Fire, one of the most useful and powerful inventions of human kind, was the only tool available to food vendor Sidi Bouzid. By setting himself on fire, Bouzid ignited the fire for prosperity, security and most importantly democracy in the Greater Middle East area. As Secretary General Rasmussen stated, it is the international community’s responsibility to ensure that the Arab Spring, so beautiful and inspiring, does not turn into a bleak winter. But how? What are the tools –other than the obvious and overwhelming military power- available to NATO?
The answer is clear: Turkey. NATO's most powerful tool in Greater Middle East region, and its most feasible tool for establishing relationships with countries in region is its 60 year-old member, Turkey.
Turkey has long-lasting relationships with the countries in the region, which date back to the Ottoman Era. Especially under Justice and Development Party's rule, and under Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's diplomatic policies, Turkey has become a role model, even a mentor for Middle Eastern countries.
As Secretary General Rasmussen reminded us, NATO is composed of countries that went through their own revolutions and established consolidated democracies, which operate under rule of law. Turkey is one of those members, which went through a series of revolutions and setbacks to establish democracy. Which tool(s) and/or country(ies) can be more useful than the country who shares the same cultural and historical values to form and strengthen the relationships with Arab countries?
Turkey's importance is two-fold, political and military. As soon as the dictators were toppled, the most prominent concern in the Western world was the question of the Muslim Brothers and like groups and their rise to power. The legitimacy of this concern is open to discussion. However, I believe that Turkey’s contribution in the political arena to the region's countries is not. Both the Prime Minister R. Tayyip Erdogan and the President Abdullah Gul during their visits to the region emphasized the importance of a secular state.
The idea of a secular state may seem trivial, but it is not. Coming from leaders of a political party known for their religious faithfulness, advice on a secular state means a lot to the region's leaders. Democracy cannot be forced upon nations unless they ask for it themselves, and bottom top approaches are important for consolidation of democracy. Role modeling and mentorship become important in that case, and NATO has the best role model to present available in its alliance, Turkey.
The second point is military intervention, namely R2P. Being the second largest military power in NATO, Turkey is an important ally in military interventions conducted by NATO. The country's importance doubles, even triples, in the region due to the aforementioned relationship. In many Middle East countries, the military is part of the ruling elite of the old regimes. Most people, in contrast to the Egyptian case, do not trust the military for their security. In that very point, effective military intervention to help revolutionary groups becomes important. However, NATO and its allies should be careful about the perception that military intervention is a disguise for some other political aims, mainly capturing oil resources. Military interventions commanded or co-commanded by Turkey would be beneficial.
All in all, NATO has all the tools available to prevent a beautiful Spring from transforming into a bleak Winter. Turkey is one of the key components to NATO’s success in the region.
Emine Deniz is an MA student at New York University’s Political Economy Analysis program. She will start her PhD in Political Economy next fall at New York University. Her main area of research is the political economy of development in Middle East and North Africa.