Turkey’s Gulf War Gamble May Be Paying Off

Business Week

April 21, 1991

International Outlook


The Kurdish refugees massing on its border are drawing more Western attention to Turkey than it attracted in nearly four decades as NATO‘s southern anchor. Indeed, for years, Turgut Ozal, Turkey’s free-enterprise-loving President, has been trumpeting Ankara’s crucial role as Western democracy’s strongest outpost in the Mideast. How Ozal manages the refugee crisis may determine whether he can fulfill his growing ambition to make Turkey into a regional power.

Ozal is backing European proposals to create secure zones in northern Iraq for fleeing Kurds. Besides humanitarian concerns, his aim is to head off social turbulence and heavy economic burdens on Turkey from a refugee pileup along its border. Beyond that, protected enclaves for refugees would be a step toward autonomy for Iraqi Kurds. Although the U. S. is concerned about fragmentation of Iraq, Ozal is confident that Turkey, with 15 million Kurds in its population of 57 million, could exert strong influence over a Kurdish province in Iraq. That would further enhance Turkey’s growing regional clout.

‘ON A LIMB.’ As recompense for backing the U. S.-led gulf alliance, Ozal stands to reap more immediate gains. “Turkey went out on a limb,” says a senior Administration official, by shutting down Iraq’s oil pipeline outlet and letting U. S. planes attack Iraq from Turkish bases. “We have to respond.” One payoff is $830 million worth of U. S. economic and military aid in fiscal 1991, up from $550 million originally budgeted. At Camp David last month, Ozal and President Bush also discussed modernizing Turkish military forces.

Although the European Community has kept Turkey’s membership bid on hold for years, Washington will urge Europeans to extend “enhanced associate status” via such plums as bigger quotas for Turkish textiles or steps toward a customs union. Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher, along with chief executives of top U. S. companies, will also soon visit Turkey to explore ways to expand economic ties. Ozal sees U. S.-Turkish joint ventures as a key to postwar business in the Mideast.

Ozal’s siding with the gulf alliance was only his latest move to expand Turkey’s international role. In recent years, he has opened Turkey’s economy to freer trade and Western investment, and last month in Moscow he signed agreements to extend credits worth $400 million to finance Turkish exports and construction projects in the Soviet Union. Next November he will host a Mideast conference on water–a source of considerable geopolitical clout for Turkey since it controls much of the region’s supplies. A $20 billion “peace pipeline” proposed by Ozal would carry water from dams in Turkey to the gulf nations.

What such moves add up to is the most expansive Turkish thrust since the Ottoman Empire’s collapse at the end of World War I. One result could be growing Turkish influence in the Soviet Union. Ozal’s government hopes to graft economic and cultural ties onto the Turkish-speaking heritage it shares with four of the five Soviet Central Asian republics as well as Azerbaijan. Turkish exports and direct investments are already flowing into the region, and a business conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, this month will attract a big delegation of Turkish officials and businessmen. The current Soviet chaos makes Turkey an attractive trading partner and a model of a politically independent, market-oriented democracy. For Ozal, the region from the Black Sea to China is a prime target for his ambitious outreach.

Edited by John Pearson; Juliette Rossant in Istanbul and Amy Borrus in Washington, with Bureau Reports


Throughout the gulf war, debate raged among Germans on whether their constitution permits sending troops to fight abroad. Now Bonn is quietly setting up a mobile force that can do so. As a step toward a more decisive role in settling international conflicts, the Defense Ministry plans to create two rapid-response divisions. The mostly volunteer units, including paratroops and mechanized infantry, will be designed to expand quickly to 40,000 troops from a peacetime 15,000. They could go abroad as part of a multinational force under U. N. command.

There is still no political consensus for such use of military power, but German generals are betting on a shift in attitudes. While some Germans still argue that troops should be sent abroad only to protect a NATO ally, Chancellor Helmut Kohl wants to win constitutional changes that would put his troops in U. N.-led operations. That is what Bonn’s allies wanted to hear when the Desert Storm force was being assembled.

Edited by John Pearson

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