Missile defense and Turkey's dilemma
ANKARA -- In the shadow of the White House announcement that U.S. President Barack Obama would abandon the missile defense system planned for Eastern Europe in favor of a ship-based missile defense system, the Pentagon notified Congress of a possible $7.8 billion sale of Patriot PAC-3 antimissile batteries and related equipment to Turkey, the only NATO ally bordering Iran. On the heels of that communiqué, the Turkish military announced it was planning to spend close to $1 billion for its first long-range missile defense system. This coincidence led to the surprising interpretation that Turkey would be part of a new missile defense system against Iran. But such a reality would indeed be surprising given Turkey's new foreign policy paradigm. Turkey has a new vision of becoming an independent regional soft power with zero problems with its neighbors. Turkey hopes to act as a facilitator in regional conflicts and to engage difficult actors in the Middle East by acting as a bridge between those countries and the West. Turkey is also trying to play this role regarding Iran's nuclear ambitions. Using their credit with the Iranian regime, Turkish leaders are trying to talk Iran into cooperating with the international community regarding its nuclear program. However, it should also be noted that Turkish leaders won't criticize Iran publicly. In fact, during his speech at Columbia University last November, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that trying to force Iran to drop its nuclear program while other countries maintained nuclear arsenals is no way to reduce tension. The trend in Turkish public opinion also supports this view. GMF's annual Transatlantic Trends survey shows that Turks' willingness to accept Tehran having nuclear weapons should diplomatic pressure fail increased from 19% in 2007 to 29% this year. This is a remarkable change and can't be completely independent from what the Turkish people hear from their leaders. Within this context, both Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and the Turkish military have denied the claims that Turkey's procurement of missile interceptors (probably Patriots) are related to the decision to abandon the Eastern Europe missile defense system. At a press conference, Davutoglu said that any purchase of Patriot missiles from the United States was not due to a particular threat from neighbors but was part of a modernization of the country's defense. At another press briefing, Turkish military spokesman Gen. Metin Gurak also said that Turkey is not seeking to acquire these anti-missile systems to defend itself against a particular country and that these mobile systems could be relocated depending on the threat. Which raises the question: if it's not Iran, which country could that be? The answer came shortly as Greek newspapers reported that Greece had received Scalp missiles from France to equip its Mirage warplanes. According to Greek daily Ta Nea, for the first time, Greece has acquired an advantageous strategic position vis-Ã¡-vis Turkey. Greece also has S-300 missiles procured from Russia and based in Crete since 1996. A reliable source in Turkish national security circles has privately said that Turkey is buying the missile interceptors primarily to counter a threat that might come from Greece, rather than Iran. Pointing out that tension may rise in Turkish-Greek relations after a potential break in the Cyprus negotiations, he also added that while Turkey would be backed by its Western allies in the case of a threat from Iran or Russia, it would probably be left alone in the case of a conflict with Greece. While Turkey's foreign minister and military spokesperson have delivered messages implying that Turkey is not interested in being part of a new regional missile defense system, Turkey is not looking forward to a nuclear Iran, either. This would be contrary to all parameters of Turkish foreign policy. Sooner or later, Turkey will face a dilemma. Trying to persuade Iran may work for some time; the question is what Turkey will do if Iran is not persuaded. The answer is easy in the case of a military option: Turkey will probably not be part of a coalition of the willing against Iran using the pretext of international legitimacy. Less clear is how Turkey would vote in the event of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Iranian activities or seeking severer economic sanctions. In such a case, Turkey may have to make a tough choice between its zero problems with neighbors policy and commitment to its Western allies.
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