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Turkey: Turkey's Participation in NATO
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Turkey's Participation in NATO

TURKEY'S PARTICIPATION IN NATO


Turkey's decision to seek Western assistance after being confronted by Soviet territorial demands at the conclusion of World War II and its subsequent participation in NATO's collective defense system have been the principal factors influencing the country's modern military evolution. In 1950 Turkey demonstrated its gratitude for the military aid received from the United States when it sent a brigade of 4,500 troops to serve under the UN command in Korea. The brigade became known for its valor on the battlefield after suffering proportionately the highest casualty rates of any UN element engaged in the fighting.

Turkey's admission to NATO, effective in February 1952, was preceded by extensive study and debate of the strategy of extending the alliance's southern flank to include the eastern Mediterranean. Changes were needed in the wording of the treaty to expand its territorial reach to include Turkey. The admission of Turkey gave NATO a much longer land frontier with the Warsaw Pact, as well as a treaty interest in Turkey's Black Sea coast and the straits through which the Soviet Union had access to the Mediterranean. At the same time, Turkey brought to the alliance its second largest body of military manpower after that of the United States, in addition to access to sites for forward deployment and intelligence gathering.

Under the provisions of the alliance, most of the Turkish armed forces are committed to NATO command in the event of hostilities. Turkish land, sea, and air units then come under the Commander in Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH), with headquarters in Naples. The largest of NATO's four military regions, AFSOUTH encompasses Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea (including the Adriatic Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Ionian Sea, and the Tyrrhenian Sea). AFSOUTH develops joint contingency plans and conducts training exercises of assigned units.

One of the five principal subordinate commands under AFSOUTH, the Allied Land Forces Southeastern Europe (LANDSOUTHEAST) is headquartered at Izmir under a Turkish lieutenant general, with a United States general officer as deputy. About 90 percent of Turkish land forces are committed to this command. The two other commands with Turkish forces assigned to them are Allied Air Forces Southern Europe (AIRSOUTH), under a United States general officer, and Allied Naval Forces Southern Europe (NAVSOUTH), under command of an Italian vice admiral. Both commands have headquarters in the Naples area. Still under dispute is the matter of establishing LANDSOUTHCENT in Larissa, Greece. Initially, Turkey agreed and Greece objected, but in early 1995 Turkey objected unless a Turkish general were to command the center.

Important air, naval, and intelligence-gathering facilities are made available on Turkish soil to United States combat aircraft and to units of the United States Sixth Fleet committed to NATO aircraft to provide low-level radar coverage and regional air and sea surveillance.

In the mid-1990s, Turkey allocated a mechanized infantry division consisting of one mechanized brigade and one armored brigade, as well as one combat engineering company, to the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Force formed as part of NATO's restructuring. One commando brigade was earmarked for the southern multinational division, along with brigades from Italy and Greece. These forces remain under national command at their home bases until released to NATO.

Despite rapid changes in the European security environment that have replaced the NATO-Warsaw Pact confrontation with a less definable set of missions for the alliance, Turkey remains a strong partisan of the NATO linkage. Turkish participation gives the country a voice in major strategic decisions by Western democracies and a framework for multilateral cooperation in matters critical to its own security. Nevertheless, with NATO strategy based on the management of multidimensional threats rather than deterrence of the now-defunct Soviet Union, and with the admission of former members of the Warsaw Pact into a partnership relation with NATO, the importance of Turkey to European security has become less obvious. From a Turkish perspective, the protection of Turkey's eastern borders demands a continued high level of NATO involvement. In the shifting European security order, however, Turkey's geostrategic position could become a liability, potentially exposing the alliance to military action in an area where its commitments are ill defined.




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 Factba.se.

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