Military Capabilities

Turkey frustrated at European reluctance for deeper defence co-operation

03 December 2014

The A400M is one example of Turkey's willingness to get involved in European defence projects, the country's defence minister noted at the Berlin Security Conference. Source: Airbus

Turkey's desire to foster stronger links with the European defence establishment is being frustrated by an apparent reluctance from the European Union (EU) to fully engage with the country, a senior government official said on 2 December.

Speaking at the 13th annual Berlin Security Conference (BSC) in the German capital city, Turkey's defence minister Ismet Yilmaz said that the country has proven its commitment to co-operating with Europe through its membership of NATO and other governmental and military institutions, but that this is not being fully reciprocated.

"Turkey has always supported partnerships and EU/NATO relations, and attached great importance to those relations. Turkey has actively supported the development of the EU's Common Security & Defence Policy from the outset, both as a candidate country and as a NATO ally, and Turkey has taken part in all of the European operations to which it has been invited. Turkey has also shown her willingness and determination to support the EU initiatives in developing its defence capabilities, including the formation in 2010 of the European Defence Agency [EDA] battle groups," he said.

He added: "However, the EU has not quite been working for closer co-operation with Turkey, and the conditions of [co-operation] documents have not been fully implemented - Turkey has not been invited to be involved in the preparation and implementation of EU defence co-operation to which Turkey has contributed."

According to Yilmaz, key points of frustration have been Turkey's exclusion from the EDA, and the failure to sign agreements on exchanging classified information. "We strongly believe that non-EU NATO allies [in Europe] should be involved in the EU defence initiative, and to be part of the decision making process," he noted.

As Yilmaz noted, with Europe and NATO facing increasingly complex global security challenges while grappling with shrinking defence budgets, it is all the more important that a new level of multinational co-operation is embraced so as to provide effective security.

"[This increased co-operation is] especially important for our defence industries," said Yilmaz. "We need to work together to develop our future defence capabilities. I am certain that if we are to have a safer world, all allied countries need to develop a common, shared and integrated defence capability."

With the Turkish defence sector having transformed itself into a major global player over the last few decades, Yilmaz believes that his country has much to offer Europe in developing this increased security.

"Turkish defence industry has developed considerably over the last few decades, and has developed a wide variety of defence products that are very competitive in the international market. We have become one of the leading partners in multinational projects, such as the European [Airbus Defence and Space] A400M [transport aircraft] and the US-led [Joint Strike Fighter] JSF. Turkish defence industry is a proven partner for European defence industry and projects, and has a significant potential to contribute to the European technological and industrial base in the future," he said.

With the BSC conference theme being Europe's Neighbourhood: Instability and Unrest . Yilmaz also took the opportunity to spell out Turkey's position on a number of current regional security challenges. "The spirit of the time is defined by global instability and an uncertain security environment," he said. "While the threat of global war has receded, but world faces complex and fragile security environment though terrorism, fundamentalism, weapons of mass destruction, migration, climate change, etc. Frozen conflicts can easily turn into armed conflicts, [and the] 2008 Georgia war [with Russia] was a reminder that frozen conflicts might not be so frozen after all."

On the subject of Russia, Yilmaz reaffirmed Turkey's position with regard to the crisis with Ukraine, saying: "We do not recognise Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, and we support negotiations based on Ukraine's territorial integrity and the rule of international law. We are looking at ways of offering technical assistance to Ukraine, including non-lethal military equipment."

Away from Europe but still on Turkey's borders, the Syrian civil war and the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq are issues that continue to concern the Turkish government. "Developments in Syria pose significant risk to regional stability, and [the Assad regime] is solely responsible. The Islamic State poses risks, but it is important not to lose focus on the root cause of problem," he explained. "As long as Assad remains, Syria will remain an unstable influence in the region. Unless the international community takes resolute action, this region will descend into unending sectarian conflict."

Finally, Yilmaz said that his country is willing to mediate between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh - another 'cold conflict' that is in danger of turning hot, with an Armenian helicopter having just recently been shot down over the region.

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