Apologies for neglecting the blog for the past couple of days, I have been at a conference discussing ways to help expedite the discussions for a zone banning weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Efforts to bring this noble goal to fruition have been ongoing since it was first proposed by Iran and Egypt in 1974. Turkey, while not opposed in principle, did not engage in the discussions. Turkey’s logic was simple – Ankara did not consider itself to be a part of the Middle East and was an eager supporter of the forward deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe.
More recently, however, Ankara has become acutely aware of the threat posed by the spread of WMD capabilities in the Middle East. Thus, the AKP has made it a priority to play a more active role in the ongoing discussions for a MEWMDFZ. I am incredibly pleased with the Turkish position and hope that Turkish diplomats can help break the diplomatic stalemate. However, I see some problems that could hinder Turkey’s diplomatic efforts:
1) Turkey continues to support the deployment of nuclear weapons on its territory. Ankara believes that the weapons are important for Turkish defense, arguing that they are critical for deterrence. Thus, Ankara continues to assign value to nuclear weapons. Turkish academics have long argued that Turkey should simply call for the removal of the antiquated American weapons, though the government does not appear to be listening. However, it is easy for potential regional opponents of the zone (Israel and others) to claim that Turkey’s position on the MEWMDFZ is hypocritical.
2) Ankara has no intention of joining the zone. Thus, Turkey, within the context of these negotiations, is not considered to be a part of the region. Turkey, therefore, should be considered among the parties classified as regional “outsiders” with an interest in the zone.
3) The zone is Egyptian political turf, thus any major Turkish effort to try and wrangle control over the issue will NOT be welcome in Cairo.
Given these problems, I have some advice for the Turkish foreign ministry:
1) Replicate the “Gaza model” for Turkey’s future efforts to advance the MEWMDFZ. Cairo owns this issue. Turkey should continue its deference to Egypt and make clear that it stands behind Egypt’s handling of the negotiations for the MEWMDFZ.
2) Think outside the box – Verification is going to be a critical component in any future deal. Numerous NGOs and think tanks are constantly studying how to verify a future MEWMDFZ. Turkey should help with these efforts. Ankara could host track II dialogues aimed at discussing verification issues and empower its own researchers to contribute new ideas. (Everybody loves Istanbul – why not the technical wonks?)
3) Clearly lay out the facts – Verification will likely require incredibly intrusive inspections in countries not historically keen on transparency. Ankara should publicly prod its neighbors to be more transparent with the international community vis-a-vis WMD issues. It should be careful not signal Israel out, but to take a more active and vocal stance for all of its neighbors nuclear activities. It could start by chastising Syria for its clandestine construction of a nuclear reactor (low-hanging fruit), praise the UAE for its approach to enrichment and reprocessing, and pressure Iran to make a deal with the P5+1.
4) De-legitimize nuclear weapons – Ankara can only do this if it actually adopts a policy that de-legitimizes these weapons. Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium (3 of the 5 NATO states hosting nuclear weapons – Turkey and Italy are the others) are eager for American deployed nuclear weapons to be removed from their host air bases in Europe. Turkey, along with the Baltic NATO states, have quietly opposed the idea. Ankara could join them and make clear that it is prepared to rely on American long range nuclear weapons for deterrence.
And finally . . .
The international community should applaud Turkey’s new attention to nonproliferation. Ankara’s more vocal approach to the idea of a MEWMDFZ is a welcome change. Turkey’s role, while minimal, should be encouraged. Ankara is a player in the region and is impacted by instability and regional proliferation. While no one expects Ankara to sit on the sidelines, the foreign ministry must remain cognizant of its outsider status and the disconnect between its calls for regional disarmament, with its policy of support for forward deployed nuclear weapons. More broadly, the current environment provides a number of avenues for Turkish engagement. I hope Ankara continues to stay involved by thinking outside the box and looking at constructive track II style ways to keep the parties engaged.