by Andrew Reding
Turkish parliament's decision not to allow U.S. troops use Turkish
soil to attack Iraq is likely to have two interrelated consequences. One
is the further unraveling of NATO. The other is an accelerated timetable
for the accession of Turkey to the European Union. Both reflect a sharp
decline in American influence in Europe, aggravated by Washington's
unilateralist foreign policy.
This is the second rift between major NATO members in a month. Just a few weeks ago, France and Germany challenged the United States over its plans to wage war against Iraq. Now the Turks have done likewise.
It is easy enough to attribute differences with the French to longstanding cultural rivalries. But when the Germans and the Turks -- both of whom have been stalwart allies of the United States for the past half-century -- also break ranks, something far bigger is afoot.
Turkey shares a common border with Iraq. If any country should be worried about Saddam Hussein's offensive capabilities, it should be Turkey. It is the only NATO country anywhere near Iraq. Yet more than four out of five Turks oppose war with Iraq.
It is a mistake to attribute that opposition to a common Islamic bond. Most Turks are Sunni or Alevi Muslims, whereas most Iraqis are Shiite Muslims. All three groups are mutually antagonistic. There is also a sharp ethnic divide between the Turks on the one hand, and the Arabic and Kurdish peoples of Iraq on the other.
Similarly, the argument that Turks are content to have Saddam Hussein keep Iraqi Kurds under control ignores the fact that the UN Northern No-Fly Zone has already created a de facto Kurdistan in northern Iraq.
The real issue is that Iraq -- unlike the Soviets who gave NATO its raison d'tre, or even the North Koreans -- has no nuclear weapons and no missiles capable of delivering any weapon of mass destruction much beyond its borders. That leaves the Turks as perplexed as the Europeans about Washington's real motives.
The other thing the Turks do not like is Washington's domineering attitude. Turkish parliamentarians said they were disturbed by the Bush administration's tendency to dictate terms rather than treat allies as partners. That is exactly what the French and Germans have been complaining about.
Turkey's democratic revolt against Washington has overnight turned Ankara into a natural ally of Paris and Berlin. Just a couple of weeks ago, French President Jacques Chirac publicly warned Eastern European countries that their loyalty to Washington could hurt their prospects for quick entry into the European Union. By displaying its independence from Washington, Turkey is now likely to see its own schedule for accession advanced, in part as a counterweight to Eastern Europe.
Even before the key parliamentary vote, Turkey was tilting toward Europe. Ever since its recent electoral landslide, the moderately Islamist Justice and Development Party has been courting Brussels as no previous government has. Its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has broken with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash in backing reunification of Cyprus in preparation for the island nation's accession to the European Union.
He has also told the Europeans that if Turkey itself were given a firm date for accession, it would be in a better position to withstand pressure from the United States.
Like France and Germany, Turkey would much rather be an equal partner in a united Europe than a junior partner in NATO. With the Soviet threat gone, NATO has lost its purpose as a defense alliance. That is because Washington's enemies are no longer necessarily Europe's or Turkey's enemies, especially in the Middle East. And with the world's one remaining superpower insisting on unilateral leadership rather than multilateral consultation and decision-making, NATO is moribund.
The European Union is its natural successor. It offers not only the prospect of economic prosperity through a continental market, but also an opportunity for the European powers to pool their resources in order to gain serious clout on the world stage. Just as the euro is starting to challenge the preeminence of the dollar, Europe is gradually gaining the ability to demand respect from Washington.
Power is shifting across town in Brussels -- from Evere (site of NATO) to the Quartier Lopold headquarters of the EU. The message is clear. Unless the United States treats its democratic allies with a lot more respect, it will find itself ever more isolated in an increasingly hostile world.
March 7, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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