вторник, 15 марта 2016 г.

NATO in the Middle East: Past and Present

In the framework of rapid changes in Turkish Foreign and Security Policy 

Megi Benia, Georgia

Edited by Giorgi Lomtadze


The Middle East region is one of the most sensitive areas in international politics nowadays. International Community faces several security challenges here, such as - terrorism, failed states, political or ethnic conflicts, separatism, nuclear weapons or states’ self-determination.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as one of the most successful military alliances, is represented in the region with its own security policy. From apolitical perspective it has been represented here by one of its  strongest members - Turkey for decades. Despite this fact, there are some changes in official Ankara’s foreign and security policy, which can  affect organization’s presence in the region.

Despite NATO being ineffective in this sense, I would argue that reality is different. Normally, we tend to see changes as something very radical and increasing, but it can be the opposite as well; and when something changes in a decreasing sense it stays unnoticed. I am aiming to find shifts in NATO's policy towards the Middle East and their causes. This article tries to demonstrate, that NATO has changed its policy in the Middle East since 2011 in terms of being less active in security issues of the region and the main reason for this was transformation in Turkey’s foreign policy after Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s third term in office as the prime minister of the country.

The main focus of this research will be the period from 2011 to November 2015, within the framework of comparison with another period from the end of Cold War till 2011.
What is the Middle East Region?

What is the Middle East Region?

In order to analyze the policies of two international actors in one region and speak about changes there, it is vital to define the borders of this region, because from different perspectives one region can be defined differently.

In this article I will try to speak about developments in the Middle East region or MENA or Greater Middle East (World Bank) as it is used by many academics, scholars as well as military and other officials.

MENA region consists of two sub-regions - North Africa and the Middle East. According to World Bank definition, these countries are: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Tunisia. (World Bank)

NATO in the Middle East 1991 – 2011

The current role of the North Atlantic Alliance in the Middle East region consists of three main aspects: NATO–Mediterranean Dialogue (with its various practical cooperative activities, including operation ‘Active Endeavour’ that is mandated to inspect ships and combat terrorist activities in the Mediterranean Sea); the newly launched ICI to foster cooperation between NATO and Arab Gulf countries; and finally, NATO’s supportive role towards select regional issues (mainly Darfur and Iraq). (Orfy 2011, 91)

After the end of Cold War, North Atlantic Alliance mentioned the Middle East region for the first time in the 1991 strategic concept as one of the threats and challenges [1]. At that time, the reason of such assessment was the transformation of international order, collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the decision of the Alliance to change its nature and 1991 Gulf war. (NATO 1991)

From the 1994 Brussels Summit to 9/11,  NATO’s role was limited to ongoing security dialogue with some Mediterranean countries[2]. (Orfy 2011, 91) This dialogue is known as the Mediterranean Dialogue process and it aims to (NATO 2015):

  •         contribute to regional security and stability
  •        achieve better mutual understanding
  •      dispel any misconceptions about NATO among Dialogue countries

The emergence of a new global era of countering international terrorism, following the 11 September attacks, has fundamentally changed the primary threats to international security assessment and redefined the concept of security for all states, although in different ways. Consequently, successive post-9/11 NATO summits have underlined the imperative of enhancing the role of the Alliance in the Middle East region. Translating this will into action, the Alliance embarked on a series of actions with regards to its Middle Eastern policy. Given the fact that more than 20 countries border the Mediterranean Sea, and perhaps around eight more have close connections with it, and have contributed in one way or another to its complexity, diversity, sensitivities and circumstances, the need to develop a new formula was,therefore, vital for a wider and in-depth cooperation, especially to cope with the requirements of Western policies in the post-9/11 era. (Orfy 2011, 110)

The basic features of NATO’s policy towards the region in the post-9/11 years were drawn in the successive summits – i.e. the 2002 Prague Summit, the 2004 Istanbul Summit and the 2006 Riga Summit. (Orfy 2011, 110)

The milestone of the evolution of the NATO–Middle East relationship was the 2004 Istanbul Summit, in which the allies showed resolute determination to address, in a unified manner, the dangers stemming from the South. In this summit, the allies invited, in Paragraph 36[3] with aim (Orfy 2011, 111)

“To contribute towards regional security and stability through stronger practical cooperation, including by enhancing the existing political dialogue, achieving interoperability, developing defence reform and contributing to fight against terrorism.” (NATO 2004)

Thus, the summit decided to move in two parallel and intertwined directions: first, to upgrade the Mediterranean Dialogue to a genuine partnership; and second, to launch the ICI with the aim of reaching out to, and fostering cooperation with, select countries in the region of ‘the Broader Middle East’. (Orfy 2011, 111)

To sum up, NATO’s policy can be described in the region as “partnership based on cooperation” that was mentioned in 2010 Alliance Security Concept as well. (NATO 2010)

Turkey’s policy in the Middle East before 2011 through NATO membership

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the beginning of 90s, there were no major changes in Turkey’s foreign and security policy since the establishment of the republic in 1921. This policy called Traditional Turkish Policy, which has its origins in Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s legacy or so-called Kemalism. The main sources of the traditional foreign policy of the Turkish Republic are the tradition of the balance of power stemming from the times of Ottoman Empire, isolationism and Sèvres syndrome[4] as direct legacy of WW1 and independence war, and policy of Europeanization and modernization. (Šulík 2012)

According to so-called Kemalism, Turkey did not participate in the issues of Muslim World and especially on the territory of former Ottoman Empire including what we call today the Middle East. Their policy concept was isolationism what they used in regards to this region as well. If we remember the denial of Turkish support for US Iraqi intervention, it is quite understandable that Turkish inaction is in accordance with this concept. (Šulík 2012) In addition, in the 21st century, during the first two terms of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as  prime-minister, Turkey had so-called policy of “zero problems with neighbors that was a natural reflection of the “Peace at Home, Peace in the World” policy laid down by Great Leader Ataturk. (MFA Turkey)

All this means that from the end of the Cold War until 2011, Turkey did not try to play a role of Regional Power actively and this policy had origins in the secularism of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Turkey had strong vision and desire that they had to become part of Euro-Atlantic structures. Their policy was characterized by strong secularism, which meant denying everything which was connected to Islam and Ottoman Empire. Membership in NATO was vital for official Ankara, because it was their security guarantor, while for NATO, Turkey meant security of its southeastern border. (MFA Turkey 2011)

It is unquestionable that policy of NATO and Turkey was undivided in the region and was represented in one dimension.

Shifts in Turkish policy since 2011 and NATO’s response

In 2011 Recep Tayyip Erdogan started the third term in office as  prime-minister of Turkey. One may ask why this period should be identified as the counting point for showing changes in Turkish policy. As James Stavridis mentioned in his article “the policy of “zero problems with neighbors” is a pretty good approach — until all your neighbors start to have problems, of course” (Stavridis 2015) and 2011 was period when problems occurred in Turkey’s neighborhood.

As a response to these developments, Turkey  started implementation of New Turkish Policy. According to the Turkish leadership, the region is of key importance for  global order. Therefore establishing itself as its patron would grant Turkey the status of a global power.  Turkish leadership is guided by a strong belief in Turkey’s special mission as the successor of the Ottoman Empire and at the same time a modern, powerful state, whose democratic government is an emanation of not only a single nation’s will, but also the hitherto suppressed historical and religious traditions of the entire region. Thus, as Turkey seeks to become the patron of the Ottoman Empire’s former territories and, more broadly, the entire Muslim world, this is not only a matter of security or the economy, but also a historical mission. (Ananicz 2015, 24)

The peak of Turkey’s involvement in the Middle East came with the advent of the Arab Spring. Ankara saw the erosion of the old order and the popular uprisings as an opportunity to transform the efforts it had hitherto made into real influence. It acted as the advocate of the “Arab street” against the crumbling regimes and subsequently supported the new governments in Tunisia, Egypt and initially in Libya. The Syrian conflict turned out to be the greatest challenge. When protests first started in Syria, Turkey tried to persuade Bashar al-Assad to implement democratic reforms, and when those efforts failed, it started to actively support the anti-Assad opposition and took other measures with a view to removing him from power, incurring a huge political and social cost and placing its own security at risk. (Ananicz 2015, 26)

All these facts show that Turkey’s position has changed since Arab awaking radically. Now official Ankara tries to be independent player in the region with its own policy. If years ago NATO has no worries about this region, because it was represented by Turkey as one of its strongest members here and consequently it meant that Turkey’s policy was Alliance’s policy, now it does not seem so.
Many academics, scholars or people who are interested in International Politics very often blame NATO in its ignorance towards the Middle East region and especially for not responding adequately to the shift in its vital member state’s policy in the region.

What we can see here is that NATO softened its policy in the Middle East in the period from 2011 to 2015. Alliance leaders pay attention to the importance of deterrence, partnership as an effective policy implemented by organization and focusing on security-sector reform, training and disarmament, mobilization and reintegration.(NATO 2013)

Taking into account the fact that NATO mainly is a military organization, this policy was understood as weakness of the alliance, but sometimes we forget that shift does not always mean something radical. It is understandable that in such situations, the expected answer to the developments in the region and especially to rapid changes in policy of your member state is aggressive, but that did not happen .

The main reason for this, as we can suggest, is Turkey’s position to make NATO involved in the regional process for its own sake. For example, they demanded  application of organization’s Article 5[5] several times, especially during the Syrian events, but NATO did not do this (Radio Liberty 2012). Turkish officials as well as some academics are for Alliance’s active military involvement, which they expect to use for their country’s own interest - independent policy towards the Middle East region.

That is another question, if such softening from NATO will be beneficial for the region, but it seems that in such situations, when developments are critical, there is no time for extreme actions.


Nowadays, regional organizations always try to have common policy in many issues. Unfortunately, we have only one example of this in face of the European Union.

NATO is one of the strongest organizations in the International System today. In the very sensitive region of Middle East, during the decades, it was represented by Turkey, which has second largest army in the Alliance. Because of transformation of Turkey into secular state and many other changes that was seen domestically inside the country, it has clearly Western orientation. All this meant that NATO has its own policy in the Middle East via official Ankara, but rapid changes that have happened since 2011 changed some conditions.

The purpose of this article was to identify the major factors which affected the shift in NATO’s policy towards the Middle East since 2011. Research process revealed that after the Arab awakening and shifts in Turkish foreign and security policy, NATO softened its policy in the region and tries to continue the strategy of partnership and deterrence. As it is seen,  changes occurred in Alliance’s policy, but not in radical or military way, as it was expected. Most experts and scholars perceived this as a weakness of the organization. However, this research showed that it was part of the new strategy by the alliance, in order not to allow its member to play an independent game, which it wishes to do. 



Alpay, Şahin. 2009. What keeps the ‘Sèvres Syndrome’ alive and kicking? Today’s Zaman , 6 July
Ananicz, Szymon. 2015. Alone in Virtue: The “New Turkish” Ideology in Turkey’s Foreign Policy. Centre for Eastern Studies April
Aybet , Gülnur. 2012. Turkey’s Security Challenges and NATO. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
MFA Turkey. 2011. Turkey's and NATO’s views on current issues of the Alliance
MFA Turkey. Policy of Zero Problems with our Neighbors
NATO. 1991. The Alliance's New Strategic Concept agreed by the Heads of State and Government participating in the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council
NATO. 2004. Istanbul Summit Communiqué: Issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council
NATO. 2010. Strategic Concept 2010
NATO. 2013. ''NATO’s Approach to a Rapidly Changing MENA Region''
NATO. 2015. Collective defence - Article 5
NATO. 2015. NATO Mediterranean Dialogue
Orfy, Mohammed Moustafa. 2011. NATO and the Middle East: The geopolitical context post-9/11. New York:  Routledge
Radio Liberty. 2012. NATO 'Stands' With Turkey But Does Not Invoke Article 5  , 26 June
Stavridis, James. 2015. Now’s the Time for NATO to Rally Around Turkey. Foreign Affairs, 25 November
Šulík, Rudolf . 2012.Turkish Foreign and Security Policy: Challenge for EU and NATO? . Panorama of global security environment  2012. Bratislava: CENAA
World Bank. Middle Eadt and North Africa: Overview

[1] The Allies also wish to maintain peaceful and non- adversarial relations with the countries in the Southern Mediterranean and Middle East. The stability and peace of the countries on the southern periphery of Europe are important for the security of the Alliance, as the 1991 Gulf war has shown. This is all the more so because of the build-up of military power and the proliferation of weapons technologies in the area, including weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles capable of reaching the territory of some member states of the Alliance. (NATO 1991)
[2] It currently involves seven non-NATO countries of the Mediterranean region: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. (NATO 2015)
[3] “to establish a more ambitious and expanded partnership guided by the principle of joint ownership and taking into consideration their particular interests and needs” (NATO 2004)
[4] Sèvres Syndrome - In Turkey, the Sèvres Syndrome is a popular belief that some outside forces,  especially the West, is conspiring to weaken and carve up Turkey. The term originates from the Treaty of Sèvres of the 1920s, which partitioned the Ottoman Empire between the Kurds, Armenia, Greece, Britain, France, and Italy, leaving a small unaffected area around Ankara under Turkish rule, however, it was never implemented due to the Turkish War of Independence. (Alpay 2009)
[5] This principle is enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that an attack on one Ally shall be considered an attack on all Allies. (NATO 2015)

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