ROLE OF TURKEY AND EU IN THE MIDDLE EAST
XV. Economic Forum, Krynica, 7-10 September 2005
The Middle East
The Middle East is still one of the most unstable regions of the world. The instability in this region is likely to have negative effects on Europe, because energy sources of Europe originate primarily from this region. Furthermore, instability in a geographical area so close to Europe will have several negative fallouts on the peace and stability of Europe.
Can the EU play an efficient role in the Middle East?
Can the EU play an efficient role in the Middle East? Actually the EU is already playing a very active role in the Middle East. This role covers a variety of areas. Regarding the support to the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP), the EU has already taken in the past several initiatives to incorporate the Middle Eastern countries into the cooperation activities that it is conducting in the field of security as well as in the political and cultural fields. The best framework developed so far for this cooperation is the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EUROMED). This partnership was aimed at achieving the following goals:
a) creating a common peace and security area;
b) creating an economic welfare area;
c) strengthening the civil society and developing human resources.
The EU Commission issued in the year 2000 a report to assess the progress achieved in 5 years since 1995 when the Barcelona Process was launched. This report admits that EUROMED did not achieve much of its goals. The lack of progress was mainly attributed to the stumbling of the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP).
Can the EU do something to accelerate the MEEP? Yes it can and it is already doing so. The economic dimension of the MEPP is very important and the EU is the largest donor to the Palestinians. These efforts are positive marks for the EU. However there is a negative aspect of it as well: The EU could not do it alone, because the key player in the MEPP is Israel. The EU does not have sufficient leverage on Israel. The trump cards to move Israel are in the hands of the US.
The EU did not play a role in the military occupation of Iraq. Neither did it want to. However, if, in the future, it becomes necessary for the EU to carry out a military action in an area where it has vested interests, can the EU carry out such a military action by itself alone? The EU does not yet possess suitable infrastructure for planning a military operation and for carrying out command and control tasks. It is on its way to acquire such a capability. For the moment it is utilizing NATO infrastructure for this purpose within the framework of the European Security and Defense Policy. However when it acquires this capability, it will need troops to be deployed in the area where its vested interests are at risk. If the military task to be achieved is a major one, the EU will need a substantial size of military force.
Turkey and the Middle East
I leave this subject here and turn now to Turkey. Can Turkey play a role in the Middle East?
I will detail the answer to this question under three headings:
– Turkey as a role model;
– Potential military contribution of Turkey;
– Turkey’s better understanding of the Middle Eastern mentality.
Now, let’s have a closer look at these headings.
Turkey as a role model
Could Turkey constitute a role model for the Middle Eastern countries? There is no short answer to this question. If, the role model means a model that has to be copied exactly the answer is “No, Turkey cannot constitute a role model for the Middle Eastern countries”. There are several reasons for it: First, every single country in the Middle East has its own social, cultural, political and strategic conditions that make it different from the other countries and all the more so from Turkey. Second, the Ottoman legacy is perceived in some Middle Eastern countries more with its negative aspects. In many countries of the region, anything that has an Ottoman connotation is received with a negative prejudice. Second, in conservative Muslim circles of some of the Middle Eastern countries, secular regime of Turkey is not regarded as an experience to be envied. In their opinion, Turkey is not a good model for a genuine Muslim society.
However, certain countries of the region believe that Turkey may set an example to prove that Islam and democracy can live together successfully. In other countries, despite the official view of the rulers of the country, many circles in the society look at Turkey’s experience as a useful example.
Having said this, Turkey is a secular country with a predominantly Muslim population. Democratic institutions function much more satisfactorily than in almost all of the Middle East countries. Free market rules prevail in economy. If any country in the Middle East wishes to be inspired from this experience, it may do so without characterizing Turkey as a role model.
Potential military contribution of Turkey
In the military field, Turkey has the biggest army in NATO after the United States. It is a member of NATO for more than 50 years. Turkish army has therefore gained an experience to work together with armies of many of the EU member countries. Furthermore, Turkey contributed sizeable contingents to international coalition forces, inter alia, in Korea, Somalia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Afghanistan, Kossova and Macedonia. In Afghanistan Turkish troops acted as leader of the international forces on two occasions.
Turkish army is composed of around 800 000 troops. In case the EU has to deploy a sizeable military contingent in an area where its vested interests are at risk, Turkey is among few countries that could contribute a meaningful contingent to such a force, as a future member of the EU.
NATO identified 15 hotspots in the world that may threaten the security and stability of its allies. 12 out of these 15 spots are located in areas either adjacent to Turkey or in areas where Turkey has some sort of influence. These are the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Central Asia. In other words, Middle East is a region that is regarded by NATO as a potential source of threat to the security of NATO allies including European members of NATO and, by extension, member countries of the EU.
French President Jacques Chirac pointed out before the EU Summit last December that, “if the EU contemplates to play a role in the international arena and if it does not want to remain as a free trade area, it will need Turkey as a member”. A potential military contribution of Turkey to the EU cannot be better expressed than this.
Turkey’s better understanding of the Middle Eastern mentality
I now turn to cultural affinity of the Turkish people with the peoples of the Middle East. For more than a thousand years, Turks and the peoples of the Middle East live together and for more than 4 centuries they lived as the citizens of the same State, namely the Ottoman State. This togetherness, plus sharing the same religion, allowed them to better know each other and to better understand each other’s mentality.
It is most probably due to this comprehension of the mentality of the peoples of the region that peace prevailed in the region for 400 years between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, that is to say during the period that is called Ottoman centuries. Actually these four centuries are the longest period of stability of the region. Stability came to an end when the region was apportioned according to the interests of the victorious countries of the First World War. The British author David Fromkin published a book on this subject with the title of “A Peace to End All Peace”. He refers to the Versailles and Lausanne treaties as the treaties that have put an end to all peace in the Middle East. In Fromkin’s opinion the instability in the Middle East is a produce of the victorious countries of the First World War.
To conclude my remarks, I would like to underline that Turkey may contribute to certain roles that the EU may wish to assume in the Middle East. I do not want to imply that the EU cannot play this role without Turkey’s contribution. However I may say, without undue modesty, that with Turkey’s contribution it will play this role more easily, with lesser resources and lesser acrimony.
Thank you for your attention.