Turkish equilibrium: Cost Benefit Analysis of U.S. vs. Iran alliance

Turkey is calculating the costs of its alliance with the West. It used to be issues like missile defense were hard, but because aligning with NATO was an identity issue, the Turks would ultimately sign up. Ankara is not walking away from NATO, and there will be a compromise—the Turks are not asking for anything unreasonable—but it seems clear that cost-benefit analysis is now the order of the day in Ankara.

Turkey is calculating the costs of its alliance with the West. It used to be issues like missile defense were hard, but because aligning with NATO was an identity issue, the Turks would ultimately sign up. Ankara is not walking away from NATO, and there will be a compromise—the Turks are not asking for anything unreasonable—but it seems clear that cost-benefit analysis is now the order of the day in Ankara.

Ankara has long insisted that the planned NATO anti-missile system should not be perceived as a threat against any of its eastern neighbors with which its economic and political relations have particularly flourished in the last few years, while US authorities have constantly called on Ankara to approve hosting a part of the Europe-wide shield.

A decision may be reached next month for the missile shield as the 28-country alliance will gather for a summit on Nov. 19-20 in Lisbon to unveil a new strategic plan for the organization.

Turkey says it is not against the establishment of a missile defense system for NATO’s European allies but insists in talks with the US that the project should be built for defensive, not offensive, purposes. Any clear reference to Iran or any other neighboring country as a threat in the proposed missile defense system runs counter to Ankara’s chief foreign policy objective: “zero problems” with neighbors.

Sources close to the negotiations between Turkey and the United States over the proposed system recently told Today’s Zaman that the Turkish argument appears reasonable to US authorities. Naming countries as a source of threat is difficult in a practical sense, too, because NATO operates on the principle of consensus and it is not possible to classify a non-ally as a threat if one of the allies is opposed. But the level of understanding permeating the ongoing negotiations is not sufficient to predict what the final agreement will look like when the Lisbon summit convenes. Sources say even though there might be no formal reference to Iran in any written document, US officials may do so verbally in press statements during the summit.

During the negotiations, Turkey has also asked US officials whether non-NATO countries would have access to intelligence that sensors in the shield would gather, sources said. US authorities, in return, have assuaged Turkish concerns, saying the intelligence will be out of reach for any non-NATO countries, including Israel.

Another issue that came up in the negotiations was whether there would be any ships operating as part of the missile shield in the Black Sea. The proposed anti-missile system is planned to be mostly ship-based in the earlier stages, with elements being deployed on land later. Ankara says the terms of the 1936 Montreux Convention, which restricts the passage of non-Turkish military vessels through the straits, should be respected, and thus no ship carrying missile defense system elements can pass through the straits to reach Black Sea. The US authorities have given assurances that there is no such plan since the terms of the 1936 arrangement are clear.

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