- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2002

For more than two decades, Turkey has been working to qualify for membership in the European Union. Apparently, the 15 EU member-nations think Turkey hasn't made the grade, because in announcing its plan to admit 10 new members within the next two years, the European Union conspicuously left Turkey off the list. Two questions must be asked. First, what is behind the European Union's rejection of the only Muslim member of NATO? Second, what is the effect of the union's continued rejection of Turkey on NATO?

Europe's pronouncement based the latest snub on Turkey's human-rights record, but that appears to be more an excuse than a reason. Greece, an EU member and longtime adversary of Turkey over control of Cyprus, may have reheated that conflict through EU action. Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, reacting to a Greek-Cypriot military coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece. Now, the European Union included Cyprus (meaning the Greek-Cypriot government) among the nations to be admitted in 2004. America has no direct interest in which nations belong to the union, but to the extent that that affects Turkey's role as a military ally, our interests are definitely in play. U.S. advocacy of Turkish membership in the union has apparently fallen on the same deaf European ears as other American military concerns have.

Rising tensions between the United States and Europe result from policy battles affecting NATO directly and threatening its future as a military alliance. A few years ago, the union announced it would form its own military force, intended to be independent from NATO and from American influence. Though skeptical, we encouraged Europe to do this in order to encourage EU nations to invest more in their own defense. The EU force de frappe has not materialized, because that investment still is not being made. In the recent battle over the International Criminal Court (ICC), President Bush demanded immunity from ICC prosecution for all American soldiers and officials. Europe backed down, but only after several heated exchanges and a presidential threat to veto U.N. peacekeeping missions if immunity were not granted. The EU rejection of Turkey seems to be made without concern for that nation's value as a military ally.

Turkey's troubled economy and imperfect human rights record are insufficient to justify this rejection. Turkey retains its position as our most underappreciated ally. Turkey's support in the war on terror is important, both symbolically and substantively. As our most prominent Muslim ally, it serves as proof that we are fighting a war on terror, not on Islam. Turkey's strategic location on Iraq's northern border makes it a key to our success in the coming campaign. Moreover, Turkey is now taking over the military peacekeeping task in Afghanistan, freeing up American troops for other duties. American interests would be well-served by EU acceptance of Turkey. In its absence, the president should consider how we can lower trade barriers with Turkey and otherwise strengthen our economic relationship with an ally that is usually more faithful than many others.


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