`Desert Shield' Exposes Turkey to Threats
BECAUSE of its strategic location, as a bridge between Europe and the Islamic Middle East, Turkey is a key player in the Desert Shield alliance. To implement economic sanctions and to support military strategies against Iraq, George Bush needs Turkey's cooperation. But the president's effort to forge a short-term alliance also threatens Turkey's long-term stability in ways similar to that of Egypt, and perhaps Algeria and Syria. Astride Europe and Asia, Turkey is politically unique because its alliances draw it in both directions. It is simultaneously attached to Europe as a member of NATO and the Council of Europe, and an associate member of the European Economic Community; and it is attached to the Muslim world as a participant member of the Islamic Conference.
Its internal tensions, which grow from its Kurdish minority (a social and political powder keg it shares with Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the USSR), the regional upsurge of Islam, and issues related to economic modernization, are being brought to a head by the way Turkey's government is responding to Desert Shield. On the surface, President Turgut Ozal has come through for President Bush. To enforce the international embargo, Ozal swiftly shut down twin Iraqi oil pipelines stretching across his territory. Militarily, he has increased Turkish troop strength along the Iraqi border to about 100,000 men, thus creating a potential ``second front'' should a war occur. He has allowed the United States to station a detachment of F-111 strike bombers and more than 300 nuclear bombs at US bases throughout Turkey. His government has been given powers by parliament to send Turkish troops abroad, and to allow foreign soldiers on Turkish soil.
But here lies the inherent long-term danger of the Bush strategy in the Gulf operation. While President Bush sets operational time frames in days and weeks, elites in countries like Turkey are more concerned about domestic, social, and political consequences measured in years. Ozal's cooperation has won accolades in Washington, but has been regarded as appeasement and capitulation by many Turks. And by personally directing Turkish policy in the Gulf crisis, Ozal has intensified parliamentary criticism that he has overstepped the formerly ceremonial role of the presidency.
Within the Ozal government, for example, a crisis erupted in mid-October when the foreign and defense ministers both resigned in protest against Ozal's personal management of Turkey's diplomatic and defensive postures in Desert Shield. The crisis heightened on Dec. 3, when Gen. Necip Torumtay, chief of the General Staff, resigned unexpectedly.
This political crisis has come on top of long-term ethnic conflicts in which leaders like President Ozal have behaved little differently from Saddam Hussein. Earlier this year, the Ozal government faced an insurrection from the largely disenfranchised Kurds. Guerrillas affiliated with the Kurdish Workers' Party were involved in some 260 clashes with security forces in the first six months of the year, despite a more than 20 to 1 government advantage in manpower. Last March the government imposed censorship on press reports from the Kurdish region. The treatment of the Kurds, political dissidents, and other minorities has brought charges of human rights violations from the UN. If a conference to settle regional tensions is convened, ``linkage'' could extend not only to the Palestinians, but to the Kurds.
Turkey's relations with its neighbors has also been tenuous. In early 1990, both Iraq and Syria criticized Turkey for curtailing the flow of the Euphrates river to fill the reservoir at the newly constructed Ataturk Dam. Relations with Iran are cautious.
Finally, since the arrival of American troops in August in the Persian Gulf, the number of American military personnel in Turkey has increased. This, in turn, has fueled the rise of Islamic ideology not only among the masses but among junior military officers. General Torumtay's farewell address to the army emphasized this recent rise in Islamic ideology. Torumtay called on soldiers to follow the secularist principles laid down in the 1920s by Kemal Ataturk, which President Ozal's actions were undermining. The military has long regarded itself as the ultimate guardian of Ataturk's precepts, and it has asserted itself through three coups in the last 30 years.
In its zeal to corner Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration may undermine the Ozal regime. The recent resignation of three senior officials from President Ozal's administration speaks to this threat.
Turkey's precarious geopolitical status is further illustrated by President Ozal's current search for security. He has exercised his NATO option by soliciting military support in Europe. But he has simultaneously tried to authenticate his Muslim political identity through the Islamic Conference. He has sent his new foreign minister to Islamabad, Pakistan, to confer with his counterparts from Iran and Pakistan to guarantee their support in case of war.
President Bush must assess the consequences of his alliances. He must not assume that a long-term US military presence in the Middle East is desirable. Its consequences for the internal politics of countries like Turkey with minority nationalities, Islamic parties, and the need for regional cooperation in the use of water and other scarce resources have not been calculated in Bush's plans. Should Turkey be used as a ``second front'' in the event of war, an Islamic rebellion might be the aftermath. The concept of ``infidel'' may seem frivolous to President Bush, but is very real to Muslims.