In the last couple of years, Turkey has considerably intensified its efforts to weave a network of security agreements that include military, police and intelligence exchange programs with a number of countries, especially those located in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), to respond to pressing challenges in the turbulent neighborhood amid major transformations taking place in Arab and Muslim countries. These agreements aim to mobilize Turkey’s soft and hard power capabilities to influence the security establishment in these countries, while allowing partner nations to tap into the wealth of Turkish experience in public safety and national security.
With the second largest military in the NATO alliance after the US, Turkey has much experience in dealing with threats and challenges in its tough neighborhood. It has been the beacon of stability in a region where all kinds of proxy battles among big global and regional powers have been going on. To its credit, Turkish police have been able to ward off domestic security challenges for years despite the fact that some of these have had clear external connections such as drug and human trafficking or cross-border terror issues. In other words, Turkey has gained enough experience to share with others so that partner nations do not need to go through the bitter ordeal that Turks had to endure for decades. Without sounding condescending, many believe that Turkey can teach one or two important things to our friends and allies in beefing up their security assets.
Just to give an idea without providing the full list of partner nations, Turkey signed military cooperation agreements with Bahrain in May 2012, Saudi Arabia in May 2012, Qatar in July 2012, Somalia in May 2012, United Arab Emirates in October 2011, Ethiopia in April 2011, Lebanon in January 2010 and with Egypt in November 2009. Surely there are agreements in place with a number of other countries in the MENA region and beyond as well. These instruments are not one-size-fits-all mechanisms, but vary according to specific needs from partner nations. They range from cadet and officer exchange programs to police and public safety training courses, from military/defense technology cooperation schemes to joint command and control exercises.
Though the benefits of these agreements are mutually advantageous, from Ankara’s perspective they really help towards the Turkish goal of enhancing regional security through military-to-military or police to-police relations that ultimately culminate in increased understanding between nations. They are not very costly, either, considering the benefits we are expected to reap in the future. This campaign allows Turkey to augment the capabilities of friendly states through training programs and defense industry projects. Investing in a critical sector of a partner nation really enables Turkey to engage with key foreign military personnel that is likely to play a pivotal role in contributing to the formulation of security policies within these nations.
What is more, these programs introduce Turkish values to foreign army and police forces, thereby paving the way for building a coalition partnership with friendly nations’ military and police apparatus. In cases where joint exercises and joint operations are planned with these nations against common threats, the experience gained during these programs helps streamline Turkish military integration with other military, or in the case of police, it cuts the red tape in security bureaucracy to permit close coordination against cross-border criminal networks. Through information-sharing mechanisms that are naturally implied in any security agreement, the engagement of Turkish security branches with their counterparts in partner nations becomes much easier. Ultimately these processes help promote Turkish defense goals in different geographical theatres by focusing on common challenges with the involvement of Turkey’s friends.
As these security deals were being given flesh and blood, Turkish military and police academies began reporting that the number of foreign personnel enrolled in Turkish security training courses is on the rise. For example, when our reporters paid a visit last month to the Turkish Military Academy (TMA), they witnessed exercises performed by foreign cadets whose numbers have more than doubled in the last three years. Today, there are 195 foreign cadets from 14 countries who study and receive training at the TMA, while the figure stood at 87 in the 2009-2010 academic year.
Gambia, Moldova and Kosovo sent cadets to the TMA for the first time in the previous academic year, and cadets from Mongolia, Libya and Somalia are expected to join the TMA next year. Presently, cadets from Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, South Korea, Turkmenistan, Jordan, Gambia, Moldova, Kosovo and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) attend the TMA.
Foreign cadets joining the TMA, the academy that trains cadets to serve in the Turkish Land Forces, first learn Turkish in a one-year course and then attend regular classes with Turkish cadets. That means they can communicate in Turkish very well and are exposed to Turkish culture and way of life. This contributes to a better understanding between Turkey and partner nations who send students to these military schools. If you add the number of foreign cadets enrolled in exchange programs in air force or naval academies, then the number climbs further.
Turkish police academies are also serving quite a large number of foreign students in their training and exchange programs. Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin, whose portfolio includes police academies, was very proud of training so many foreign students from partner nations during a conversation I had with him recently. Being a former secretary-general of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), he used to engage with foreign diplomats in Ankara quite often. He attaches special importance to fostering ties with other countries.
Şahin recalled how Afghan President Hamid Karzai was deeply moved during a visit to the Sivas Vocational Police Academy in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas, where the second batch of 500 Afghan police cadets are being trained. He said Karzai was very impressed by the professionalism his fellow countrymen showed at the police training center. Today students from more than 20 countries are being trained at police academies across Turkey. Each year, there are some 400 foreign students enrolled in Turkish academies. This number does not include Afghani trainees or the total of 817 Libyan police academy students who started their training in March 2012 at the Adile Sadullah Mermerci Police Center in İstanbul.
In just 2010 alone, 19 countries, mostly from Africa, signed an agreement with Turkey to gain access to training and education programs offered by police academies. Turkish police officers were also dispatched to foreign countries to provide education programs. So far they have trained some 15,000 police officers in more than 30 countries including advanced countries of the West. For example, the US formally requested training courses for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) teams by Turkish police in 2010 following Turkish police units’ impressive work in helping identify victims of an Afghan plane crash with 44 people on board in the same year. Turkish DVI units were also credited with identifying almost all of the 17,000 victims claimed by a 1999 earthquake in northwestern Turkey. Over 150 Turkish police officers are serving today in the UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan, Haiti, Liberia, Congo, Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, East Timor and Kosovo.
I will not reveal the intelligence cooperation schemes with partner nations due to security concerns. But suffice to say there is considerable cooperation going on in the intelligence field as well.
In conclusion, these security agreements Turkey has been signing with an increasing number of countries has meant first and foremost to shore up security and stability in Turkey’s immediate and extended neighborhood. They are not meant to target specific nations, but rather aim to weave a safety net where countries can engage in economic, political and cultural exchanges with ease of mind. In a way, they act as a deterrence factor working mostly on the backburner. The only ones who need to be worried and alarmed about these security deals are the ones who have nothing but ill intentions to destabilize countries and regions.