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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cost benefit analysis?

An interesting take from Steven Cook on Turkey's reaction to NATO's request to station a missile defense system on Turkey's territory:
The next big issue on the U.S.-Turkey agenda is a proposed NATO missile defense system, that if it is developed, will have a radar component based on Turkish soil. The Turks are deeply uneasy about these plans, which will likely make for some turbulence in the run up to the NATO meeting in Lisbon on November 19-20. At the moment, the Turks have two demands. They do not want any country (i.e. Iran) to be identified as the “target” of the system and they do not want any non-NATO countries to have access to the intelligence used for the missile defense system. (Can you spell I-S-R-A-E-L?) Some Turks argue, unconvingcingly, that in the event of an Israeli or American strike on Iran’s nuclear program, Turkey, by dint of hosting the radar site, would be a target of retaliation. More persuasively, they fear that a military attack on Iran will destabilize the region. They saw this happen in Iraq, and they would like to avoid it in Iran. Ankara is also worried that sanctions and/or a military strike will disrupt Turkey’s plans to upgrade its trade relations with Iran, which the Justice and Development Party hopes will reach $30 billion in the next 5 years.

I have heard a lot of this before, but what seems different this time is the sense that 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.

Before anyone gets mad at me (you know who you are), I am not making an argument that Turkey is drifting East and becoming an Islamic state. Rather, what we are seeing is a natural evolution of Turkish foreign policy in which Ankara’s interests and goals differ from Washington. This is a function of geography, democracy, economics, and the profound changes in international politics 17 years after the end of the Cold War. Turkey is just being Turkey. That’s should be OK in some areas and more problematic in others, but there is precious little Washington or anyone else can do about it.
Until recently, I don't recall seeing any country do a cost benefit analysis of an alliance with the United States unless they were weighing it against a competing alliance from the Soviet Union. In fact, it was the opportunity to have such an alliance with the United States that put Egypt over the top in making peace with Israel (during the Carter administration, no less!).

With whom else is Turkey being offered an alliance that can compete with the United States? With Iran? Has Turkey decided that they are better off going it alone as a middling power like they did in the Security Council vote on sanctions a few months ago?

Regardless of how you slice it, this is an ominous development. In the process of degrading the United States' military capabilities and showing that he is unwilling to use them, President Obama has brought about a situation where a third tier power like Turkey actually does a cost benefit analysis to determine whether it's worth being an ally of the United States. Yes, I know, they also denied the Bush administration the right to move US troops into Iraq from their territory in 2003, but that could be construed as an act of war. Setting up a defensive missile system - even if it's designed to defend against an attack by a specific country is not an act of war.

What could go wrong?


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