Monday, February 4, 2013

Turkey crawls back under America's thumb

Staff in NATO's headquarters have been busy lately - trying to conceal the truth. Deploying missile interceptors in Turkey is a purely defensive manoeuvre, aimed at protecting Turkey's population and territory, according to the alliance's queen of spin Oana Lungescu. As a vegetarian, I refuse to swallow that porky pie.

Let's put the stationing of the Patriot interceptors in a broader context. The concept of missile interception can be traced back to Ronald Reagan's Star Wars programme. Its essential purpose was to enable America to launch a massive first strike on a country and then to able to neutralise any weapons fired in retaliation. Before bringing the Patriots, the US placed an X-Band "transportable missile radar" in south-eastern Turkey last year. The Obama administration is also overseeing the installation of a missile interceptor system in various parts of Europe and the Mediterranean. This is the same Obama administration that routinely kills children - with pilotless drones - in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The likelihood of all this being defensive is about as strong as me becoming a professional wrestler.

Next, there is the small matter of where Turkey is located. Yes, Turkey borders Syria - the pretext for deploying the Patriots. But Turkey also borders Iraq and Iran. We are approaching the tenth anniversary of a vote by the Ankara parliament to block the US from using Turkish soil (though not airspace) during the invasion of Iraq. Now that America is striking an increasingly bellicose posture towards Iran, it is doubtlessly determined to keep Turkey obedient. It's not necessary to be a military strategist to surmise that having radars and military interceptors in Turkey could prove helpful to America if it wishes to use that country as a launching pad for a war against Iran.

Lungescu loyalists might believe the waffle from NATO about rallying to the aid of an ally by all means necessary. Yet Western nations can be quite selective in supporting Turkey. Germany is one of the three NATO members (along with the Netherlands and the US) to have generously donated Patriots to Turkey. This generosity would appear uncharacteristic of Angela Merkel, who has blocked Turkey's decades-old ambitions of joining the European Union because of an anti-Muslim bias that is tantamount to racism.


Recent history nonetheless offers precedents for what Germany is doing. In the early 1990s, Germany was second only to the US as a supplier of arms to Turkey. When it emerged that these weapons were being used against Kurdish civilians in south-east Turkey, the Bundestag voted to cease giving Turkey military aid. The ban was circumvented: in 1992, Germany's defence minister Gerhard Stoltenberg had to resign after officials working in his department gave the nod for the delivery of 15 combat tanks to Turkey.

Over the past few years, pundits have mulled over whether Turkey has been turning its back on the West. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, teamed with Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva, then Brazil's president, to try and broker a deal over Iran's nuclear programme. Erdogan engaged in a public spat with Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, over the bombardment of Gaza in late 2008 and 2009. And relations with Israel became very tense when nine Turkish peace activists were killed in cold blood as they tried to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza in 2010.

Could there be a flipside to Erdogan's championing of the Palestinians? Could he have pounced on this issue in order to divert attention from how Turkey continues to violate the rights of its Kurdish citizens?

In December 2011, the Turkish air force bombed a number of Kurdish villages in south-eastern Turkey. Seventeen children were killed. Despite how Erdogan has promised to respect Kurdish rights, the Turkish authorities continue to deny the Kurds basic freedoms, including the freedom to express opinions. During 2012, Turkey jailed more journalists - most of them Kurds - than any other country.


Although Erdogan was right to excoriate Israel over the medieval siege of Gaza, I've long been sceptical of how deep his commitment to Palestinian rights is. The Palestinians have few, if any, real friends in high places. Leaders who profess to share the pain of Palestinian families have been known to be cooperate with Israel whenever it is deemed politically expedient to do so.

Erdogan appears little different. Towards the end of last year, Turkey lifted its objections to Israel's participation in NATO meetings and conferences. Turkey's capitulation is all the more inexcusable, when you consider that it occurred so soon after Operation Pillar of Cloud, Israel's eight-day offensive against Gaza in November.

Furthermore, Erdogan's protests had something of a "too little, too late" ring about them. His concern for the victims of Israeli drone strikes in Gaza appears less sincere when one considers that Israeli drones have been used by Turkish forces during their incursions into northern Iraq.

Turkey has also worked alongside Israel in NATO's Operation Active Endeavour. That patrol mission in the Mediterranean was originally presented as part of George Bush's "war on terror" but its remit has subsequently been expanded to cover migration issues. This means that Turkey and Israel have been cooperating to try and stop impoverished Africans and Asians from reaching Europe's shores.

NATO is not a search and rescue service, as its apologists imply. It is a military alliance dedicated to preserving American hegemony. The stationing of interceptors in Turkey serves that agenda.

•First published by New Europe, 3-9 February 2013.

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