turkey with the shortest, and surest, route to long-term stability based on a working democracy and economic prosperity.

An EU rejection of Turkey's efforts to launch formal negotiations after the December 2004 summit can lead to one of two dangerous directions. Either those Turkish elements calling for a manifestly illogical eastern-looking strategy, focused on the underdeveloped Arab and wider Muslim worlds, or those calling for a muscular assertion of regional influence that isolates Turkey from all neighbors and internationally save for Israel and the United States, will be considerably strengthened.

So Washington's immediate objective, coinciding with recent statements by leading European officials such as EU President Romano Prodi and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer visiting Ankara just last week, is to facilitate Turkey's accession into the EU through resolution of the Cyprus issue prior to May 1, when Cyprus enters the European bloc. That would begin to satisfy Brussels' requirement that, in addition to meeting the often wrenching membership criteria, all applicants resolve outstanding political issues with EU member states prior to accession.

For Turkey, the immediate and long-term benefits of a Cyprus settlement, aside from securing an EU negotiating date, are broad and numerous. As Mehmet Ali Birand spelled out in a recent column, a legitimate Turkish troop presence in Cyprus would no longer be deemed an occupation force by the United Nations. Many residents from Anatolia would be permitted to remain, living side by side with Turkish Cypriots who will govern the north, with an opportunity to have one of their own become president of the entire republic. Turkish Cypriots will have their own parliament, their own laws, and their own police force, all fully and duly recognized as legitimate and official by the European Union and the international community.

Regionally, a Cyprus settlement would likely expedite the resolution of a series of territorial and sovereign disputes between Turkey and Greece in, above, and beneath the Aegean Sea, another EU requirement that would bring an end to NATO operational problems and provide secure maritime and naval access not only to Turkey, but also to Russia and other Black Sea countries reliant on the Aegean for access to the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. But that is a topic for another conference.

May 1 has been established as the most important, or the ideal, deadline for a settlement. I note that it has not been established as the absolute deadline. Today, three months before that date, the parties have not yet committed themselves to meeting the three conditions laid out by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, especially his intention to resolve any items in his plan left unresolved by the negotiating parties prior to the referendum date.

If talks begin in two weeks, that gives the parties approximately one month to finalize an agreement that Annan could put to a vote. An additional several weeks would be required to sufficiently educate the citizens of the respective communities concerning the actual stakes involved when they vote. If the referenda were to be approved, several more weeks would be required to fully and accurately codify and translate - without room for misinterpretation - the constitution of a united Cyprus republic into Greek, Turkish, and English, in time for signature by May 1 so that the country can properly enter the EU.

Therefore, for May 1 to work, Turkish and Greek Cypriots must realistically come to an initial agreement by about March 31. If that proposed deadline does not work, the parties can seek a new deadline at the NATO summit in Istanbul on June 28 and 29, by which time Washington could eagerly showcase Turkey as an ideal candidate for EU accession in the post-September 11 era of emerging European security concerns stemming from adjacent regions where centers of international terrorism, WMD proliferators, and asymmetrical threats from organized criminal enterprises thrive.

If the parties cannot come to an agreement by late June, then the final, absolute deadline turns up in mid-October. At that time, the European Commission will issue an inter-institutional opinion to all members states, which will then include Cyprus, regarding Turkey's preparedness for opening negotiations. The EU members will reflect on the commission's opinion until the December summit, where they will decide whether or not to launch accession negotiations with Turkey. An affirmative vote at the summit must be unanimous. An October Commission opinion against opening negotiations will be very difficult for the United States, which is not a member of the EU, to reverse, however vigorously the Bush administration chooses to engage each and every member of the bloc.

Prior to any October decision, however, one potentially insurmountable challenge still faces Turkey. The question of establishing genuine Turkish parliamentary and civilian control over the military, a fundamental principle in the United States and the European Union remains, despite Prime Minister Erdogan's smashing success in passing, though not fully implementing, a far-reaching domestic reform program and his well-intended efforts to achieve a comprehensive political settlement of the Cyprus issue.

This is a growing problem to the extent that, as Turkey's political leadership sees diminishing opportunity costs in resolving the Cyprus problem, powerful dissenting elements in the Turkish military view those costs as unacceptably excessive. Since 1963, many political disputes and problems in Cyprus have been manifested militarily. The military remains highly concerned about the personal security of Turkish Cypriots and the need to prevent the establishment of what is viewed as a hostile military presence, such as Russian anti-aircraft missiles manned by Greek troops, on Cyprus.

Turkey's political leadership has not sufficiently assuaged those concerns. To the extent they have been engaged by American, European, or U.N. diplomats, certain powerful Turkish military officers remain skeptical.

Indeed, within the Turkish military, there remains an open debate about how to, and in some quarters, whether to, solve the Cyprus problem. The statements several months ago of Gen. Hursit Tolon, commander of Turkey's Aegean Army, branding as traitors those Turks who support a Cyprus settlement was indicative of the disengagement of the Turkish military from the political settlement process.

Aggravating this predicament is the fact that influential Turkish military officials have an inherent and sometimes profound mistrust of Prime Minister Erdogan and his entire party as Islamists disguising their theocratic ambitions in inspiring secular oratory. These officials believe that the Islamist roots of the AKP party are more entrenched than current pronouncements would indicate, and scores of officers accused of overly Islamist tendencies have been purged from the military ranks. Because the military oversees its own promotion process, it remains the one institution that cannot be politicized by the government.

The sense that the prime minister is successfully embedding Islamists throughout the Turkish government, deep within the ministerial system, only makes these influential military officials more apprehensive about the entire AKP enterprise -- especially in Cyprus.

Rauf Denktash does not control a single bullet, or a single soldier, in northern Cyprus. All indications to date are that Prime Minister Erdogan does not exert control there either. The Turkish armed forces and the military police in northern Cyprus report to the Turkish General Staff in Ankara. If Prime Minister Erdogan directs the Turkish military to withdraw 80% of the Turkish troops on Cyprus because a political settlement has been reached, will those military officers who firmly believe that such a directive is premature or harmful to Turkey's interests obey Erdogan? Especially concerning an issue that is sensitive and is as much about Turkish national honor as it is about progress into the 21st century? I'm not certain of that.

To avoid the possibility of a constitutional crisis in Turkey and, more importantly, to help secure the strategic and tactical goals of U.S. policy towards Turkey, the Bush administration should institute U.S.-led military diplomacy that complements the ongoing efforts of the United Nations and the State Department by engaging the Turkish military to address its concerns in and around Cyprus and thereby win its support for a beneficial, self-interested Cyprus settlement. Such military diplomacy, naturally extended to the Greek military as well, does not exist today.

Until the debate over a Cyprus settlement is either closed within the ranks of the Turkish military, or the supporters of a settlement within the Turkish military decisively prevail over the opponents, there is no certainty that a Cyprus settlement will be achieved this year, despite the best intentions of Prime Minister Erdogan, Kofi Annan, Turkish and Greek Cypriot political leaders, European Union officials, and a commendably refocused President Bush.

Logically, if the Cyprus issue is not resolved in 2004, it will be nearly impossible for Turkey to begin negotiating its accession into the European Union anytime in the next half decade. For Turkey itself, that might be disastrous. The country's political leaders would face great challenges in keeping Turkey moored in the direction of continued modernization and domestic reform without the prospect of entering the European Union in the foreseeable future.

Given the enormous expectation in Turkey that EU negotiations would begin right after the December summit, the scenarios for domestic political and diplomatic reaction in Ankara are unpleasant, at the least. Given the already high level of anti-Americanism among the Turkish public, especially since the Iraq war, odds are that the U.S. would face potential strategic setbacks in relations with Ankara, in Turkey's immediate neighborhood, and throughout the broader Muslim world starting in early 2005.

The bottom line is that to help secure America's grand strategy in the Muslim world, Turkey must be embraced by the European Union, and that requires a Cyprus settlement. Without a substantive effort to engage the Turkish military in this process, a Cyprus settlement is probably not achievable. Therefore, military diplomacy to complement and build upon the critical foundation of political diplomacy is the surest way to achieve the immediate, tactical, and strategic goals of the United States in a manner beneficial to Turkey, Cyprus, and the European Union.