Turkey and U.S. National Security

The combined weight and importance of Turkey’s political, military, economic and geo-strategic circumstances in the consideration of American national security interests require the most serious attention, and one must assume that fact escapes nobody’s attention in Washington.  By way of illustration, Turkey is the only Islamic country that is both a member of NATO and a candidate for accession to the EU; it fields more than twice as many active-duty military personnel than does France, the UK or Italy; its potential role as a conduit for oil coming from various directions is clear; and its neighbors, by sea and/or land, include Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Cyprus and Greece.

Surely that abbreviated description puts Turkey in a class with Russia, China, India, Pakistan and the EU/Germany/France with respect to key political entities always prominent on our horizons and in morning briefings.  Full treatment would require a book and more expertise and experience than is readily available.  Deserving brief mention here, however, are recent developments in two areas requiring only attention to the daily press: Turkey’s role in the Middle East; and a shift in the prospects for eventual Turkish membership in the EU.

Given Turkey’s attributes as outlined above, it would be well-nigh impossible for it not to play a prominent part in cascading events in its neighborhood.  It is no surprise, then, that the major outside actor in the ongoing conflict within Syria is its neighbor to the north.  The massive intake of refugees from Syrian President Assad’s murderous forces has both saved countless lives and earned the respect and gratitude of Western powers still in the throes of making decisions about whether and how and when to intervene.  (Turkish policy vis-à-vis Syria, humane and charitable though it may be, is surely motivated in large part by the growing national and religious enmity between Turkey and Iran, Assad’s principal outside champion.)

Still concerning the Middle East, Turkey’s growing animosity toward Israel ever since the 2009 Israeli killing at sea of nine Turks on their way to delivering non-military supplies to Gaza, and Israel’s stubborn refusal to apologize, has taken an ugly – if unintended – turn.  (One cannot but recall Turkey’s unrelenting refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide by its proper name.)  Last Thursday, February 27, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as telling a UN meeting in Vienna the following: “Just as with Zionism, anti-semitism and fascism, it has now become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”  Secretary of State John Kerry and others were swift to criticize Erdogan’s remark, clearly to protest the inclusion of Zionism in the list of evils.  Whether Erdogan himself or just his speech writer failed to understand the meaning of Zionism, roughly, the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Israel, and that condemning Zionism was itself anti-semitic has not been revealed.

As concerns the EU and Turkish prospects, ever since both French and German leaders made it clear that membership was not in the cards, the Turkish leaders themselves have hardened and public opinion polls show little enthusiasm.  Now, two recent developments have served to keep the proverbial foot in the door.  About to leave Berlin for a visit to Ankara, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, admitting her skepticism, nevertheless spoke of resuming stalled negotiations between Turkey and the EU.  At the same time, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was giving the same message to his Turkish counterpart.  Many years of talks lie ahead, several critical issues must be resolved, and Turkey must relent on some of the most difficult for Ankara, e.g., getting out of Cyprus and signing and ratifying the UN Law of the Sea Treaty.  But, the door is open once more, and US national security interests would be served by an eventual resolution of differences between key friends and allies.


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Secretary Kerry’s Remarks at the University of Virginia

FEBRUARY 20, 2013

“The kids whose lives we’re helping save from AIDS, the women we’re helping free from the horrors of sex trafficking, the students who for the first time can choose to walk into a school instead of into a short life of terrorism – their strongest lobbyists are the rare, committed Americans who stand up for them and for the resources we need to help them. And I hope that includes all of you.”

“I’m particularly aware that in many ways the greatest challenge to America’s foreign policy today is in the hands not of diplomats, but of policymakers in Congress. It’s often said that we can’t be strong at home if we’re not strong in the world, but in these days of a looming budget sequester that everyone wants to avoid, we can’t be strong in the world unless we are strong at home.”

We will continue to post more quotes from Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s first foreign policy speech in the coming weeks.

Read the full speech here: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/files/fp_uploaded_documents/130220_SECRETARY%20KERRY.pdf

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Good Morning Mr. Secretary, Here are Your problems! Good luck Sir!

John Kerry

John F. Kerry’s remarks during his swearing-in ceremony for Secretary of State

“I am proud to take on this job because I want to work for peace and because the values and the ideals of our nation are really what represents the best of the possibilities of life here on Earth.”

Good Morning Mr. Secretary, Here are Your problems! Good luck Sir!

John F. Kerry has just landed his ideal job…and the one phrase he must be thinking as he gets his first morning briefing of the first day in office: “beware of what you wish for.”  Unlike some before him he is well versed in global issues and their many problems, constraints and dangers. He is even further, a “Foreign Service brat,” as the phrase is used in diplomatic circles. Yet, the difference between being Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and its agenda and writ, is a magnitude apart from that of any Secretary of State…..he must act, and often fast and frequently without sufficient information or even much detailed context.  Yes, that, Mr. Secretary is the reality each day and every hour and without weekend retreats from the world’s realities.

When Kerry came to State he said: “Can a man really run the State Department?” No Mr. Secretary, the State Department and the world’s ills will run you!

He also knows well the “Black Swan” conundrum, that the unpredictable is very much likely and growing more dangerous. One problem is, these “Black Swans” are in all likelihood occurring much too often and mainly with few good options. Witness the horrific conflict in Syria and our inability to manage  stopping of the horrendous killing, or to shape a decent end and future for the Syrian people. All this is made worse with our limited tools for dealing with such contingencies and now likely fewer resources with the stupidity of the sequestration. Welcome to the world of scarce resources in a high risk world, Mr. Secretary!

Kerry is well versed also, on our most “dangerous” challenges that involve weapons of mass destruction. The names are well known: Iran, Pakistan-India, Israel, North Korea and the nukes still abundant and not well cared for in Russia. On the latter, he will have the delight to deal with President Putin who will be thinking all the time they are talking how to make America’s role in the world more difficult.  If he can penetrate that dark soul he may yet get another medal for not just courage, which he has, but also for audacity.

On his desk will be briefing papers on dealing with Iran and possible early negotiations, but also carrying the existing policy burden of “no nuclear weapons” and a “red line,” a likely nuclear blast in North Korea, an Afghanistan where the final “exit” and its consequences are still unknown, an Iraq that may revert to internecine warfare and dark ethnic killing, an “Arab Spring’ that all together is one of the great challenges and unpredictable events of our age. And you know that China “rising” and the pivot to Asia is also in your brief.  Just to add more fuel to the fire, getting the India-Pakistan-Afghanistan conundrum on course for a long term “solution” would make “a world of difference” to global security.  Better get your Policy Planning staff on that quickly!

Let us not forget climate change and persistent avoidance of a global bargain to deal with it. Kerry knows what must be done and we see the consequences of inaction all over the globe. That may prove yet, to be the one key “legacy” accomplishment that could stand for centuries or our major failure.

We should not forget that besides the cuddly Putin, Kerry will be having to do “face time” and chumminess with Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, he will be getting his early baptism of Secretaryship with a meeting not only with BiBi, but also Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He clearly has the courage of Daniel going into the lion’s den. He now has two lions to stare down and a Congress that will be on his (and likely poor Hagel’s) back with every move he makes in the Middle East. No sleep for the wicked and in this case for the honest peacemaker.  Mr. Secretary don’t forget the “two state solution” nor “settlements” nor the lobbyists here!   Obama is waiting in the wings for a Spring visit to the Middle East so, hurry.

The good news is that you have some wonderful people in the Foreign Service, but they have been overworked, put in danger spots they should never have been exposed to, given impossible assignments in wars and hell holes, and under-compensated, not given the right tools and training, and not often appreciated. But, you know that, and the question is what can you do about it since, neither Secretaries Rice nor Clinton did much to change that reality.

In short, welcome to four brutal years of unrelenting crises, intransigent foes and allies alike, mad trip schedules, often dangerous or risky acts or places, policies gone bad, late night calls, exhausting and sometimes boring meetings and one-on-ones with no hope of progresses, and finally perhaps, if you are lucky and work very hard and smartly, a few nice successes and a few disasters adverted – and many intractable problems still left to your successor. Good Luck Mr. Secretary and here is your bottle of Tums!

John F. Kerry’s remarks at Swearing-in Ceremony: http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2013/02/203859.htm

After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!