Does Turkey need Patriot missiles?
In order to give a proper answer to the question of whether Turkey needs Patriots or any other long-range missile systems, a mechanism should exist in the country where the civilian democratic oversight of the politically powerful Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) is enabled.
That question was raised following a US Pentagon statement on Sept. 9 that said the US administration has notified Congress of a possible $7.8 billion sale of Patriot PAC-3 antimissile batteries and related equipment to Turkey, the only NATO ally bordering Iran.
The Turkish Defense Ministry later clarified in a statement last Monday that the US administration's notification to Congress was related to Turkey's international tender opened for the acquisition of long-range missiles and that it had been part of the military's modernization program. The statement implied that the possible purchase of Patriots did not intend to target third countries.
The ministry's statement, however, does not answer questions over whether Turkey really needs some of the arms being purchased or that will be purchased.
Despite some military reforms being made in Parliament, the Turkish military still maintains an autonomous status that prevents both its budget and its other practices from oversight by the elected political authority and Parliament. The blame should also be put on the political authority as well as on Parliament due to their failure in putting the existing laws into practice in overseeing the military's activities.
The Ministry of Defense budget is being discussed at a parliamentary commission, but this debate has never taken place in a fashion that will question the rationale behind military expenditure.
One of the underlying reasons behind this problematic situation is the absence of the political authority and Parliament's full influence over shaping Turkey's perceptions of threat. It is also true that in practice, the government has increasingly been taking control of shaping the country's domestic and foreign policy issues, which used to be influenced heavily by the country's military-led bureaucratic elite.
The disclosure of a Kurdish initiative with the aim of solving the country's decades-old Kurdish problem, attempts to normalize relations with northeastern neighbor Armenia and playing an increasing role of facilitator in helping to reduce tension among some countries in the Middle East, such as Syria and Iraq, can be cited among examples that hint that Turkey has been emerging as a soft power in a region where inflexible policies are at play.
Still, however, the military-led establishment's ongoing role in politics complicates the political authority's attempts to solve its own internal problems in a European manner so that it can set a good example to its neighbors in the Middle East in particular.
While Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was in Iran early this week, the US statement that Turkey intends to buy $7.8 billion dollars worth of Patriot missiles did not look good for Ankara in the midst of its efforts to host talks on the nuclear issue with Tehran.
This is because missiles such as Patriots are known to be intended to counter threats that may come from countries including Iran, and the way the US disclosed it has had the effect of complicating the Turkish policy of increasing its influence in the region by helping to solve disputes. This, however, does not mean that Turkey cannot buy missiles to meet its national needs and to modernize its armed forces.
The main problem is the Turkish arms procurement system, where we do not see the political authority's influence on decisions over whether Turkey needs this or that military equipment. This is due to the political authority not having complete control of concepts of national security policy that outline internal and external perceptions of threat. And in most cases, the threat perceptions of the TSK do not match those of the political authority as the latter has increasingly been trying to reduce tensions with all its neighbors. These differing perceptions of threat within the state and the influence of the military in designating the threats sometimes results in the unnecessary purchase of some military equipment.
That is the reason why we cannot give a logical answer to questions that have been raised lately in Turkey, such as “Does Turkey need Patriots, especially at a time when the country has been going through a deep economic crisis and while the government has increasingly been seeking to reduce conflicts in the region so that it can live in an environment where there is less tension?”
At least if a mechanism of civilian democratic oversight exists, this will allow taxpayers to know that arms purchases are taking place in an accountable and transparent fashion and that any wrongdoings can be challenged.
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