« Russia Begins Oil Swaps with Iran | Main | Kazakhstan's Economic Promise Revisited »

Turks, Kurds and the US-Turkish relationship

The recent detention of Turkish soldiers by US troops in northern Iraq is only a symptom of the divergence of interests between erstwhile Cold War allies. The vote of the Turkish Grand National Assembly this year against allowing the United States to use Turkey's territory for transit of military forces in the run-up to Gulf War II is likewise only a symptom of that divergence of interests.

At the origin of that divergence is the response of US foreign policy to the events around September 11, 2001. Look for those divergences to continue to manifest, despite Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul's recently concluded visit to Washington.

The naming of the trinity of Iraq, North Korea and Iran as the "axis of evil" covers over the "deterritorialization" of US security and defense policy. What does this mean? It means that geography no longer has fundamental strategic, but only tactical, significance. The term "deterritorialization" arose among political scientists in the late 20th century to refer to the emergence of non-traditional security issues and the significance of the psychological aspect of social mobilization. Under conditions of contemporary US security and defense policy, it has been given a new connotation.

Euro-American international political studies drew attention during the 1980s to the new emergence of security issues, from the danger of "nuclear winter" to that of global warming, which required international cooperation to be resolved and so were no longer based in zero-sum notions of traditional military-strategic calculations. They were therefore called "non-traditional" security issues. (Mikhail Gorbachev and his ideologues in fact drew upon that Western academic work when they reformulated Soviet foreign-policy doctrine so as to place the common interests of mankind above even those of the Soviet state.)

As for social mobilization, Western social scientists in the 1990s, caught up short by the eruption of ethnic conflict throughout Central Eurasia, had recourse to so-called "constructivist" theories of "identity politics". These theories were often divorced from systematic consideration of the social bases for the emergence of those identities or, indeed, the role of (indigenous) intellectuals in creating them and so fomenting ethnic conflict. The Wars of the Yugoslav Succession illustrate this process, and Valerii Tishkov, head of the Ethnography Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is one of the few scholars who has attentively examined its significance in the former Soviet areas.

But because identity is a wonderful concept about which to speculate, these "constructivist" Western theories frequently tended to slight the importance of geography and other tangible resources that condition the actual outbreak and course of ethnic conflicts.

If we look back on the evolution of US Cold War doctrine over the years, it becomes clear that the collapse of the Soviet bloc, including that of the Soviet Union (a process distinct from the former), signaled a late victory for the earlier Cold War doctrine of "rollback" over the later Cold War doctrine of "deterrence". Deterrence doctrine (along with its concomitant war-fighting strategy of "escalation dominance") was fundamentally a psychological artifact. It was really grounded more in presumed cognitive processes of Soviet decision-makers than in any immutable facts of geography. By contract, rollback at least suggested the relevance of geography: rolling "back" was a spatial rather than psychological concept. In a particularly striking manner, however, we have since September 2001 watched, following the validation of a geographically based Cold War doctrine, the progressive deterritorialization of US security and defense doctrine.

This means that geography no longer matters from the standpoint of defining US national interests. The "war against terrorism" is an all-subsuming rubric under which the doctrine of "preemptive war" is asserted without respect to military theater. The current US administration brings the "war against terrorism" home through such legislation as the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001. US security and defense policy has been "deterritorialized" not because it is has become without reference to territory, but because it does not distinguish among territories.

That fact establishes the parameter within which Turkey has lost its relative geopolitical significance to the United States as a regional power allied against a territorially defined enemy (the erstwhile Soviet Union). Turkey has, since September 2001, been transformed in practice from a strategic regional ally into a tactical facilitator of the deterritorialized "war against terrorism". Thus when the Turkish Grand National Assembly failed to approve the US deployment into Iraq through the country, the Americans simply made other plans.

The war on Iraq was not really fought against an enemy capable of inflicting fundamental harm upon the United States; the US reply to the events of September 2001 illustrates the country's resilience. The war on Iraq was, rather, a means to an end: it is intended as a demonstration of Washington's capacity to assert US prerogative without restriction, anywhere, any time: when reach is ubiquitous, territory ceases to have meaning. One unintended consequence has been, as a conservative Eastern European diplomat has put it, that former anti-anti-Americans in his region have found themselves turned today, against their will, into anti-Americans. This is the dynamic that threatens to play itself out also in Turkey, but with much greater violence and unpredictability.

Why will this happen so? To be sure, Turkish public opinion was overwhelmingly opposed to the US deployment. Yet as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz recognized during a visit to Ankara in late May, the Turkish government allowed a parliamentary "free vote" (ie, not subject to party discipline) because "the military [did not] say it was in Turkey's interest to support the United States … with the kind of strength that would have made a difference". And this was because the Turkish military, still thinking itself a strategic rather than tactical player in Washington's eyes, miscalculated and sought to impose upon the US its own conditions for acquiescing in a war that it did not really need on its own border. These conditions included the deployment of tens of thousands of Turkish troops in northern Iraq and, by implication, Turkey's policy toward the Kurdish people within Turkish borders.

Thus Gul's visit to Washington occurred in the context of the creation of a high-level US-Turkish military committee to investigate the detention of Turkish soldiers by US forces in northern Iraq this month. News reports from Ankara indicate that discussions in the joint committee included exploration of possibilities to create an "international protection force" for northern Iraq.

With the refusal of India, France and Germany to supply forces to backstop the US occupation of Iraq, and with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan's invitation to Washington to supply a timetable for withdrawal of US forces unlikely to be accepted, an international aegis for such a force is unlikely. Press reports from Ankara state that the United States has accepted the principle that Turkey will take command of any region in northern Iraq where Turkish soldiers may be deployed.

In the absence of UN authorization, then, it seems increasingly likely that the US will come to rely at least in part upon Turkish troops to be sent into northern Iraq. How far "mission creep" will go remains undetermined.

The quid pro quo for this could likely be US acquiescence, if not assistance, in suppression of Kurds in Turkey. That would be an ominous development in light of a recent statement by the presidency of Turkey's Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK), the political and social organization into which the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) transformed itself in the late 1990s, during and after PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's arrest and trial.

KADEK has stated that if the Turkish state does not reciprocate its own policy of compromise (in effect since the late 1990s at Ocalan's suggestion and insistence), then it will resume armed combat. With the Kurdish ethnos spread across the map from Syria into Iran, and with a political and territorial foothold in northern Iraq—where the main Iraqi Kurdish parties wholly support US policy and seek to establish a degree of relative autonomy from Baghdad within a federal state—the stage would be set for further "unintended consequences" of the US invasion: just what Washington doesn't need.

See reprint info if you want to reproduce anything in any medium.
URL:  http://www.robertcutler.org/blog/2003/07/turks_kurds_and_the_usturkish.html
First published in Asia Times Online, 23 July 2003.

RSS feed Atom feed Follow Facebook Networked Blog Twitter


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 23, 2003 6:22 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Russia Begins Oil Swaps with Iran.

The next post in this blog is Kazakhstan's Economic Promise Revisited.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.33