Turkish foreign relations - Ron Ayres

Article about Turkey's foreign policy up to the 1980s, including its invasion of Cyprus, desire for membership of the European Community and its wider role in Western military strategy.

Submitted by Ed on August 17, 2013


AFTER THE Second World War, first Britain and then the USA took responsibility for supplying Greece and Turkey with military and economic aid. In President Truman's 'Message to Congress', 12 March 1947, the 'dangers of Communism' were spelt out. The US on behalf of the West was to take immediate action to support Greece and Turkey in their fight against internal revolution and external threat: 'I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own ways... Should we fail to aid Greece and Turkey in this fateful hour the effect will be far reaching to the West as well as the East.'1

The Turkish bourgeoisie and its political representatives were pushed into the US sphere ofinfluence in the period immediately after the Second World War because of the 'threat' of socialism and what was regarded as Soviet expansionism. Arms were required for security, to defend "this independent capitalist state from 'communism', yet Turkey was finan- cially weak and in no position to acquire expensive weapons. As Turkey was strategically vital to the West, American and Turkish bourgeois interests coincided, and military aid was made available which financed the transfer of arms.

Turkey and the USA have been members of the same military alliance in the post-war period, but it has been the latter, as the supplier, that has largely determined the form and volume of the flow of arms. The USA satisfied part of Turkey's demand for arms because it was in America's interest in its struggle for world hegemony. This important determinant of the transfer of arms does not mean that there has always been a coincidence of aims between Turkish military and political leaders and US governments, nor has it prevented contradictions arising for both countries. Nevertheless, the US has been willing to take on the burden of supplying arms to Turkey because of its strategic interests in the country.

The Strategic Value of Turkey

THE US MILITARY assistance programme for Turkey was intended to reinforce anti-communism and encourage support for the West, and the USA in particular, against the Soviet Union. The strategic importance of Turkey to the United States lay, and continues to lie, in its geographic position, the country's military forces committed to NATO and the facilities and bases it makes available for American use.2

Turkey's geographic location at the eastern end of the Mediterranean where it controls the vital straits of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles puts it in a unique position to regulate the flow of Soviet naval vessels to and from the Black Sea in time of war. Under the Montreaux Conven- tion, Turkey has to be notified in advance if any warships intend to use the straits and all submarines must traverse only the surface, thus giving continuous intelligence information on Soviet shipping which would be made available to Turkey's allies. In wartime Turkey has the right to close the straits thereby preventing the movement of Soviet naval forces from the Black Sea, where one third of Soviet warships are based, into the Mediterranean.

Turkey became a member of NATO on 15 February 1952, and brought into the alliance the second largest military force after that of the USA. Turkey's army is composed of approximately 485,000 personnel, plus another 525,000 trained army reservists and about 110,000 para-military forces. The full-time soldiers are formed into more than 19 division equivalents and Turkey also contributes about 20 squadrons of aircraft to the military alliance. In the view of General Haig, the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Turkish forces tie up at least 20 divisions of the Warsaw Pact and could tie up at least 30 more divisions along a Bal- kan front as well as bottling up Soviet naval vessels in the Black Sea.

In support of its NATO role Turkey has made various facilities and bases available to the United States. These military installations permit US intelligence collection, provide logistics support facilities, early- warning radar monitoring and are the site of numerous US Defence Communications System terminals. In addition Turkey provides the US with several airbases, port facilities and a number of important supply and storage depots. Since the loss of American facilities in Iran the Turkish bases have become even more vital in support of US and NA TO- related activities.

Military and Economic Aid
Since 1948 the US has provided Turkey with substantial military and economic assistance (see Table below). Indeed Turkey is the third largest recipient of US military and economic-behind Israel and Egypt- although this has not been sufficient to keep Turkey fully effective as a military force. Much of Turkey's weaponry is old and obsolete and below minimum NATO standards. The US has achieved its strategic objectives in Turkey relatively cheaply. Much of the military and economic assistance provided by the USA was probably recorded at inflated prices and most of the military equipment was second hand or surplus to American needs. At the same time Turkey, being a member of NATO, was required to share the costs of the military alliance and undoubtedly bore a disproportionate share of the burden which was not fully compensated by American financial and military help. Between 1950 and 1974 Turkey consistently committed between 5 and 6 per cent of GNP to defence representing between 20 and 25 per cent of the Turkish budget.

As with all the major military aid programmes abroad the US also sent a military assistance advisory group (MAAG) to Turkey which had the job of providing essential instruction in the use and maintenance of equipment. A major function of the MAAG was to administer the American military grant aid programme which was vital to maintaining US influence and control and also ensured that the training given to Turkish soldiers provided a maximum exposure to US and Western values.

A major consequence of the military alliance for Turkey is that an enormous level of scarce domestic resources have had to be committed to defence. The defence burden has posed special problems for a weak capitalist state and this has created contradictions for the US. The US has wanted to minimise its level of aid to Turkey but not to impose so large a military load that domestic conditions are destabilised. In periods of economic difficulty in Turkey the US has generally responded with increased economic assistance. In the 1960s the US managed to form a consortium, including the GECD and the World Bank, which relieved the Americans of some of the cost of providing financial support for Turkey.

It is informative to consider US economic assistance to Turkey in more detail since it was very closely linked to military objectives. In a speech delivered at Harvard on 5 June 1948 Secretary Marshall described how vital it was for the US to provide Europe with economic aid, which became known as the Marshall Plan.

Hovey has stressed that there is a complementary relationship between economic and military assistance. 'Economic assistance can provide the wherewithal for military assistance recipients to pay troops, and purchase supplies.' US military assistance, Hovey explains, was given to provide arms and equipment supplied, of course, by the US, but it was not designed to pay for troops or food consumed by the military, since these were regarded as the responsibility of the recipient government. The relationship between economic and military aid is clear. 'Military assistance pays for the costs of equipment, supplies and training, and economic aid provides the budgetary support necessary for local purchases and pay and allowances of foreign forces.'3

Between 1949 and 1971 the US gave over $2.5 billion to Turkey in economic assistance, almost entirely 'tied' to US goods with over three- quarters of the funds being administered through the Agency for International Development (AID) and predecessor agencies, and the remainder under PL 480. The details are given in the Table below. Approximately 82 per cent of AID economic aid between 1949 and 1962 was in grant form, but from 1963 loans became more important as they replaced grants for general imports. Under the terms of the grant programme Tur- key was required to deposit into a 'Special US Counterpart Fund' Turkish lira at the official rate of exchange for each dollar of grant aid provided by the US for general commodity imports. Ninety per cent of these deposits (95 per cent prior to 1952) were made available to the Turkish government for mutually agreed projects, and ten per cent to the US government to meet administrative and other costs in Turkey. Up to 1962 about 80 per cent of the 'Counterpart Funds' were used within the Turkish national defence sector, in the form of additional military programmes, although from 1963 the funds were on a much smaller scale and were used for general budgetary support or to finance development projects both in the public and private sectors. Details on the utilisation of Counterpart Funds (not presented here) confirm that up to 1962 US economic aid was largely used to release Turkish domestic resources which could then be put into defence.

As was pointed out above, after 1963 loans came to replace grants for general imports. Between 1963-71 total AID economic assistance amounted to $928.2 million of which $791 million was in loan form, that is 85 per cent of the total. Direct US economic assistance was supple- mented by pledges of over $2 billion between 1963 and 1970, and a further $1.3 billion between 1970 and 1975 by the previously mentioned American-West European economic consortium. This level of economic aid meant that Turkey ranked sixth among the major recipients of economic assistance during the 1960s, and created a dependency on external financing which continued into the 1970s.

The Changing Alliance
Despite the enormous level of economic and military assistance granted to Turkey there have been tensions within a changing alliance. The relative importance of the two countries for each other varied with the course of the Cold War but was affected most deeply by the invasion of Cyprus and the ensuing US arms embargo of 1975. During 1963-64 when there was open conflict between the two communities in Cyprus the Johnson letter to Ankara led to much acrimony. In 1974 after an abortive Greek-backed coup against President Makarios Turkish troops invaded Cyprus, the island was divided and the troops, numbering about 20,000, remain to this day.

The American response in 1974 was to condemn the Turkish action which was followed by a Congressional decision in July 1975 to stop all military aid to Turkey pending withdrawal of Turkish forces from Cyprus. Turkey responded by unilaterally rescinding all US-Turkish defence cooperation agreements.4

The arms embargo hit Turkey very hard because she was almost totally dependent on the US for her arms. In response to the embargo Turkey turned to other NATO partners-Britain, France, West Germany, Italy and Norway-to obtain necessary arms. In spite of Turkey's serious balance of payments' problems, which caused both IMF and NATO officials to express deep concern towards the end of 1977, the country was spending more on defence each year. The estimate for military expenditure for 1977-78 was $2.63 billion, which represented nearly 30 per cent of the budget, and in addition Turkey was paying $500 million annually on acquiring arms. As the tension over Cyprus and the Aegean dispute increased after 1974 Turkey was compelled to continue buying heavily from abroad. Of the other NATO countries only West Germany provided any military assistance, about $100 million a year, partly through its official military aid programme and partly through guaranteeing credits on arms exports to Turkey. The Turkish economy in the second half of the 1970s was in a serious crisis, however, and guarantees were difficult to find-postponing the acquisition of some of the arms that Turkey wished to import.

The arms embargo was finally lifted in September 1978, without any progress having been made on the Cyprus question, partly because of American concern about Turkey's relations with the Soviet Union and the Middle East. During this period cultural exchanges between Turkey and the Soviet Union increased and agreement was reached on expanded levels of economic aid mainly to finance large infrastructural projects. It is estimated that Turkey received about $650 million in aid from the Soviet Union between 1967 and 1979, most of it provided after 1974.

Turkey also turned more towards the Arab World in the late 1970s and was therefore forced to take steps to disengage from visible identification with US policy objectives in the region.

Since the arms embargo was lifted in 1978 US-Turkish relations improved considerably although there is still inevitable tension between the two countries. A new Defence Cooperation Agreement has been signed worth $2.5 billion in economic and military assistance between 1980 and 1983. The Reagan administration has set aside the costs of supporting its needy ally but Congress has shown less willingness to provide the financial assistance required by Turkey because of the Greek, Armenian and human rights lobbies in the US. The US has, however, little choice but to continue its support for Turkey which could be worth over $700 million in 1984 and several billion dollars over the next few years.

The problems between Greece and Turkey and the determination of the present Turkish regime to pursue a more independent foreign policy vis-a-vis the Middle East have been additional sources of tension for US-Turkish relations. A key issue in the negotiations between the two countries concerns the rules under which the US could operate its Turkish bases and the exact purpose for which they will be utilised. Turkey has continued to maintain a distance from US Middle East foreign policy - at least in appearance-which explains the reluctance to become involved in any rapid deployment force and the public insistence that the US bases be used only for NATO-related operations.

There are also tensions arising from Turkey's 'neutrality' in the Middle East. Turkey was the first NATO member to give diplomatic recognition to the PLO but Ankara has continued to maintain friendly relations with Israel, if only at second secretary level, despite pressure from Arab states. In the UN emergency resolution protesting at Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights the Turkish delegation abstained, indicating that Ankara is still tied to the Western alliance.

For the moment the Turkish state and the United States need each other, despite the tension in their separate foreign policy objectives. Because of the strategic value of Turkey as a NATO ally, especially since the revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US seems likely to continue shouldering the burden of economic and military assistance to Ankara for the foreseeable future but there is a conflict in this too. The sectional interests in American domestic politics ensure that there is a sizeable gap between the amount of assistance the US administration is able to provide and the level that Turkey demands. This will continue to be a source of tension in the future. The greatest source of tension for Turkey, however, is in her relations with other NATO allies, the EEC and particularly Greece.

Turkey and the EEC

TURKEY FIRST applied for an agreement with the EEC in July 1959 but it was not until September 1963 that negotiations were completed. One of the reasons for the protracted discussions was the difficulty of reaching an agreement that was both economically realistic and acceptable to Turkish aspirations.5 Despite the potentially important market for the EEC, Turkish association posed a serious problem. Its industry was still in the early stages of development and could not face free competition yet the Community feared that cheap Turkish agricultural products would flood the market and that the country would require considerable economic assistance.

In the event, agreement was reached with the EEC (the Ankara Agreement) whereby Turkey could ultimately become a full member after having gone through preparatory, transitional and final stages. During the first five years of the preparatory stage the EEC gave concessions to four basic agricultural exports and a loan of $17 5 million, however these were marginal to the needs of Turkish capital. In 1970 an additional Protocol was signed which provided for free access of all Turkish industrial products except textiles and petroleum (which were the most competitive) and there was a slight improvement in the terms relating to the export of Turkey's agricultural products. Turkey was also given a new loan of $175 million over five years, but the total impact was negligible and the conditions regulating the transition phase were eroded in a very short time.

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 was condemned by the EEC governments and brought relations with Turkey to a low point. Furthermore, the economic crisis following 1973-4 had a deleterious effect on Turkish trade with the EEC. Whereas in 1973 Turkey's deficit on the balance of trade with the EEC was a mere $500 million, in 1975 it had increased to $1.7 billion. The dream of prosperity and economic advan- tage to Turkish capital through its associate status was turning sour.

Since the mid-1970s the contradictions between the EEC and Turkey have deepened and the importance of the respective markets for each other have declined. In 1975 44 per cent of Turkey's total exports and 49 per cent of its imports were with the EEC, by 1982 these figures were down to 30.5 per cent and 28.2 per cent respectively. In 1981, for the first time, the Middle East and North Africa became the most important mar- kets for Turkey's exports (up nearly four times in value over the previous three years). In 1980 22.3 per cent of Turkey's exports were with the Middle East and North Africa (imports 40.7 per cent) but in 1982 exports had risen to 45.0 per cent of the total (imports 42.2 per cent). This growth of trade with the Middle East does not mean that Turkey is becoming independent of Europe. During 1983 total export growth slowed down and the early indications are that trade with the Middle East was no exception. There is some concern at Turkey's ability to keep up the present rate of expansion of trade with the Middle East and it is likely that Europe will again become Turkey's major market.

The accession of Greece to the EEC in 1981 did not help relations with Turkey, particularly since the latter is not scheduled for full membership until 1995 at the earliest. But there are other points of conflict which leave Turkey's relationship with the EEC in a divided and tentative state. The conflicts can be reduced to two basic, albeit linked, issues-the human rights question and the membership problem.

The governments of the EEC have been under pressure to be critical of the loss of human rights and freedoms that occurred after the military coup on 12 September 1980. Concern has been expressed about the dissolution of political parties and trade union organisations and the imprisonment and loss of rights of their leaders by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have brought a great deal of bad publicity to the dictatorship in their reports on torture and brutality to political prisoners. The European labour movement has also been very effective in organising opposition to the imprisonment and trial of the 52 (now 78) members of DISK, and this was very influential on the Mitterrand government in France.6 France, in fact, has long created difficulties about Turkish mem- bership, apparently concerned about her European credentials,7 but no doubt also worried about the effect on agricultural production in France.

Some EEC member states, notably Britain, West Germany and Belgium have been openly more sympathetic to the military dictatorship. These countries have generally followed US foreign policy. In the 1980s while EEC aid for Turkey was withheld during 1981 the West German Bundes- tag voted in December to provide $165 million assistance for the junta.

The EEC is still, at time of writing, refusing to release aid worth $510 million to Turkey because the blatantly undemocratic elections of November 1983 have failed to convince even the Commission that democracy has been fully restored.8 The Council of Europe is still not satisfied with the political situation in Turkey and is reluctant to readmit a Turk- ish delegation to the parliamentary assembly for the first time since before the coup.9

The second conflict between Turkey and the EEC concerns membership. Originally in the 1970 Protocol it was envisaged that Turkey would become a full member of the Community in 1995. European fears of the consequences of Turkish membership at that time partly related to the weakness of her industry and the economic burden this would impose on other members but also to the danger of the market being flooded with cheap agricultural products. These problems are still relevant and are the source of continuing conflict. There has been the dispute over cotton exports to the Community which led to temporary restrictions on imports from Turkey in 1981 and 1982, and has still to be resolved. There are other issues too. When the additional Protocol was signed there was an agreed timetable of Turkish commitments towards the Community. Beginning in 1973, over a period of 12 to 22 years, Turkey was to abolish all tariff and other barriers with the EEC and harmonise its external tariffs. Because of the threat that these obligations posed for Turkey's national capital the original timetable could not be met and full membership would not now take place until the year 2000. It is another part of the Protocol, referring to the right of free movement of labour in 1986, which is particularly worrying to EEC countries, however, given the level of unemployment in western Europe.

Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in West Germany. It is clear that the ruling coalition in Germany regards it as impossible to assimilate or even integrate the Turks and is in fact already collaborating with Ankara in deporting political refugees, while, at the same time, laying the basis for a programme of repatriation of West Germany's 1.6 million Turks.10 The logical answer would be to abrogate the Treaty of Association between Turkey and the EEC, and thus end the threat of the free movement oflabour in 1986. This is a very delicate issue particularly since workers' remittances are going to continue to be vital to Ankara in closing the gap in the trade balance.

The contradiction the EEC faces in relation to Turkey is that while the military contribution of their NATO ally is highly valued the economic burden that Community membership would bring is a price they would rather not pay. The problem facing the West is that if the EEC were to refuse a fully democratic Turkey the oppotunity to negotiate, member- ship of the military alliance too may be threatened. The human rights issue and the membership problem inevitably become linked.

Turkish-Greek Relations

THE MOST INTRACTABLE Turkish foreign relations problem is that of Greece and Cyprus,11 a dispute which has wide significance to the West because of the involvement of two NATO allies. The underlying tensions created by the form of the 1960 independence agreement for Cyprus nearly precipitated a war between Greece and Turkey in 1963-64, during the 1970s relations deteriorated even further as the historical, ethnic, religious and cultural differences re-emerged over two main issues. The Cyprus problem once again became prominant and there was a new dispute over the Aegean Sea (including the control of mineral rights on the continental shelf, territorial sea limits and air traffic space). There were also a number of other issues that were separate yet related to the main areas of dispute: the remilitarisation of the Aegean islands after the Cyprus invasion,12 the manner in which minorities (Greeks in Turkey and Turks in Greece) have been treated, the military command structure within NATO, and the entry of Greece into the EEC which was completed in 1981.

The Turkish invasion of Cyprus in July 1974 after President Makarios had been removed from power following a coup led by Greek army officers marked a new more dangerous period in Turkish-Greek relations. War was avoided, the arms embargo was imposed (1975) and removed (1978) but no progress has been made on the island. Events since 1974 have led to a stalemate on the Cyprus problem.

There can be no simple solution to the Cyprus problem largely because the dispute is manifested at several levels, but also because the years of conflict and violence have left the two communities in a state of mistrust. The Unilateral Declaration of Independence for northern Cyprus in November 1983 was only recognised internationally by Turkey and Ban- gladesh and has provoked a flurry of Western diplomatic activity, sup- posedly aimed at persuading Turkey to reconsider its support for the 'independent' state.


TURKEY'S GEOGRAPHICAL and strategic position at the eastern end of the Mediterranean where it controls the crucial Turkish straits, at the crossroads between East and West, means that both the Soviet Union and the US value Turkish support very highly. Since the end of the Second World War Turkey has been firmly in the orbit of the Western alliance though in the past decade a number of events have occurred which have strained the relationship with the West. At present Turkey is surrounded by actual or potential conflicts with Greece, Cyprus, Syria, the Soviet Union, and to the east Iran and Iraq, both with dissatisfied Kurdish minorities, are at war. Turkey has been more isolated in the world community since the Cyprus crisis of 1974 and the 1975 US arms embargo yet the current regime needs the West for political, military and economic support while also wanting to increase its links with the Islamic world. There are, however, inevitable tensions in trying to follow a foreign policy which tries to bridge the Islamic and Western worlds, not least the widespread anti-American feeling in many of the Arab countries.

The West is also divided in its attitudes towards the present government in Turkey. While the US has been an ardent supporter of the Evren dictatorship, this hasn't always been the case among the Western Europe states. Furthermore, while the West is more than willing to accept Turkey's military contribution within NATO it is becoming increasingly clear that the countries of the EEC are reluctant to take on the large economic burden that Turkish membership would involve. Despite General Evren's strong anti-communism, the conflict of foreign interests between (and within) the West, and the US in particular, and many of Turkey's neighbours, means it is likely that Turkey's rulers will try to pursue a balanced international position to contain the potentially explosive contradictions that threaten Turkey. Finding a path through these complex foreign relations might conceivably be possible with a united country but with intractable domestic contradictions to face, the Turkish government will not find easy international solutions.

  • 1Harry S. Truman, 'Years of Trial and Hope', Memoirs, Vo1.2, 1955.
  • 2See the Report of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representatives, Turkey's Problems and Prospects, 1980.
  • 3H.A. Hovey, United States Military Assistance, 1975.
  • 4See George S. Harris, Troubled Alliance: Turkish-American Problems in Historical Per- spective, 1945-71, 1974.
  • 5Mehmet Ali Birand, 'Turkey and the European Community', World Today, Vo1.34, No.2, 1978.
  • 6Financial Times, 17 May 1983.
  • 7Mehmet Ali Birand, op cit.
  • 8The Guardian, 24 January, 1984.
  • 9The Guardian, 26 January, 1984.
  • 10S. Castles, 'Racism and Politics in West Germany', Race and Class, Winter 1984.
  • 11For a full discussion of the Cyprus problem see F. Anthias and R. Ayres, 'Ethnicity and Class in Cyprus', Race and Class, Vol XXV, 1983.
  • 12See Marian Kirsch Leighton, 'Graeco-Turkish Friction: Changing Balance in the Eastern Mediterranean', Conflict Studies, No. 109, 1979; also A. Wilson, 'The Aegean Dispute', Adelphi Papers, No.155, 1979. The remilitarisation of the Aegean had been going on since the early 1960s according to General 1. Gurkan, see his Agenda Paper, 'NATO Turkey and the Southern Flank'.