International Affairs Forum:
In light of Turkey’s current problems with EU accession and their increased economic ties with Iran and Syria, how do you view Turkey's current place as a security partner with the EU?
Dr. Michael Werz:
Turkey’s place is one of great importance. It is not only in the immediate vicinity of the European Union but it also has historical ties for to Europe like no other country. This is true even though we are witnessing the establishment of a new geopolitical space: The new Levant, the region encompassing Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan is becoming a reality. And that has greatly enhanced Turkey’s reach as well as its geopolitical weight.
It's also important to recognize that Turkey has been long married to Europe, so to speak—mainly because it was one of the most important contributors to NATO in military terms and its migrants played a pivotal role in reconstruction Europe after the devastation of WWII. With regard to NATO it is often overlooked that during the Cold War, Turkish society at large has provided more to guarantee European security than many of the core European countries themselves. Turkey has also participated in European security defense policy missions such as in Macedonia, Congo, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
This all indicates that Turkey is of great strategic importance to the European Union. And the fact that with the end of the Cold War, the country with steady demographic and economic growth has become interconnected with a much broader region once again and that has only increased its importance.
How would you view their importance in a peace-making role with Muslim countries in the Middle East?
There are different answers to that question. Turkey has the ability to be an effective actor, but does not always live up to its potential. One problem that is hampering Turkish efforts and undermining the country’s standing in the region and also within the Western community is that the governing AKP's policy towards Israel has basically frozen a formerly stable relationship. It also seems sometimes that Ankara has a bias towards Hamas that is ultimately counterproductive and not serving Turkey's own interest. If Turkey wants to be a honest and relevant broker in the region it has to pass the litmus test of the most difficult problem in the region, which is of course the conflict of Palestine.
Having said that, one also has to acknowledge that the current Israeli government did not make managing this relationship easy for Turkey. One might think about the flotilla incident where Islamist activists wanted to send several boats towards the Palestinian territories and when Israeli commandos boarded those boats, eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American citizen were killed.
Despite these tensions, Turkey’s importance for the United States was reflected by the fact that President Obama tagged on a visit to Turkey in his first trip to Europe in April 2009. Turkey is an important strategic partner not only for the U.S., but also for Europe because it is a point of reference for many of the aspirations of many people in the Middle East and Near East region. One could say that Turkey is the West of the East -- a society that is fairly open, fairly democratic, and it is very lively in cultural, economic and political terms. That makes it a point of identification not only for people in northern Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, but also in the Arab world.
So the twofold answer to the question is: Turkey has a lot of potential to play an important role and be an effective actor. It certainly has a geopolitical position and the bandwidth and the way to do so. But it also depends on how Turkish foreign policy will evolve in years to come and if Turkish society manages a difficult but necessary constitutional reform process that is likely to being after the elections in June.
Internal issues within the EU states have sprouted during the recent military intervention in Libya. In light of this, what do you think these issues bode for EU security policy and their ability to address potential future actions in the future?
A difficult question. It is not only that the counterproductive German decision to reject the implementation of a no fly zone was one that might have been influenced by domestic political considerations. It would also be fair to say that, to a certain degree, the opposite of the equation represented by the governments of France and Italy, which massively argued in favor of an intervention, also was influenced by domestic considerations.
At the same time it is important to acknowledge that historically the European Union has never been a monolithic foreign policy actor because foreign policy is still determined by the member states. And there has been a lack of European coordination before—for example, during the first Balkan crisis and the major divisions over the second Iraq war. So this is nothing new.
Even though the European countries are currently attempting to develop a Common Foreign and Security Policy, this is not really going to be a game changer because power still has a national origin. Political power in the European Union is still established and consolidated within the realm of national politics and not within the realm of European policy. That is also reflected by the fact that recently appointed High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is not really a major political figure in her own country.
So, this is not an entirely new development. But given that in the immediate European neighborhood Turkey is becoming a regional player, the Palestinian conflict is continuing without any solution, and in light of the massive transformations in Northern Africa, there is increasing need for a more consistent EU foreign policy.
Climate change concerns are, in turn, increasing security concerns around the world. What steps is the EU taking towards addressing this security area?
The European Union is doing quite a bit in this field. It has established the EU Climate Action Commission that identifies climate security as a challenge—similar to the last Quadrennial Defense Review of the Pentagon. The consequences of climate change obviously include rising food prices, health issues, rising sea levels, and migration. Here again, Europe's proximity to Northern Africa is of importance because the fact that climate change has an impact that is speeding up migration patterns on the African continent is clearly bringing Europe into the mix.
It is also clear that the EU traditionally, especially Germany for historical reasons, have a fairly elaborate development policy over a number of years and the Europeans have fairly large development agencies comparable to what the USAID does here in the United States. These are certainly institutional conditions which allow the Europeans to become players in this emerging field of security and climate issues.
In addition, the European climate initiatives have been much more far reaching than here in the United States. In 2008, the Europe Climate and Energy Package said that by 2020 there should be a 20% carbon dioxide reduction, 20% use of renewable energy, and 20% improvement in energy efficiency. Then, of course, there is talk about a cap and trade system.
So, overall Europe is in a good position to be a strong partner for the United States in discussing how to interconnect security, development and climate policies. As a matter of fact, the German mission and the Portuguese mission at the United Nations have made this a core issue in their two year Security Council term. In May they started with their first event in New York, where the nexus of security and climate issues are being discussed. This is a perfect fit for ongoing discussion in the United States. Last year, for the first time, the Quadrennial Defense Review mentioned climate change as a threat enhancer. The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, that has been pushed by Hillary Clinton and the State Department, is a document that is discussing these issues.
So there are interesting debates going on in Europe and in the United States that's allowed us to evaluate the security issues tied to climate change and look at future possibilities of foreign policy cooperation in different parts of the world.
Dr. Michael Werz is a Senior Fellow at American Progress where his work as member of the National Security Team focuses on climate migration and security issues as well as Turkey. Previously, he has been a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's BMW Center for German and European Studies. Dr. Werz has published numerous articles and several books.
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