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Turkey: External Security Concerns
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > External Security Concerns


Throughout the Cold War, Turkey's security situation was shaped by the country's vulnerability to Soviet military strength. It was obliged to contend with the threat of twenty divisions of Soviet land forces close to the common border of more than 500 kilometers in the Transcaucasus region of northern Turkey. Turkey's heavily populated areas were within easy range of Soviet fighter aircraft and bombers; Soviet naval vessels and submarines were well positioned to dominate the Black Sea.

Turkish suspicion of Soviet motives had historical roots in the efforts of imperial Russia to extend its influence beyond the Black Sea to the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean was linked tactically and logistically to the Soviet Black Sea fleet. Transit of the Turkish-controlled Bosporus was essential to the projection of Soviet naval power in the Mediterranean.

For Turkey, perhaps the most important consequence of the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union was that it no longer shares a border with Russia and that the risk of conflict with the Russians has greatly receded. The appearance of several newly independent nations at Turkey's borders, however, has resulted in a less settled security environment because Turkey now feels a greater potential threat from other powers in the area such as Greece, Syria, and Iraq.

Although buffered by other new nations in the Black Sea and Caucasus regions, Russia remains a compelling presence in the minds of Turkish military planners. With Moscow increasingly willing to intervene in conflicts near Turkey's borders, concern has grown that a resurgent Russian nationalism might seek pretexts to gain control of former republics of the Soviet Union. Russia has repositioned to its southern flank some of the ground weapons withdrawn from Central Europe under the terms of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty of 1990. Although the treaty placed a ceiling on the number of tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery pieces that could be redeployed to the North Caucasus Military District, the Russians have exceeded this limit, citing concerns over instability in their border regions.

Close to Turkey's northeastern border, three former republics of the Soviet Union -- Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan -- are beset by dissidence and fighting. Turkey has historical, cultural, religious, and linguistic ties with Azerbaijan and supported Azerbaijan in its war with Armenia. From the Turkish perspective, Armenia committed aggression against Azerbaijan by seizing the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians. Russia issued veiled warnings against Turkish involvement in the Armenian situation, which could pit Turkey against Russia. Turkey has ruled out the use of force, wary of a wider conflict between Christians and Muslims in the region.

Last Updated: January 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Turkey was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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