Situated at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Turkey is at the forefront of many of today’s greatest security challenges. Turkey, NATO’s second-largest military, has a strong legacy as a geostrategic partner to the West. From the Arab Spring to the Syrian civil war to ISIS, Turkey and its U.S. and European allies are aligned in their goals for stability and democracy in the region.
Turkey has long contributed to international security. From operations in Eastern Europe in the 1990s to the global fight against terrorism today, Turkey’s NATO membership is a key factor in its security policy. Through NATO initiatives such as the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, Turkey also strengthens its security ties with other countries in the region who are not members of the alliance such as Jordan and Egypt.
Sixty years after becoming a NATO member, Turkey continues to play a vital role in international politics and security. An active partner in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, Turkey has deployed soldiers to train the Afghan National Security Forces. Turkey is also home to the NATO Center of Excellence-Defense Against Terrorism (COE-DAT) and allows NATO forces to stage operations against some of today’s greatest security threats from strategic locations near the Syrian border. Turkey also participates in negotiations and meetings as new threats arise, such as the crisis in Crimea and the fight against ISIS.
Today, and because of its proximity to ISIS-controlled territory, Turkey faces a more complex, and no doubt greater, national security risk from the group than its NATO counterparts. The July 2015 bombing in the border town of Suruc killed 32 people and wounded more than 100 others, highlighting the grave threat that ISIS poses to Turkey. Turkey has taken a leadership role in anti-ISIS efforts and launched its own military strikes against ISIS targets. Turkey also invoked Article 4 of the NATO charter, convening all member countries for high-level meetings to discuss the security situation in the region and potential solutions.
After the Suruc bombings, Turkey also strengthened its partnership with U.S. efforts against the terror group, allowing the U.S. to use Incirlik air base to launch combat fighters and drones to bomb key ISIS positions and to seek to protect the millions of refugees who have sought safety in Turkey due to the fighting in Syria. Incirlik air base, located near the Turkey-Syria border, provides a more efficient and effective hub for U.S. operations against ISIS. Another initiative is the partnership between Turkey, the U.S. and other regional partners to provide Syrian rebels with training and equipment to fight against ISIS and the brutal Assad regime, a program which is estimated to train thousands of rebels by the end of 2015.
The same geography that makes Turkey a bridge between East and West also poses unique challenges for border security, which has opened up the country to some criticism. Turkey’s border with Syria alone spans nearly 560 miles, making it difficult to stem the flow of foreign fighters attempting to join ISIS while also allowing for the passage of refugees fleeing oppression by the Assad regime and ISIS. In response to these border security threats, the United States and Turkey are planning to create a “safe zone” inside Syria to ensure border integrity and shield even more refugees. In addition, Europe has committed to increase intelligence-sharing about suspected terrorists and terrorist attacks. It is essential for countries to share what they know about potential extremists and work together to stop them from crossing the border into Syria.
ISIS emerged as a major threat in the wake of the security vacuum left by the Syrian civil war, and any plan for regional stability must incorporate the resolution of this conflict and the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power. Since the Syrian civil war broke out in the spring of 2011, the Assad regime has killed more than 200,000 people and driven more than 1.8 million Syrians into Turkey. Cross-fire regularly breaches the Turkish border and at least two car bombs on Turkish soil have been linked to the Syrian government. Given its interests in national security and regional stability, as well as its proximity to the conflict, Turkey will play a key role in the resolution of the Syrian civil war.
Turkey, a long-time proponent of peaceful nuclear power, also borders Iran. In 2011, Turkey agreed to host an early warning radar system, operational as of January 2012, as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, a U.S.-led initiative to defend American interests and NATO allies in Europe. The early warning radar system in Turkey can provide early tracking data on any Iranian short- and intermediate-range ballistic missile launches against the U.S. and Europe. Turkey welcomed the recent deal between a group of six nations led by the United States and Iran to work towards a nuclear-free Iran and sees the deal as a major step towards increased regional stability.
The legacy of U.S.-Turkey relations dates back to the Truman Doctrine in 1947 and still remains strong today. Turkey stands with the U.S. in its fight against terrorism and promotion of democracy in the Middle East and will continue to partner with the U.S. in the future to ensure the safety of the region and the world.