Should Turkey join the European Union? Western opinion is sharply divided on this question; Turkish opinion is increasingly so. In 2002, I argued that Turkey’s political history more than justified its admission to Europe’s premier political club. Despite the stubborn Western habit of ignoring it, history records the fact that the Turkish republic has been a free, independent, secular, and mainly democratic state ever since Ataturk created it out of the ashes of the Ottoman empire in 1923. Great Britain aside, that’s a record very few European states can even approach. Rethinking the question five years on, I still think the EU should say yes to Turkey, but developments in postmodern Europe — illustrated, most recently, by the responses of Britain and the EU to Iran’s brazen Easter parade of British hostages — convince me that Turkey should say a polite but firm no to the EU.
This conclusion may startle, at first, because, until now, almost all the millions of words that have been written and spoken, pro and con, about whether Turkey should join the EU have focused either on the hoped for benefits membership might bring to Turkey, or on the feared burdens it might impose on the EU. Very little has been written or said — at least in Europe and America — about the possibility that EU membership might also have a downside for the Turks, that it might impose unacceptable burdens, costs, limits, and constraints on the heretofore sovereign Turkish Republic. The governing assumption, all along, has been that because Europe’s standards are more advanced than Turkey’s, Turkey can only gain by rising to meet them, reshaping itself to conform to the European way of doing things.
There is, arguably, some truth to this assumption, when the standards in question pertain to certain domestic issues — free speech, for example. Most Turks are understandably wary of the unrestrained freedom to advocate violent jihad that was the norm in Britain, for example, until very recently, and is still the norm in a number of EU nations. Nonetheless, many Turks think section 301 of their own penal code goes too far in the other direction, and welcome EU pressure to either revoke it or limit its reach by narrowing its terms. Yet the fact that the European way of doing things may be better than the Turkish way to some degree in some areas provides no support at all for the automatic, blanket assumption that the European way is always better.
National Security: Ataturk’s Way vs. the Eurocrat Way
Especially when it comes to national security, Turks and their friends, in America and elsewhere, should think long and hard about the very real possibility that the Turkish way — Ataturk’s way of peace through strength — is, in fact, far superior to the new and very different approach embraced by postmodern Europe. If Ataturk’s way really is better, then Turks could lose much more than they gain by reshaping themselves to be more like today’s Europeans in the vitally important area of national security. Britain’s Easter humiliation at the hands of the Iranians is only the latest example of these potential losses, but it is an especially poignant one.
After all, Ataturk’s way — before, during, and after World War I — was also Britain’s way, in the pre-EU days when Churchill and Thatcher led a sovereign Great Britain to victory in World War II and the Cold War. These British leaders shared Ataturk’s bone-deep belief that peace through strength is the only real peace there is, and, like Ataturk, never let their countrymen forget it. All three pursued peace avidly and succeeded, ultimately, in achieving it by always insisting on the two great fundamentals of national security: 1) an unblinking appraisal of the true aims and powers of hostile states and movements, and 2) an absolute commitment to maintaining the military strength and moral will needed to deter enemies when possible, defeat them when necessary. All three were skilled practitioners of the kind of diplomacy that is firmly grounded in those fundamentals. All three were scathing and prophetic in denouncing the opposite kind of diplomacy, the diplomacy of smoke and mirrors that obscures fundamentals, hiding them behind pious proclamations, backed up by paper agreements and ever-proliferating bureaucratic rules. All three urged their countrymen to look through the smoke and past the mirrors, and see to the fundamentals instead, lest they deteriorate beyond repair. All three spoke in similar terms of “peace-making” that ignored fundamentals: “weakness,” “appeasement,” “retreat,” and “defeat.”
If, by chance, anything in the preceding paragraph stirred you, or even struck you as halfway sensible, then, dear reader, you are totally out of tune with much of postmodern Europe, and all of the elite bureaucrats who dominate the EU. To these Eurocrats, all that “peace through strength” stuff is just a load of outdated bellicosity, reflecting an understanding of the world that is at best simple-minded, at worst, savage and primitive. Eurocrats, working with their partners in the U.N. and the Arab League, believe they have created a vastly more civilized and sophisticated new world, a world of transnational entities, relying on multilateral institutions and complex, intertwining webs of ever more enticing multicultural carrots, a world where skillful actors with proper, postmodern mindsets have moved beyond crude, old concepts like “enemies” and “friends,” a world where military power has less and less relevance because the critical task is not to win battles but to deescalate conflicts by mediating and negotiating them away.
From a peace-through-strength perspective, this new world may look like a world of make-believe, but belief in it has major real-world consequences. Belief in this new world is the reason why EU leaders feel free to starve their militaries in order to coddle their civilian populations in otherwise unaffordable cocoons, protecting them from harsh, old rigors like the need for most healthy adults to work 40 or more hours a week. It is why Britain’s navy was allowed to shrink from 388 ships and submarines in 1950 to 46 in 2004. Further cuts are planned. If they are carried out, Arthur Herman tells us: “By this time next year, the once-vaunted Royal Navy will be about the size of the Belgian Navy.” It could hardly be otherwise. Britain spends only about 2.4 percent of her GDP on military expenditures. And by EU standards, that’s high. If you rank-order all 27 EU countries on the basis of their military expenditures, Britain is fifth from the top. Germany spends only 1.5 percent of its GDP on military preparedness; Spain 1.2 percent. Only two EU countries spend more than 2.6 percent. Cyprus spends 3.8 percent; Greece 4.3 percent.