NATO Missile Shield May Cause Crisis in US-Turkish Relations, Says Expert

ANKARA (Hurriyet)–If the U.S. forces Turkey to accept Iran as a specific threat within the agreement on a missile defense system for NATO, then the long-time allies could suffer another crisis like in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to a security politics expert.

“Turkey does not say there is no ballistic threat, but Ankara says the threat is not restricted to just one state; approximately 30 countries want to achieve this capability, thus this threat should be considered in a global dimension,” Professor Mustafa Kibaroglu from Bilkent University’s international relations department told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview Tuesday.

“Turkey has achieved good relations with Iran. Ankara does not want to seem to be pointing to Iran as a threat and does not want to open its territory for a system pointing to Iran as a missile threat.”

According to Kibaroglu, the second and more important issue is not giving Tehran a rationale to develop its arms. He said Tehran might say, “NATO and even my neighbor Turkey see me as a threat and deploy a huge system against me; therefore I have no option other than to defend myself.” Kibaroglu recalled that Iran presented similar arguments on the nuclear issue regarding Israel’s nuclear capability.

He said Turkey would not step back from insisting on not specifying a country as a threat. “Turkey’s proposal does not affect the outcome of the system. If the U.S. insisted on showing Turkey as hard-nosed on this issue, a new March 1 syndrome [when Turkey denied the U.S. access to its territory as a land base during the 2003 invasion of Iraq] is possible for the relations.”

Turkey is in favor of a NATO missile defense system under the roof of NATO, but it demands that its concerns be addressed, the expert said.

“A missile defense system is what Turkey has wanted from day one. However, it’s a process and Ankara struggles to profit from it as much as possible,” Kibaroglu said.

While initial plans called for the deployment of a NATO missile defense system in the Czech Republic or Poland, new estimations of Iran’s ballistic missile capacity found that the country likely only had medium-range ballistic missiles, rather than long-range, and caused Turkey to emerge as the prime candidate to host a defense system.

Turkey has conditionally approved the deployment of the proposed U.S.-led anti-missile system on Turkish soil. The issue is planned to be concluded at a NATO meeting Nov. 19-20 in Lisbon.

Concerns of potential missile threats from Iran, unsecured missiles in the former Soviet republics, or long-term threats from a changing geopolitical climate underlie efforts to create a system to track and neutralize possible ballistic missiles.

“The system under discussion would deploy radar on Turkish territory that will track a missile in order to determine its route. The missile threat is expected to be eliminated by ballistic missiles, probably from Romania,” Kibaroglu said.

Turkey’s other reservations center on being included in the decision process for the system and sharing in its technological expertise – two issues Ankara has had problems with in the past, he said.

“When the system was first discussed with Turkey in the late ’90s, Ankara demanded that the defense system be established under the roof of NATO. Turkey didn’t want to be alone with the U.S., since it encountered problems with the U.S. on security and arms issues such as the Jupiter missiles in 1962, Johnson’s letter in 1965 and the embargo that Washington imposed on Turkey in 1975.”

Turkey insists the defense system should protect the entire territory of Turkey because the fifth article of the North Atlantic Treaty, guaranteeing the security of all members, has not always been implemented properly in the past, Kibaroglu said.

“European members of NATO told Ankara that the alliance would protect Turkey against a threat posed by the Soviet Union, but not from the Middle East. There was a possibility of Soviet Union intervention if Turkey faced any problems with Iraq or Syria, a situation that NATO would not prefer.”

Turkey wants a joint decision process, Kibaroglu said. “The function of the radar is when the missile is launched, it determines the route of the missile. Then anti-ballistic missiles engage the inbound projectile. The territory of the country where the radar is deployed should also be protected. If you push the button for the anti-ballistic missiles too late due to hesitation, the host country might face a threat.”

Kibaroglu said the history of missile defense systems goes to the 1980s, when former U.S. President Ronald Reagan launched the Strategic Defense Initiative project in order to develop missile defense systems as a tool to convince Gorbachev to quit the arms race.

In the wake of the collapse of Soviet Union, the 15 former Soviet republics found themselves in possession of weapons of mass destruction, technical expertise, materials and information on the production of a range of ballistic missiles. The roots of concerns in the U.S stem from fears that states such as Iran, Libya and North Korea may have access to these material and expertise as well as to the weapons.

The U.S. thought that in five-10 years these countries might pose a threat not only to Washington’s allies such as Israel, but also to the U.S. itself. “The project was on Turkey’s agenda and the U.S.’s agenda in 1997-1998 and during the George W. Bush administration; however, the Bush administration exaggerated Iran’s missile range and thus planned to deploy the system in Central or Eastern Europe. The Czech Republic and Poland were considered as options. But then the Obama administration admitted that Iran could not develop missiles with a range of 5,000 kilometers in the next decade.”

Since the threat of missiles from Iran is thought to cover just a 2,500-kilometer area, which does include Israel, Turkey and Eastern Europe, the U.S. decided to establish the system closer to Iran so that a potential missile threat could be countered, Kibaroglu said.

“The best option was Azerbaijan, but it is not a NATO member has close cooperation with Russia. Then Turkey became a good alternative for the missile defense radar again, since Ankara objected to installing ballistic missile launch batteries on its soil.”

Kibaroglu also indicated U.S. cooperation with Russia to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat as another reason to shift the defense system southward.

He said Russia warned the U.S. that it might not cooperate on Iran efforts if the defense system was deployed in Czech Republic or Poland.

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