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Foreign Ministry is also to blame for NATO embarrassment

What happened in NATO was a real embarrassment for Turkish foreign policy. Leave aside the consequences on national interests; Turkey’s respectability was compromised because of pure clumsiness.

No doubt the ruling Justice and Development Party, or the AKP, is responsible for this major diplomatic failure. Instead of treating its European counterparts as allies, the AKP has preferred to act as the "other." One should also congratulate the Foreign Ministry for its success in making Turkey look unreasonable in a fully justified position.

The basic rule of multilateral diplomacy is to avoid being isolated. The moment the word was out about Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s intentions to be a candidate for NATO secretary-general, Turkey should have conveyed its fully justified reservations to its allies within NATO. It should have sought the United States’ support once it became clear that the EU was rallying behind Rasmussen.

What was also crucial was how Turkey formulated its reservations. Turkey’s reservations should have been phrased from the perspective of NATO’s interests, not of the Islamic world. The assertion that the Islamic world would react to Rasmussen has been counterproductive. Turkey should have said that Rasmussen would be a liability rather than an asset for an organization that will increasingly conduct out-of-area operations in predominantly Muslim geographies. It should have said that the election of Rasmussen to the top job of the alliance, whose operations will have to have a humanitarian dimension, would give ammunition to the likes of al-Qaeda.

The fact that Turkey acted like the spokesperson of the Islamic world has given ammunition to those who question Turkey’s European identity.

On the other hand, when the need raised for a fallback position in the face of the strong consensus over Rasmussen, the fact that the government entered into a petty negotiation has strengthened Turkey’s image that its red lines fades away once it receives small concessions. Turkey backed down from a position of principle, a position that it has upheld for the prestige of the alliance for some small gains, which are based on certain pledges. It remains to be seen to what degree these words will be kept.

The Turkish government should also feel ashamed of the policy it followed on France’s return to the alliance’s military wing. Turkey implied that it would not just silently watch France’s return to NATO. The government hoped unrealistically to negotiate a deal with France whereby Paris would ease its objection to Turkey’s accession process to the European Union. It seems that France did not even bother to talk to the Turkish side. The Turkish delegation in NATO tried to insert a phase of conditionality to the summit declaration in the lines of "the alliance welcomes France’s return to the alliance, subject to the council decision." If it had succeeded in inserting that phrase, NATO would have been obliged to take an official decision on France. No one took this initiative seriously within the alliance, and Turkey was left all alone on that issue as well.

All this humiliation is the result of the fact that the government does not know how to operate with Europeans. The foreign ministry also bears responsibility on the mishandling of the NATO issue.

Turkey’s policy on NATO evolved in a big vacuum. There was total chaos on the implementation of the policies endorsed because no one knew exactly what the general outlines of these policies were. It was unclear to NATO members what Turkey wanted for which reasons, even a few days before the summit.

The government was busy with elections. While he was going to every corner of Turkey for election campaigns, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not realize that he had to talk one by one to EU leaders in order to avoid pressure from them, including his best friend, Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, to back down. No one told him he had to lobby his European counterparts because there was no one in his entourage to guide him. Unfortunately the Foreign Ministry’s top administration could not see that the whole process was headed toward major humiliation. Even if it did, it has no access to the government. The AKP does not bother to listen to the ministry because its leaders so despise the "mon chers."

It is a fact that the ministry is totally sidelined. But the ministry’s top administration is not moving a finger to make its voice heard. The AKP was also in government four years ago. But things were very different when Uğur Ziyal was at the head of the foreign affairs.