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Turkey: Military Cooperation with the United States
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Military Cooperation with the United States

MILITARY COOPERATION WITH THE UNITED STATES


During the postwar era, Turkey's foremost ally has been the United States. Because of Turkey's strategic location in the Middle East, its proximity to the Soviet Union's military installations and test sites, and its control of the Black Sea straits, military ties with the United States were a crucial factor in the East-West confrontation. The alliance originated soon after the end of World War II, when Soviet dictator Josef V. Stalin made a series of demands on Turkey that the Turkish government and the Western powers interpreted as a possible prelude to military action. The begrudging withdrawal of Soviet occupation forces from northern Iran in May 1946 and communist guerrilla warfare in Greece heightened fears of a Soviet drive into the Middle East. The United States responded with proclamation of the Truman Doctrine in March 1947. Both Greece and Turkey were provided with aid to resist the Soviet threat.

Because of concerns over extending a United States military commitment to the Middle East, the United States initially was not convinced that Turkey's admission to NATO should be approved. Turkish troops' noteworthy participation in the Korean War changed this view; Turkey entered NATO in 1952.

In accordance with bilateral defense arrangements under NATO auspices, the United States has developed and maintained several major military installations on Turkish bases. Of particular significance are several electronic intelligence posts considered vital for monitoring Russian weapons and Moscow's compliance with strategic arms limitation agreements. A long-range radar system has been established at Pirinçlik, near Diyarbakir, to monitor Russian missile testing. At Belbasi, near Ankara, nuclear testing can be monitored by means of seismic data collection.

No United States combat forces are based in Turkey, but elements of two United States Air Force fighter squadrons based in Italy are rotated periodically to Incirlik -- the West's farthest forward-based tactical combat aircraft in the eastern Mediterranean. Çigli, a Turkish air base north of Izmir, is used by United States Air Force units in connection with NATO exercises. Three bases in eastern Turkey -- at Erzurum, Batman, and Mus -- were upgraded following a 1982 agreement to make them available for forward deployment of United States tactical aircraft under conditions of a NATO alert. Aircraft operating from them could cover the entire Turkish-Iranian-Transcaucasian border region without aerial refueling.

A Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA), first negotiated in 1969 and renewed numerous times, consolidated various bilateral accords governing the United States military presence in Turkey. As a result of its 1988 renegotiation, the agreement is now known as the Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement (DECA). Under the DECA, the number of United States personnel, including dependents, in Turkey -- which had reached a peak of 25,000 in 1968 -- was reduced to 16,000 in 1970 and 9,000 by 1980. In 1991 the total was slightly above 10,000. Since that year, nearly all of the communications and naval facilities have been closed. In late 1994, United States personnel remained only at the air stations at Incirlik, Ankara, and Çigli, the intelligence posts at Pirinçlik and Belbasi, and a communications station at Karatas, near Incirlik. The number of United States personnel had been reduced to about 4,000.

It is common practice to refer to installations staffed by United States personnel -- even those solely connected with the NATO mission -- as "American." Turkey has never waived its sovereignty over them; they have Turkish commanders and are officially regarded as joint-use facilities. Even so, Turkish sensitivity about their control and the conspicuous United States presence have at times provoked incidents and disputes. Extremist political factions tend to exploit these issues for their own purposes.

Turkey regarded the arms embargo imposed by the United States Congress after the Cyprus invasion of 1974 as a serious affront. Put into effect in 1975, the embargo was opposed by the executive branch of the United States government, which considered it an obstruction in the quest for an equitable settlement of the Cyprus situation. Turkey retaliated by abrogating the 1969 DCA and suspending operations of United States-used installations not clearly linked to the NATO mission. The intelligence collection sites were closed down, and the United States Navy was denied use of its loran (long-range) navigation station in Turkey. The embargo ended in 1978 when Congress repealed its earlier restrictions, although the president of the United States was required to make periodic certifications that Turkey was contributing to efforts to settle the Cyprus issue.

Turkish public opinion has been sensitive to suggestions that United States rapid deployment forces or other units might make use of facilities on Turkish territory for non-NATO purposes. The only Muslim country in NATO, Turkey is determined to avoid giving open support to controversial or unpopular actions by the United States in the Middle East. The Turkish government did not permit use of the bases for United States operations during the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973 and allowed only nonmilitary supplies to be shipped via Turkey to the United States-led multinational contingent in Lebanon in 1983.

Repeated attempts by members of Congress to pass resolutions commemorating the Ottoman government's massacre of Armenians during World War I have prompted strong reactions by the Turkish government. For instance, in 1989, after such a resolution was approved in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Turkey prohibited some United States training flights, reduced port calls, and halted military construction.

Military assistance has been an intrinsic feature of the defense relationship between Turkey and the United States. Turkey's limited economic resources, juxtaposed against its heavy NATO obligation to contain Soviet power in the eastern Mediterranean, made such support indispensable until the Soviet threat receded in the late 1980s. Between 1950 and 1991, the United States provided military assistance valued at US$9.4 billion, of which about US$6.1 billion was in grant form and US$3.3 billion was on a concessional loan basis.

At the insistence of Congress, the appropriation of military funds for Greece and Turkey has for many years been on a seven-to-ten ratio. The Turkish government regards the aid formula as inequitable given that Turkey has a population about six times that of Greece, has correspondingly heavier NATO commitments, and is host to many NATO and United States military facilities. In 1994 the United States Congress held back 10 percent of the funds appropriated for Turkey until the Department of State could verify improvement of Turkey's human rights record and progress on confidence-building measures in Cyprus. Turkey considered this interference in its internal affairs and made no effort to have the funds restored.

Turkey nevertheless has been the third largest recipient of United States military aid, after Israel and Egypt. Despite the end of the Soviet threat, Turkey's military needs during the Persian Gulf crisis resulted in a rise in the level of grant aid to US$500 million in fiscal year (FY -- see Glossary) 1991. Although the administrations of presidents George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton sought to maintain a similar level in subsequent years, citing heavy United States reliance on Turkish air bases for support of the Iraqi Kurds in Provide Comfort II. Congress approved only US$450 million in FY 1993 and shifted the financing from grants to loans. In FY 1994, a move in Congress to charge interest at market rather than concessional rates was barely deflected. Such a change would have been a blow to Turkey, which was already saddled with heavy foreign debts. Ultimately, US$405 millon in low-interest loans was approved. The Department of Defense also provides training to about 160 Turkish officers each year. These include students at the United States Army Command and General Staff College, as well as individuals assigned to technical schools and those receiving specialized training in management, language instruction, medical logistics, and air-traffic control.

Data as of January 1995




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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