On 10 May 2013 the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) submitted a draft law to Parliament with strengthened provisions against the sale of alcohol in Turkey. After two weeks of debate, the Parliament passed the bill and sent it to President Abdullah Gul for signature. (The bill will not become a law until Gul signs it and it is registered in the official Gazette.)
The AKP likes to do a lot of things in fast forward. The ambitious Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is eager to build large-scale infrastructure projects as fast as humanly possible. Turkey’s policy therefore looks to be a bit frenetic to outsiders. However, this “build and do things as fast as possible” has been a staple of Turkish policy making going back to the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Needless to say, this “do things quickly mentality” has had mixed results.
Anyways, once the Prime Minister commits to doing something, he is able to leverage his party’s huge majority in the Parliament to implement the AKP’s legislative agenda. With elections looming in 2014 and 2015, it is easy to discern why the AKP chose to implement its alcohol policy with such haste. The debate will have two political outcomes: 1) distract Turkey’s inept and feckless – and I really want to underscore the words “inept and feckless” – opposition; 2) Galvanize support from very important segments of the base.
However, it also underscores just how rapidly the AKP can pass laws that it deems to be in its interest. Sadly, export controls are not as sexy as alcohol and the government has not found enough time to strengthen Turkey’s loophole filled laws. While Turkey has passed a “catch all” provision (this allows the government to prevent the export of controlled items even if they are not included on international control lists), the current legislation does not cover goods that are in transit or items that are stored in economic free zones. (For reference, Turkey is a party to every major international export control agreement, but the enforcement of international export control lists is left up to domestic legislation.)
Why should we care? Well, for one, Turkish firms were an illicit supplier of centrifuge parts for the AQ Kahn network. Thus, there is Turkish equipment in the centrifuges enriching uranium in Iran and North Korea. In addition, Turkey is often used by Iran as a transshipment hub for dual-use and embargoed items – I doubt Ankara would be happy if it was widely known that Tehran’s low enriched uranium stockpiles could proudly fly, as part of a larger international consortium, a Turkish flag on storage drums.
Ankara is uncomfortable with Iran’s nuclear program, arguing that Iran should answer all of the questions that IAEA still has about possible military dimensions of the nuclear program. However, the Prime Ministry has not yet taken action on a draft law passed in 2008 that would tighten Turkey’s export control loopholes by creating a national export control list and a centralized export control enforcement authority.
The Prime Minister has never given any reason for his hesitancy to sign the bill, but it appears that it would be difficult to amend other laws pertaining to export control violations and smuggling. Frankly, after witnessing how fast the AKP can move on the socially divisive issue of alcohol, I find it hard to believe that ruling party lacks the capacity to make the appropriate changes to export legislation to prevent the spread of dual-use items to state’s of concern (They have had close to five years to figure it out!). Sadly, I think the export control issue – which, as I mentioned earlier, is neither sexy, nor a vote getter – is one of the very few areas where the AKP has opted to move in super slow motion.