Turkish security policy in 2012

Following text analyses Turkish security policy in 2012. It offers a brief analysis of current security threats, changes in the armed forces and diplomatic sphere of security, as well as a role played by Turkey within international communities.


Turkey is undoubtedly in many ways one of the most interesting NATO members – partly because of its unique strategic position on two continents, partly nowadays because of its role in the Syrian civil war and partly because of its huge military potential. The importance of Turkey as an ally is even more stressed by its waiting status for an EU membership; however this topic brings up lot of controversy.

Main objectives of this text are mainly to describe, highlight and summarize the main trends within the security policy of Turkey in the context of current affairs and today’s threats. We are going to have a look at both domestic and international (transnational, regional, global) security issues and threats – these are going to be presented mainly to bring attention to security threats which current Turkish government has to deal with although this text does not offer their detail analysis as this is not its purpose.

Crucial part of this text will be the description of current actors in the area of strategic policy. This includes both domestic and international actors such as Turkish armed forces and police. I will focus on description of the security apparatus on different levels beginning with hard security such as military issues and diplomacy (Cyprus issue). Following part will introduce the reader to some of the theoretical frameworks of security policy. I am going to define some terms used in this paper as well as explain different dimensions of security policy.

Security sectors and security policy – definitions and theories

Security policy is a very wide term. There are different points of view even on question of what actually security is and what its dimensions are. I am going to present a scheme by Barry Buzan, Ole Waever and Jaap de Wilde – the representatives of Copenhagen security school (Mareš 2010: 31). They have established five security sectors:

– Military security sector
– Political security (regime security) sector
– Societal security sector
– Economical security sector
– Environmental security sector

(Buzzan, Waever, de Wilde 2005: 61 – 188)

As we can see, the term of security has many levels which all are relevant to security of state interests. Security interests are another term which even though is very similar in modern states, each country defines itself as there might be different accents on certain features based on current situation. In Czech environment national interests are defined by governmental document “Security strategy of the Czech Republic”. Turkish ministry of foreign affairs also offers official definition.

Turkish ministry of foreign affairs links the security policy to the concept of self-defence which follows: “(…) concept of self-defence is of a three-fold nature: ensuring the survival of the population, protecting territorial integrity and preserving the basic identity of a nation (…)” (Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2012a).

According to this quote from official press release we can establish that the national interests of Turkey are:

– Ensuring the survival of the population
– Protecting territorial integrity
– Preserving national identity

These three categories are very general and we can find more specific sub categories. By ensuring the survival of population is meant the basic function of state – to protect its citizens. But under this term, there can be understood a lot – we will establish these as protection from contemporary threats – both of domestic and foreign nature. More on this will be written in the second chapter – Contemporary threats to Turkey’s national interests.

What we have just read was a presentation of specific goals of security strategy. In order to provide more general view on security strategy I have chosen a definition by Czech author Pavel Zeman: “Security policy is the most general and supreme programme of a country or a group of countries in the field of defence its national interests. Security policy is usually based on definition of national interests, analysis of security environment and classification of threats and risks and international commitments, paying attention to both inner and outer security.(…)” (Zeman 2002: 84).

Mr Zeman, a respected authority in the Czech academic environment, has focused in his definition on certain features which together form a security policy – Defending national interests, security issues and threats and international commitments.

To conclude this theoretical part of my analysis – we have established the basic features of security policy and marked those areas which we will focus on further – The next chapters will deal with contemporary security threats to national interests of Turkey (as defined above), its (Turkey’s) role in international communities and trends in security policy-making.

Contemporary threats to Turkey’s national interests

This chapter will examine the contemporary security issues. To maintain a comprehensive structure of the text, I have decided to divide this chapter into two subchapters – one dealing with domestic risks and threats, the other one dealing with international security issues. The complexity of this topic is high. Unfortunately I am not able to describe all security threats and issues that Turkey has to deal with as this is not the main objective of this thesis. I am going to mention the most significant and current ones to get at least an impression of the nature of security issues Turkey had to face during the last years.

Domestic security policy – issues, threats and risks

Turkish national police (TNP) is becoming the biggest security service provider in Turkey, replacing the Turkish army at this domestic frontline (CIA 2012a). According to official press releases published by TNP, there is one top priority security challenge it has to face on the domestic scene – terrorism. TNP presents its threefold typology of terrorist organizations currently operating in Turkey.

Separatist terrorist organizations

The biggest domestic issue that has been discussed on all levels is the on-going conflict between the Kurdish workers’ party (PKK) and the Turkish army and police. The conflict has been going on for over three decades (The Economist 2012) and according to CIA it created a problem of approximately 1,2 mil internally displaced persons (IDPs) (CIA 2012). The main government force dealing with the Kurdish militia is nowadays Turkish national police which is replacing Turkish army at this frontline as the army has other objectives (Ibid.).

During last year especially in the fourth quarter there have been several clashes reported between TNP and PKK including usage of vehicle based improvised explosive device (VBIED) in early November 2012 (BBC 2012a)

Left-wing terrorist organizations

According to the official website of TNP, there is a terrorist organization based on Marxist-Leninist ideology operating in Turkey (TNP 2012a). Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party uses armed attacks of different kind, from assassinations to IEDs. It is far left organization that aims to overthrow the existing regime using revolution and to establish a system that would be based on the communist ideology. It organises demonstrations and protest marches and one of its ways of funding is drug trafficking (Ibid.).

Religious terrorist organizations

According to TNP there are currently two active terrorist organizations working on the religious basis – Hezbollah and Al Qaeda.

Not to be mistaken with Lebanese Hezbollah – Turkish Hezbollah, also known as Kurdish Hezbollah (Uslu 2012) is an independent organization aiming to establish a Sunni Muslim theocracy rule using the means of violence and terror (TNP 2012b, START 2012). Its attacks are aimed mainly at Members of Parliament and police officers. Last record officially stated by the TNP is an assassination of police commissioner in 2001 (TNP 2012b) however it is suspected of taking part in the 2003 bombings of synagogues (START 2012).

Al Qaeda is a trans-border organization originated in Turkey most probably during the Soviet-Afghan war in 1980s. Turkish police claims that however is Al Qaeda strong in other Middle East countries, it Turkey the core of Al Qaeda has been dismantled in 2003, after four suicide attacks in Istanbul. Turkey is still targeted by Al Qaeda mainly because of its military presence in Afghanistan (TNP 2012c).

International/regional security issues in 2012

There is a number of international disputes that involve Turkey, but none of them has been more discussed than the most recent one – the conflict in neighbour Syria. I am not going to describe other international disputes as they will be briefly presented in the next chapter – they do not relate directly to the year of 2012.

Civil war in Syria

The intra-state conflict in Syria has been going on since March 2011. While this text is being written the number of victims has reached 60.000 (UN News Centre 2013). There are no signs of any positive development and all the cease fire attempts employed by the UN have failed. Typical for this kind of conflict is the effect of spillover – as the name indicates there are certain risks that the violence can spread over the borders. This effect is in my opinion imminent in this particular region because of different ethnical and geographical groups that are concentrated in territories which cross the borders. There is a strong feeling for ethnical identity among e. g. Kurds and if Syrian Kurds are threatened in the conflict, there is a possibility that it may have impact over the borders as well.

As the epicentre of fighting moved closer to the Syrian-Turkish border, the authorities were on alert, trying to cope with numbers of refugees. A breakpoint in the situation was shelling of Turkish side of the border causing death of several people including a pregnant woman (BBC 2012b). In order to reply to this security breach Turkish army initiated shelling on unspecified targets on Syrian side of borders (Ibid.). After a diplomatic aftermath between Turkey, Syria and partly Russia Turkey applied for assistance from NATO (NATO 2012a) in November and received a positive answer in early December. Turkey received according to Article 4 air defence system Patriot provided by its NATO Allies – the USA, Germany and the Netherlands – two batteries from each country – six in total (NATO 2012b). NATO general secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he considers this sort of assistance as a contribution to de-escalation of crisis along NATO’s south-eastern border and it demonstrates the solidarity and resolve of Alliance (NATO 2012c). NATO membership is for Turkish security and foreign policy a determining factor – as we can see in the following chapter.

Turkey and international security communities

Turkey and NATO

“Turkey became a member of NATO in 1952 and since then NATO is a cornerstone of Turkey’s defence and security policy.” (Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2012a). Turkey is obviously very fond of being a NATO member by the way in interprets its historical role it played during the Cold war: “Turkey was responsible for defending one-third of the Alliance’s land frontiers against the Warsaw Pact. For a country with limited resources, this came at the expense of great sacrifices. Meanwhile, Turkey also endeavoured to help decrease tensions between the Eastern and Western blocs.“ (Ibid.).

Turkey this year celebrated its 60th anniversary of NATO membership- During the period of 60 years Turkey took part on many crucial missions including deployment in Afghanistan, Libya, KFOR, CFT 151 and SNMG-2 (TGS 2012).

According to many Turkish experts on foreign policy, Turkish people are not very familiar with Turkey’s role in NATO. NATO is perceived as something that has been more less dictating foreign policy to Turkey (NATO Review 2012). In order to change this public opinion, Turkish ministry of Foreign Affairs has launched an information campaign promoting the role of Turkey in NATO – stressing out the significance of Turkish membership.

Turkey and the UN

Turkey is a founding member of UN and it has taken part on a considerably high number of peacekeeping operations e.g. in Kosovo (UNMIK), Lebanon (UNIFIL), Darfur (UNAMID) and many others (TGS 2012). Turkey possesses large military power, as will be mentioned below. It’s assistance during operations concerning international security is therefore very important. Turkey has also announced its candidacy for non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council for period 2015-2016 (Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2012).

Since we have mentioned the relationship between Turkey and UN and its role, we shall not forget that there is actually one peacekeeping operation active on a territory which Turkey claims to own – the UNFICYP. UNFICYP has started in 1964 and it is the longest running UN peacekeeping mission (INIFICYP 2013). Its main purpose is to maintain a buffer zone between the Turkish Cypriot forces in the nord an the Greek Cypriot forces in the south. It also provides humanitarian assistance when needed. It supervises the ceasefire line which is stretching over the island, 180 km long. So far no attempt to solve the conflict a reunify the island has succeeded. The situation nowadays is stabilized on status quo which means no extensive violence (Ibid).

Turkey and the EU

Turkey has a waiting status for the full EU membership. This has been delayed for many reasons – to name the most security-related ones: Cyprus issue and Aegean dispute with Greece.

Despite the fact that Turkey is not an EU country it is trying to influence creating of security policies inside EU. It for example expressed its support for Common Security and Defence Policy – which is implemented in the Lisbon treaty of 2009 (http://www.mfa.gov.tr/iii_-turkey_s-views-on-current-nato-issues.en.mfa). Turkey did not only expressed support, but also got involved in some of the CSDP projects – such as peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (operation Althea) (TGS 2012).

Turkish security forces

The aim of this chapter is to describe trends and current changes in security forces. To qualify security forces two sub-chapters will follow – one on police and the other one on Turkish armed forces

Turkish armed forces

According to server global firepower, Turkish armed forces are currently on the 6th position in the world as for the military force it possesses. This ranking makes it the military superpower of the Middle East region – next country from Middle East is Israel, ranked 10th. Turkish army can mobilize up to 35,005,325 people fit for service. The number of soldiers being in active service is 612,900 and another 429,000 men are available in the active reserves. This massive army is funded by defence budget of 25 billion USD (Global Firepower 2011). It spends about 5,3% of its GDP on military expenses – ranking 14th in the world (CIA 2013).

The size of Turkish army is determined also by the fact that there is an obligatory military service (CIA 2012). Turkey is trying to reduce its dependency on conscription and create a professional army. There has been accepted, trained and send to border units 1,388 soldiers (out of 35,877 applicants) in the period from July 2011 to July 2012 (there are no more up-to-date statistics on this issue). The professional troops are being sent mainly to the border security duty (BBC 2012c).

The professionalization of the army has of course created a question of its size. The Turkish Land forces Command has established “Force 2014” programme which aims to create 20 – 30% smaller mobile forces, highly professional, trained for joint operations and well equipped (CIA 2012).

Since the ruling Justice and Development Party took over, it made a significant shift in deployment of Turkish armed forces – it reduced the role of army in the domestic Kurdish conflict. The army is now primary responsible for overseeing the international threats and deployment on international peacekeeping missions (CIA 2012).

Turkish national police

The importance of TNP has increased during the last ten years significantly. It differs from the way police is usually defined. It claims that its aim is to serve and protect the security of Turkish citizens – but it is the nature of domestic threats that made Turkish national police transform into a domestic army and peacemaker. It took over the duty of domestic security from the Turkish armed forces and now it is the TNP that is fighting the PKK and other domestic based militia groups (CIA 2012).

TNP is under jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior. It employs almost 228,000 police officers and it does not only deal with domestic security, but also cooperates with international organizations and participates on missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Africa (TNP 2012d).

Diplomatic dimension of Turkish security policy

The Red Book

The Red Book is a National Security Political Document describing Turkish strategy and aims in security and international policy. It is published every five years, last time in 2010. It offers main strategic approaches to security threats in Turkish neighbourhood and the diplomatic relationships with some countries.

The 2010 version of Red Book considers Iran to be a partner in its military struggle against the Kurdish PKK and it praises coordinated military operations in Northern Iraq against Kurdish militia groups. The relationship with Greece, which is often discussed in the media, is in 2010 presented as stabilised, with need for cooperation and mutual understanding. It says that the conflict with Greece because of Aegean region is very unlikely to happen. Iraq on the other hand is a direct threat to Turkish security, because of the presence of PKK and its extensions on Iraqi territory. Russian Federation is considered to be a partner for cooperation, but the Red Book did not forget to mention tha fact that Russia and Turkey have a totally different view on the Caucasus region and oil and gas pipeline routes. Last but not least – Israel. Israel is blamed for regional instability. But maintaining good relations with it is recommended (Yanarocak 2010: 1-4).

Zero problem policy

Zero problem policy is a new umbrella policy that includes specific diplomatically-friendly approaches to neighbourhood countries: Cyprus, Syria (concerning the current situation is this issue more complex), Iraq, Caucasus region, Russia, Ukraine, Greece and Balkan countries (Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2012d).

On a very optimistic note Turkish ministry of foreign affairs states that it believes that the positive results might be seen further first in the middle east region and ultimately at a global scale: “like eventually broadening rings that a stone thrown into still water creates” (Ibid.). That might not be the best metaphor, especially nowadays.


The major event in 2012 for Turkish security policy was most probably the civil war in Syria. This conflict with no end in sight has been directly endangering the safety of civilians living along the borders. This threat of course shapes Turkey’s foreign policy towards Syria. It also underlines the significance of NATO membership. As the final lines of this thesis are written, 6 batteries of PATRIOT missile defence system are being shipped over to Turkey’s southern provinces (BBC 2013). Syria will be the biggest issue for Turkish foreign security policy as the projections of development in 2013 are very unclear.

From the domestic issues I have mainly stressed out the on-going conflict between Turkish governmental forces and PKK. After rather calmer years of 2009-2011, it seems especially according to the PKKs activity in last quarter of 2012 that the conflict is still steaming and will probably shape the domestic-security policy for the year of 2013.

This text devoted most attention to description of the current security threats. Some might argue that this was not the objective of essay however I do believe that the security policy is not created in vacuum. To provide a reader with more complex approach, I have decided to briefly describe the security issues on both domestic and international field. Also, it was problematic to focus just on the year of 2012 as most of the changes in modernization and military reforms are a long term issues that started in last decade. Therefore it was necessary to mention at least minimum of the context and developments in the recent years.


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BBC. 2012c. Turkish daily looks into army reform plans. London: BBC Worldwide Limited. (http://search.proquest.com/docview/1027485768?accountid=16531).

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Turkish  Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2012c. Policy of Zero Problems with our Neighbours. Ankara: Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (http://www.mfa.gov.tr/policy-of-zero-problems-with-our-neighbors.en.mfa).

UN News Centre. 2013. Data suggests Syria death toll could be more than 60,000, says UN human rights office. (http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43866&Cr=syria&Cr1=#.UOgxQoamB8E)

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Yanarocak, Hay Eytan Cohen. 2010. The Red Book: The Bible of Turkish Foreign Policy. Tel Aviv: Moshe Dayan Center.

Zeman, Pavel. 2002. Česká bezpečnostní terminologie – výklad základních pojmů. Brno: Ústav strategických studií.

Author: Martin Brožík, student of security and strategic studies at Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University.


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