Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Patriot Games, Pt. II

A bit more to follow up my previous post about Turkey's plans to purchase it's first missile defense system (possibly American-made Patriots), a story which I think is going to develop in interesting ways, particularly in light of Iran's recent missile tests and Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's upcoming visit to Tehran.

First, from a new Eurasianet analysis piece of mine:
Speculation is building in Turkey over whether Ankara will play a part in a revamped US missile-defense network, one designed mainly to contain Iran. Conjecture is being fueled by two recent developments: the Obama administration’s decision to scrap the construction of an anti-missile shield in Central Europe, and Turkey’s own announcement that it intends to purchase its first missile-defense system.

Although it’s not clear if Ankara’s plan to buy a missile defense system is being coordinated with the United States, experts say the purchase is an indication that -- despite its warming relations between Turkey and Iran, and Turkish officials’ promotion of a diplomatic solution to the question of Iran’s nuclear program -- Turkey is not taking any chances regarding its neighbor’s intentions.

"There is an unstated rivalry [between Turkey and Iran]. They are two powerful states in the region and each one has its own strategy and Turkey now has one of playing an active role in the region," says Sami Kohen, a columnist with the daily Milliyet and a veteran observer of Turkish foreign policy.

"Turkey thinks that there are a lot of common interests with Iran. There are improving trade, economic, and energy ties. There has been a period of normalization, which has now been followed by a period of closer ties," Kohen continued. "Nevertheless, people in responsible positions who want to see Turkey grow as a key regional player believe there is a rivalry with Iran."

If it wants to play the part of regional power-broker, added Kohen, "Turkey can’t lag [militarily] behind other countries in the neighborhood - Iran on the one hand and Greece on the other…."

….Although Turkish officials to date have kept their distance from American plans to introduce a more fluid European-based missile defense plan, experts say Ankara could benefit by being involved.

Even though the Obama administration has abandoned plans to place an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, US officials have made it clear that they intend to deploy such a system elsewhere, in a location better able to cope with the rapidly escalating Iranian threat.

"The whole plan is going on, but in a different version, and it gets more interesting now with countries like Turkey possibly [getting] involved. It seems like the scope of the system is being increased," said Lt Col Marcel de Haas, a senior researcher at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.

"The question is if [placing Patriot missiles in Turkey is] going to be part of a theater missile defense?" he adds.

"If that is the case for Turkey -- in this whole expanded scheme of missile defense -- it is quite interesting. I say it strengthens the Turkish position in NATO, and you can also consider it part of European defense, which could possibly bring Turkey closer to the European Union."

Other observers have suggested that placing Patriots in Turkey could also bolster Turkish-US relations, which have gone through several strained periods in recent years.

"Poland’s loss may be Turkey’s and America’s gain: Turkey is the only NATO country that borders Iran, and US-Turkish cooperation on Tehran is key to Washington’s success in tackling Iran’s nuclearization," Washington-based analyst Soner Cagaptay recently wrote in an online forum hosted by the New York Times.
The German Marshall Fund, meanwhile, has just published a piece on the subject, by Ian Lesser, one of the sharpest Turkey analysts out there. From Lesser's analysis:
The Turkish public remains relatively relaxed about Iran’s nuclear program. But Turkey’s defense planners cannot be so sanguine about the implications of proliferation around the region. Turkey has much to lose from the prospect of a nuclear or near-nuclear Iran, not to mention the potential for multiple new nuclear arsenals. Turkey is vulnerable to the cascading effects of nuclear and missile proliferation over the wider neighborhood, from the Aegean to South Asia, including effects on conventional military balances and doctrine. More dramatically, Turkey, with its Western security ties, is exposed to the retaliatory consequences of American, European, or Israeli action against Iran or other proliferators on Turkey’s borders. The physical vulnerability of Turkish cities, as well as Incirlik airbase and oil terminals on the Mediterranean, coupled with growing Turkish unease about the credibility of NATO guarantees, give Ankara a strong interest in strategic reassurance alongside enhanced defenses….

…. In theory, the new U.S. approach to missile defense in Europe offers Turkey the prospect of improved relations with Russia, greater consensus on containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a more effective response to immediate threats to Turkish territory, and renewed reassurance from NATO allies. But capturing these theoretical gains and avoiding perceived threats to Turkish sovereignty will require much closer coordination between Ankara and its allies.
Lesser's entire piece (pdf) is worth reading.

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