Speech by the Ambassador titled “Turkey’s Perspective on Transatlantic Security”, on 11 December 2012 at “The 21st Annual International Symposium – Transatlantic Security: The Challenges Ahead” organized by the Greek Association for Atlantic and European Cooperation

Kerim Uras 11.12.2012
Please see the programme of the Symposium at http://www.gaaec.org/files/Symposium%20Program%20EN.pdf

Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests,

Let me begin by extending my sincere thanks to the President of the Greek Association for Atlantic and European Cooperation, Mr. Thedossis Georgiou, for inviting me to give the Turkish perspective on “Transatlantic Security”.

This is a very timely Symposium. Its title “Transatlantic Security: The Challenges Ahead” speaks for our ever-lasting readiness as Allies to be fit and ready for today as well as tomorrow. The bond that strongly connects the Allies across the Atlantic is our solidarity and collective will to protect our peoples, territories and common values. This, coupled with our unrelenting quest to prepare to address challenges lying ahead and our ability to adjust swiftly to the ever-changing circumstances is exactly what makes NATO the most successful defense alliance in history.

This has been really a particular year for Greece and Turkey as we are both celebrating in 2012 the 60th anniversary of our membership to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Over the six decades of their membership in NATO, Greece and Turkey have made important contributions to the Alliance solidarity, collective defense and Allied efforts to maintain transatlantic security. This continues today.

From a bilateral, Turkish-Greek point of view, NATO has helped its two important members to come together for common causes within the Alliance and despite some differences on various matters, has rendered them the Allies of today. Our troops served for common Allied objectives on a number of operational areas such as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Today the transatlantic link is as solid as ever. NATO agreed its new Strategic Concept in Lisbon in November 2010. In this key document, Allies reiterated in the strongest terms that “NATO remains the unique and essential transatlantic forum for consultations on all matters that affect the security of its members, as set out in Article 4 of the Washington Treaty”. This simple but concrete statement proved to be extremely relevant, just one month after the Lisbon Summit, as already in December 2010 when a Tunisian youth lit the touch-paper of a chain reaction throughout the Middle East, triggering the “Arab Spring”.

NATO was swift in responding to the international call for an intervention to the developments in Libya. Its engagement there has concluded successfully giving the Libyans the opportunity to free themselves from the chains of tyranny.

While talking about the Middle East and before touching upon Syria, I would like to make a few remarks about the current developments concerning the Middle East Peace Process, as we do not think that this could be isolated from the overall transatlantic security realm and has far reaching potential consequences.

There is no doubt that a lasting peace in the Middle East would have a positive global multiplying effect. Turkey and an overwhelming majority of nations support a two-state solution that would create a State of Palestine living in peace and security side by side with the State of Israel. In this respect, the resolution adopted by an overwhelming majority of the UN members on granting “non-member observer state” status to Palestine on 29 November is an important development.

The new status granted to Palestine is a clear mandate to the international community, to intensify our joint efforts for the revival of the Middle East Peace Process. However, while recognizing Israel’s right to live in security, we strongly believe that the ever-expanding settlement activities and the continued occupation remain the major obstacles before peace. It is to be well understood that stability and security can only be sustained through a just and comprehensive peace between Israel and Palestine.

There are noteworthy developments in other parts of the Middle East too which closely interest our collective security. Turkey is bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran. It is also a neighbour to ¾ of the worlds gas and oil suplies. Therefore, we are closely interested in the stability and security in the region and in energy security. Indeed, Turkey is increasingly becoming an energy transport hub and our trade is increasing with the Middle East region, as the EU economies face sustained difficulties. To give you an idea, our foreign trade was % 55 with the EU a few years ago, now it has dropped to % 37, with the Middle East trade and exports increasing by the day.

On the political front, we are concerned with the increasing friction between the KRG and the Central Iraqi Government and the latest negative developments regarding Kirkuk.

On Iran, let me be very clear: We attach utmost importance to make sure that Iran’s nuclear program is a peaceful one and that it stays that way. Turkey surely does not want a neighbour with nuclear weapons. On the other hand, we are also concerned that sanctions hurt neighbours as much as the country they target. While we perfectly understand the reasoning behind it, we do not want to see a repetition of the blind Iraqi sanction regime which led to Turkey suddenly loosing its second trading partner for many many years. This time, together we must find clever ways to avoid negative repercussions of sanctions on neighbouring countries, including Turkey.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Alliance solidarity and the essential nature of NATO as “the” transatlantic forum is being put to test yet again as the situation along NATO’s South-Eastern border is extremely volatile. The situation in Syria is going from bad to worse, as President Asad is adamant on blocking the quest of his people for democracy, through oppressive and violent means. Turkey has been shouldering an enormous burden for the last year and a half. The number of the Syrians taking shelter in our country is now close to 150.000 and it continues to rise at an alarming pace. The financial cost of this to our country is approaching half a billion Dollars. A camp is built in a month, but fills in just in a few days and we are spending 10 milion Dolars a day for the feeding and welfare of the refugees.

The Syrian regime’s recklessness has also become a source of grave concern for Turkey as our territory has been repeatedly violated by Syrian forces. In this context, Turkey has revoked twice in the last six months, Article 4 of the Washington Treaty and requested consultations with its Allies. The North Atlantic Council, made clear upon both requests that Allies stand with Turkey in solidarity and we are grateful for this unified support.

Just last week at their meeting in Brussels, NATO Foreign Ministers repeated their determination to deter threats and defend Turkey. In response to our request, as a defensive measure, NATO has decided to augment Turkey’s air defence capabilities. Patriot missile batteries will be provided, which will surely contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along the border of the Alliance.
Our collective hope is, of course, for the troubles in Syria to end swiftly, producing a free, unified and democratic country at peace with itself and its neighbours. No doubt, the violence in Syria represents a serious threat to stability and security in the region, not only for Turkey but also for Greece, which is wary of illegal immigration.

On this occasion, let me briefly touch upon the illegal immigration issue as it rightfully draws a lot of attention. Turkey and Greece have been in intensive cooperation in this field. In the last 15 years almost 900 hundred thousand illegal migrants and 12 thousand human smugglers were apprehended by the Turkish security forces. For the last five years those figures are 200 hundred thousand and 5 thousand, respectively. The efforts of the Turkish Coast Guard, together with the Helenic Greek Coast Guard and Frontex, have played a decisive role in decreasing the illegal migration flow by %70 through the Aegean Sea. Coupled with this, as a result of intensified cooperation between the Turkish and Greek authorities the flow of illegal migrants through the Evros region has decreased to nearly zero. As we all know, illegal imigration is a dynamic phenomenon and they have once again shifted their efforts to the Aegean. The Turkish Coast Guard has increased their patrol duties upon the recent increase. Ofcourse we still have joint work to do and we will continue to do it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

NATO has a splendid virtue; it knows how to remain relevant. Surely, this is not its fundamental purpose, per se, but Allies draw confidence from the fact that NATO has been and will be there in the future to project security of Allies and also project stability in a volatile environment. Based on shared values and principles, NATO has been and still is the essential Euro-Atlantic forum for consultation on security and defence issues.

There are challenges which will dominate the agenda of NATO in the coming years. The Arab Spring and how it continues to unravel is very relevant for the Euro-Atlantic security environment. Our engagement in Afghanistan is coming to maturity and the transition must be successful. After years of Allied presence and support we need lasting stability in the Western Balkans particularly in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery means continue to be a major concern in any threat assessment. Transforming our military assets and capabilities, increasing the deployability of our forces remain serious challenges.

One particular challenge that one cannot ignore today from a security perspective is the harsh economic realities. This has far-reaching implications on defence capacities and therefore nations’ ability to project security at distance both individually and collectively. The global and European economies are in difficulty. Defence budgets have shrinked remarkably in the last decade and it seems that this tendency will inevitably continue for some time. The collective effort to address this problem for the last two years is named “Smart Defence”. Turkey, is doing its part. We have NATO’s second largest armed forces, around 700 thousand strong and allocate % 1,8 of our GDP for defence, with more than % 20 allocated for modernization. We are thus close to NATO benchmarks.

The unprecedented environment of peace and stability in Europe is a positive factor to be optimistic. The picture was not this rosy in the 1990s. This new reality helps NATO concentrate its efforts more on crisis management around and beyond its borders and also on cooperative security. This is well reflected in the new Strategic Concept. The emphasis on collective defense remains. And it should indeed remain steadfast. Yet, we now have the luxury, albeit with limited resources, to address common security concerns far away from our doorsteps that may nevertheless have implications at home.

NATO`s partnerships are also an essential ingredient for NATO’s vision. For the last two decades partnerships already flourished becoming a major security providing asset for everyone involved. There is now even a stronger emphasis on it.

In turn, it is NATO’s expectation of course that all partners know and accept in advance that their interaction and cooperation with the Alliance is conditional upon the nature of their relations with all Allies and their respect for international law. Alliance’s partnerships are based on reciprocity, mutual benefit and mutual respect.

Cooperation between NATO and EU, as agreed, is one of the important ingredients of NATO’s network of partnerships. Despite the economic difficulties the EU makes a contribution to international security through its “Common Security and Defence Policy” (CSDP). Turkey supports this EU ambition. This support has been the result of a strategic decision taken by Turkey from the outset. Turkey’s commitment to CSDP is not only a direct derivative of its accession process to the EU, but also a natural reflection of its general approach of supporting initiatives that would contribute to regional and international peace and security. It is also consistent with her multi-faceted foreign policy. Turkey has put this support into practice by substantially contributing to the activities, missions and operations of the EU in the field of defense and security (EUFOR-ALTEA; EU-PM; EULEX). In turn Turkey expects to be better included in the EU’s decision making processes, as the fullest involvement of non-EU Allies in EU efforts to address common security challenges is of key importance for a genuine strategic cooperation between NATO and the EU.

We also attach utmost importance to the continuation of the enlargement process which has been a proven stabilizing factor in Europe. In this respect, we should focus on the Western Balkans where aspirant countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina are making great efforts towards membership.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me now make a few remarks on where Turkey fits in this overall picture. Since the early years of the Republic, Turkey’s defence and security policies have been characterised by dialogue, cooperation and multilateralism. Turkey’s membership to NATO is a testimony to this fact. Moreover, it is a solid symbol of Turkey’s Western orientation and her choice of becoming a part of democratic societies, governed by contemporary values. We continue to attach utmost importance to the transatlantic link.

Turkey is located at the heart of a vast geography in which NATO is engaged through operations and partnership mechanisms. Over the last 60 years as a member of the Alliance, Turkey has not only profited from NATO’s security umbrella, but has also contributed actively to the security of her Allies and to NATO’s efforts to project security in the Euro-Atlantic geography.

With thousands of troops deployed in the ongoing NATO missions and operations and extensive contributions in soft security in terms reaching out to some key regions such as the Middle East and Northern Africa, Central Asia, Caucasus, Turkey has proven to be a staunch member of the Alliance, and a net contributor to both regional and global peace and security.

On the 60th anniversary of Turkey’s joining NATO, I should emphasize our commitment to the continued success and relevance of the Alliance. This is not only a matter of principle, but also an inherent aspect of Turkey’s pro-active policies towards promoting peace, stability and sustainable development across the globe. In short, NATO remains at the center of the Turkish perspective on transatlantic security.

Let me conclude my words by sharing with you that last week a group of young Turkish military personnel visited Greece in the framework of activities to build confidence between our countries. This time, the confidence building was through sport; organizing basketball, volleyball and football games between mixed Turkish and Greek teams. As the games started and they formed mixed teams, I was told that the Turkish and Greek Commanders of the teams were no longer able to distinguish their own players as they looked so much alike, as you can also see in the popular TV series!

This is pretty much how we see NATO. It’s a big family of nations. They take decisions in Allied solidarity. And when striving for common objectives it is not possible to distinguish one Ally from another. This is the spirit that governs our perspective!

Thank you.


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