Turkey - Security Policy

Under Ottoman rule, the government and the military establishment were virtually indistinguishable. After World War I, the army commander, Mustafa Kemal, later called Ataturk (meaning Father Turk), evicted the occupying forces of the victorious Allies from Anatolia and formulated the principles underlying the modern Turkish state. On three occasions since then, the military leadership has intervened to protect the nation's democratic framework. The third interlude of military rule, which lasted from 1980 to 1983, was welcomed by many Turkish citizens because it ended the terrorism of the 1970s. The military's actions, however, also limited the democratic process.

The basic principle determining the national security policy of Turkey is defined by Atatürk's succinct precept, "Peace at Home, Peace in the World". Starting from this basic belief, Turkey is developing her relations with all countries based on the foundation of friendship and cooperation by taking as the fundamental principle the preservation of its national unity and the rights arising from international agreements.

A member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 1952, Turkey long had the vital mission of anchoring the alliance's southern flank against the military power of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. Turkish armed forces defended the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits and Turkey's northeastern border with the Soviet Union in the Transcaucasus region. Vessels of the Soviet Union's Black Sea fleet had to transit the Turkish-controlled straits to enter the Mediterranean.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 fundamentally changed Turkey's security environment. Fear of Soviet aggression no longer looms over the nation, yet Turkey remains at the center of a region seething with political and economic discord. The stability of Turkey's borders was threatened by turbulence among the newly independent republics of the Caucasus and by hostile states in the Middle East. Turkey's concern over the fortunes of the Turkic states of Central Asia could bring it into conflict with Russia or Iran. Turkey was an advocate of the interests of Muslim peoples in the Balkans, but its modest military role as part of the United Nations (UN) Protection Force in Bosnia has generated controversy because of memories of the Ottoman Empire's long involvement there.

The Turkish government has taken sweeping measures to restructure and modernize the armed forces to deal with the new conditions, in which Soviet military might has been superseded by a multiplicity of threats near Turkey's eastern and southern borders. The new strategy emphasizes the ability to perform a variety of missions, move forces rapidly from one region to another, and mount firepower sufficient to meet any foreseeable threat. Undergoing the most radical reorganization have been the land forces, which were reduced from about 525,000 troops in 1990 to about 393,000 in 1994. For added flexibility, the army has adopted a brigade structure in place of the previous divisional pattern. The army's stocks of tanks and armored vehicles have been enlarged and improved; self-propelled howitzers and multiple rocket launchers also have been added. Troop-carrying helicopters will ensure greater mobility.

An expanded Turkish defense industry played a major role in the modernization of the armed forces. Under joint-venture programs with United States manufacturers, combat aircraft, armored vehicles, rocket systems, and tank upgrades have been supplied. Submarines and other vessels have been produced in cooperation with the German shipbuilding industry. The centerpiece of the modernization effort has been the United States-Turkey F-16 coproduction project, which was expected to add 240 high-performance fighter aircraft to the Turkish inventory during the 1990s.

Turkey and the United States developed many defense links and common goals after United States military and economic assistance began in 1947 in response to the threat of Soviet expansion. For instance, Turkey has permitted the United States to use forward bases and intelligence installations on Turkish territory. During the Cold War, these installations were of vital importance in monitoring military activity and weapons testing by the Soviet Union. Following the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Turkish bases enabled the United States and coalition forces to conduct Operation Provide Comfort, an effort to supply humanitarian relief to Kurds in northern Iraq and enforce a "no-fly zone" in the area against Iraqi aircraft.

Overshadowing all external threats to Turkish security was the Kurdish insurgency, which began in 1984 in the southeastern region of the country. This movement, which involves only a small minority of Turkey's Kurdish population, was led by the extremist Kurdistan Workers' Party (Partiya Karkere Kurdistan--PKK). The conflict became particularly violent beginning in 1992. Some 4,000 Kurds and government security personnel were killed in 1993 alone, many of them noncombatants. The activities of the PKK complicate Turkey's relations with Syria, Iraq, and Iran, where the PKK insurgents have maintained supply and training bases. By early 1995, the Turkish government had deployed nearly 200,000 soldiers and police to the region, and had adopted a policy of forcibly evacuating and often burning Kurdish villages believed to be aiding the insurgents. These measures apparently dampened the insurgency, but at the cost of alienating large numbers of Kurds not involved in the separatist movement.

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