The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Turkey: frontline state?

August 28, 2006

Turkey has long been viewed as one of a number a “pivotal states” for US foreign policy. According to scholars,

These are countries whose fate determines the survival and success of the surrounding region and ultimately the stability of the international system.

Turkey is additionally Samuel Huntington’s prototypical “torn country;” one of several states having “a fair degree of cultural homogeneity but…divided over whether their society belongs to one civilization or another.”

Whatever one thinks of these characterizations, it is clear that Turkey’s political, cultural and geographic position make it a key strategic state for America, NATO and the EU — as well as for global Islam.

Thus, it is very important that the Turkish government announced today that it will be sending troops to Lebanon as part of the UN “peace force.” The US, Israel and Lebanon have all been calling for Turkish participation and it looks like 500 to 1000 troops will be on their way, presuming the Turkish Parliament agrees.

This has been a controversial question for Turkey as President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and the main opposition Republican People’s Party have both opposed participation in the force. The Independence and Change Party (HURPARTI) leader and the True Path Party (DYP) leader both agreed with Sezer, fearing that Turkey would be dragged into a quagmire.

Some also worry that Turks will be asked to disarm Hezbollah, which might be quite unpopular throughout the Middle East.

Though perhaps unrelated to the latest political decision, it is noteworthy that Turkey suffered a series of bombings this past weekend. Bloomberg News reported:

More than 20 people, including 10 Britons, were wounded after three explosions in Marmaris, a resort in southwestern Turkey…

The Foreign Office warned British nationals on its Web site of a “high threat” from terrorism in Turkey, where attacks have targeted U.K. interests

The Australian government has also warned travellers to show a “high degree of caution in Turkey because of the high threat of terrorist attack.” The US has not yet issued a “travel warning.”

No one has yet claimed responsibility for these attacks, but the Bloomberg reporter reminded readers that “Turkey has been the scene of numerous bombings in recent years.” Many of the victims have been tourists and some of the attacks have been launched specifically on tourist destinations. The US State Department does say that risk to tourists is “high” in Turkey:

In the summer of 2005, incidents occurred in the popular coastal tourist destinations of Cesme, Bodrum, Antalya, and Mersin. Bombings have also taken place in Istanbul…

Not good.

Given Turkey’s pivotal and perhaps torn status, I’d expect more of these kinds of attacks in the foreseeable future. In retrospect, experts look back at post-Tito Yugoslavia and post-Hussein Iraq and declare that violence was obviously inevitable in those places. Turkey is not ethnically divided in the same way, but the Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world that doesn’t have its own state — and the “torn” Turks could find themselves facing other internal troubles if Islamic forces there become more violent. I’m not sure anyone knows what would happen if Europe rejected Turkey outright. Or if Europe welcomed Turkey into the EU.

Note: Just to be a bit more thorough, bombs injuring dozens of people struck various Turkish towns on August 4 of this year. Other prominent attacks occurred in June 2006 (killing 3), April 2006 (killing 4), July 2005 (killing 10 people altogether), June 2004 (killing 3), and most memorably, in November 2003 (killing 58).

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.