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External Security Concerns

Throughout the Cold War, Turkey's security situation was shaped by the country's vulnerability to Soviet military strength. It was obliged to contend with the threat of twenty divisions of Soviet land forces close to the common border of more than 500 kilometers in the Transcaucasus region of northern Turkey. Turkey's heavily populated areas were within easy range of Soviet fighter aircraft and bombers; Soviet naval vessels and submarines were well positioned to dominate the Black Sea.

Turkish suspicion of Soviet motives had historical roots in the efforts of imperial Russia to extend its influence beyond the Black Sea to the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean was linked tactically and logistically to the Soviet Black Sea fleet. Transit of the Turkish-controlled Bosporus was essential to the projection of Soviet naval power in the Mediterranean.

For Turkey, perhaps the most important consequence of the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union was that it no longer shares a border with Russia and that the risk of conflict with the Russians has greatly receded. The appearance of several newly independent nations at Turkey's borders, however, has resulted in a less settled security environment because Turkey now feels a greater potential threat from other powers in the area such as Greece, Syria, and Iraq.

Although buffered by other new nations in the Black Sea and Caucasus regions, Russia remains a compelling presence in the minds of Turkish military planners. With Moscow increasingly willing to intervene in conflicts near Turkey's borders, concern has grown that a resurgent Russian nationalism might seek pretexts to gain control of former republics of the Soviet Union. Russia has repositioned to its southern flank some of the ground weapons withdrawn from Central Europe under the terms of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty of 1990. Although the treaty placed a ceiling on the number of tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery pieces that could be redeployed to the North Caucasus Military District, the Russians have exceeded this limit, citing concerns over instability in their border regions.

Close to Turkey's northeastern border, three former republics of the Soviet Union--Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan--are beset by dissidence and fighting. Turkey has historical, cultural, religious, and linguistic ties with Azerbaijan and supported Azerbaijan in its war with Armenia. From the Turkish perspective, Armenia committed aggression against Azerbaijan by seizing the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians. Russia issued veiled warnings against Turkish involvement in the Armenian situation, which could pit Turkey against Russia. Turkey has ruled out the use of force, wary of a wider conflict between Christians and Muslims in the region.

Middle Eastern Conflicts

Despite its location, Turkey generally has been successful in pursuing a policy of noninterference and noninvolvement in Middle Eastern conflicts. For instance, Turkey refrained from supporting either belligerent in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. Although both sides violated Turkish airspace, Turkey took no defensive action and sought to mediate an end to hostilities.

In the first days after Iraq's occupation of Kuwait in August 1990, the Turkish government tried to preserve its traditional neutral stance in what it perceived as an inter-Arab dispute. Ankara was quickly obliged to depart from this position, however, in light of the strong reaction in the UN against the invasion. Turkey responded to the UN Security Council's call for an embargo against Iraq by closing the Kirkuk-Yurmurtalik oil pipeline linking the two countries and halting trade with Iraq. These measures were crucial to the economic campaign against Saddam Husayn but imposed severe economic hardship on Turkey. The direct cost to its balance of payments was estimated at US$2 billion to US$2.5 billion annually. This burden was eased somewhat by aid from the United States and the Persian Gulf countries. Firm opposition in parliament and the cabinet prevented President Özal from offering a Turkish contingent for the coalition forces in the Persian Gulf. However, some 150,000 Turkish troops were deployed near the southeastern border with Iraq, tying down eight or nine Iraqi divisions. Turkey requested and received a defensive deployment of NATO air forces in the area to discourage attack by the Iraqi air force, which could easily outmatch the fighter aircraft and antiaircraft defenses that Turkey could muster. A total of forty German, Italian, and Belgian aircraft were dispatched to Turkey. In addition, United States and Dutch Patriot missile batteries were deployed against a possible Iraqi missile attack.

When the coalition air strikes on Iraq were launched in January 1991, ninety-six United States aircraft and several British bombers operated from the United States air base at Incirlik, refueling at Batman, a base about 150 kilometers from the Iraqi border. Sorties continued from Incirlik until the cease-fire on February 28, 1991, without provoking retaliation from Saddam Husayn.

The major consequence of the Persian Gulf War from the standpoint of Turkish security was the uprising of the Kurds in northern Iraq and the exodus of Kurds toward Turkish territory to escape Saddam Husayn's brutal suppression of the rebellion. Turkey was decidedly reluctant to accept the Kurds as refugees, considering them a potential destabilizing factor in its struggle with domestic Kurdish dissidents. As an alternative, Turkey supported the UN-approved Operation Provide Comfort, which distributed relief and set up a safe haven in northern Iraq whose security was guaranteed by a coalition force of 2,000 soldiers from five countries. Incirlik served as the base for a rapid deployment of air forces to enforce a no-fly zone in the region.

The Iraqi government's loss of control over Iraqi Kurdistan and elections in the area in May 1992 produced what was in effect an autonomous Kurdish government. Although Turkey permitted the lifeline to the Iraqi Kurdish enclave to originate on its territory, the Turks feared what they saw as the emerging outlines of an independent Kurdish state in Iraq. For this reason, Turkey resisted any international action that could lead to Iraq's dismemberment and thus endanger the regional status quo.

Data as of January 1995

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