Monday, October 18, 2010

Threatening Nations: Iran/Turkey

Published in, 18 October 2010

Story by Zvi Bar'el

Those who seek further proof of the warming of relations between Iran and Turkey can find it in the meeting currently taking place at the National Security Council in Istanbul. According to Turkish reports, for the first time since the Cold War, Turkey is considering removing Iran, Iraq, Russia, and Greece from their list of "threatening countries."

This will directly affect Turkey's foreign policy, as laid out by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoğlu, whose goal is to rid Turkey of any problems with its neighbors.

Mottaki and Davutoglu, AP, July 25, 2010

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, right, and Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki in Istanbul, July 25, 2010.

Photo by: AP

By taking countries off this list, Turkey is signaling nothing less than a new foreign policy design, one that has already been hinted at with their attempts to solve issues with the Kurdish population.

Turkey's prime minister is working to scale back the nation's army, which currently includes some 600,000 troops. The goal is to lessen security expenses, which have reached about $19 million a year, and create a professional army by doing away with the current policy of mandatory enlistment.

Leaders are examining the possibility of a program that would allow exemption from army service in exchange for a fee, which is expected to be about $7,000 dollars. In the Turkish army today, in-demand professionals like doctors and engineers are exempted from mandatory service, as are other university degree holders. Alternately, those without an academic degree must complete mandatory service, which lasts about five months. Career soldiers serve 15 years before they can retire.

In addition to its effect on the economy, doing away with mandatory enlistment will change one of the symbols of identity for Turkish citizens, who view enlistment in relation to the ideology that created modern Turkey, as laid out by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The army is an inseparable part of Turkey's informal education system, which spreads Ataturk's ideology.

Current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the other hand, aims to minimize the army's influence on the country.

The laws for the army as it currently stands are partially to blame for the undermining of the status of the police in the country. The army's standing has been lowered in civil institutions, like the education council, and by a series of reforms that were passed in a national vote last month. By removing traditional external threats, Erdogan is changing his foreign policy to stimulate internal changes, all the while avoiding a confrontation with internal opposition.

While Iran may be helping Erdogan's aspirations within his country, it is also placing Turkey on a dangerous track towards confrontation with the United States. In addition to refusing to support the United Nations decision to place sanctions on Iran, Turkey also refused to allow the U.S. to put a missile defense system against Iran on its soil.

Davutoğlu clarified that Turkey is not opposed to the deployment of the missile defense system in its territory, but rather opposes the conditions of NATO countries and refuse to appear to take a stand against Iran, Syria, or Russia. Turkey fears the stationing of a defense system, whose sole purpose is defense from Iran, would seriously damage relations between Turkey and Iran, and its ally Syria.

It appears that in the end, Washington and Ankara will agree on conditions for the missile defense system. However, Turkey succeeded again in proving that it can't be counted on as a sure thing.

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