Country Overview: Turkey

by Ms. Nora Ljubojevic , Analyst, IB Consultancy, The Netherlands

Security Situation Overview

Turkey has steadily branded itself as a diplomatic actor with a leverage in conflict resolution scenarios, being the venue or mediator of peace process negotiations in Libya, between Armenia and Azerbaijan during the most recent armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and, lately, aspiring to mediate in Ukraine’s war. Its assertive foreign policy did not go unnoticed in the US and Russia, with both powers dragged into extremely delicate and complex situations such as the shootdown of a Russian warplane in 2015, the acquisition of Russian-manufactured S-400 air defense system and its subsequent expulsion from the F-35 joint strike fighter program, and its 2019 incursion into Syrian territories controlled by US forces to combat Kurdish-led forces. The Turkish administration has proven to be skilled at juggling its NATO membership, strong economic ties to Russia, with warmer relations with the UAE and EU, all while relentlessly seeking to rise its regional and international profile without encountering any fierce rebuttals. The regime’s isolationist stance after the failed coup d’état in 2016 further exacerbated this tendency towards seeking relevance without sacrificing autonomy, that is to say, towards reconciliating its need for currency reserves and stability with its goal of reducing foreign dependence.

Internally, the country’s main source of instability is its skyrocketing inflation rate – reaching a 20-year high of 61.14% this past April. Indeed, the country was heavily hit after its currency depreciation against the dollar by more than 650% back in mid-2013, increasing the cost of living for ordinary citizens. The economic crisis shows no signs of abating, especially with rising global energy prices, natural gas supply disruptions, a potential increase in commodity prices, and no prospects of cashing in the foreign currency from its Russian tourists, which make up one fifth of its visitors. The conflict between the government and the Syrian Kurdish YPG and Kurdish militants of the PKK, operating in northern Iraq and possibly behind improvised explosive devices attacks in Turkey, remains the country’s most relevant military threat. Out of all the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive threats, Turkey’s problems stem from the existence of explosive devices along its neighboring northwestern district of Afrin in Syria, where Turkish Blue Berets – police special operations teams and commando units – conducted operations to defuse anti-tank mines, improvised pipe bombs and, to seize mortars that once belonged to Kurdish militias from the YPG (People’s Protection Units).

CBRNe Foundations

Turkey is currently a member in good standing of all main treaties on CBRNe materials. It has been part of the nuclear and conventional deterrence provided by NATO for more than half a century, and stores around 50 US tactical nuclear weapons at Incirlik Air Base as part of the NATO nuclear sharing mission. In the CBRN domain, the country is party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological and Toxin Weapons convention, the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Zangger committee, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Australia Group, the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative and the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification. Concerning the use of explosives, Turkey is party to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, to the Hague code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation and to the Ottawa convention to ban anti-personnel mines, as well as to its Protocol II. Regarding nuclear terrorism, the country joined the global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. The national points of contact for the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1540 are the Head of Department for Arms Control and Disarmament within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the UN. It is not party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), as ratifying it would imply ending contracts on nuclear sharing.

On a national scale, Turkey passed the Regulation on Radiation Protection in Nuclear Facilities in 2018; the National Radiation Emergency Plan - in cooperation with the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK) - and the Regulation on the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road in 2019 and, in 2020, the Mission Regulation on Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Threats and Hazards, which laid out the national disaster response plan to ensure systematic response to CBRN incidents. Also passed in 2020 were the Nuclear Safety Regulation; the Nuclear Export Control Regulation; Regulation on the Safety of Nuclear Facilities and Nuclear Materials; Radiation Safety Regulation; Regulation on the Management of Radiation Emergencies; and the Regulation on Authorization of Environmental Improvement Activities of Areas Exposed to Radioactive Pollution.

Overview of CBRNe and IED Stakeholders

On a national level and according to the Executive Order no. 4, the Ministry of Interior’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, the Civil Defense Department is responsible to determine measures against CBRN threats and hazards and to ensure coordination between Ministries, Governmental and private institutions/agencies.

Its Strategic Plan for 2019-2023 aims at increasing response capacity for CBRN events under the responsibility of the Civil Defense Department (SSD), which shall procure 100% of the tools and equipment needed by 2023 as well as establishing units (3 so far) across regions to carry out the maintenance, repair and calibration of CBRN equipment. To manage CBRN incidents, the SSD developed an Emergency Response Guide (ERG) software to provide fast access to basic information about CBRN materials and recommends the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and monitoring devices. At the end of 2021, Turkey developed three CBRN incident type plans, and all the corresponding standard operational procedures were developed. The structure of incident management operations is made up of a reconnaissance and detection phase; the setting and securitization of the area by the Police; the search, rescue, sampling, and decontamination phase; and victims transfer onto medical services. In a supportive and coordinating role, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) within the Ministry of Interior has developed a nationwide CBRN risk management system aiming at enhancing the capacity and effectiveness of the current legal framework. It coordinates the response decided by the Presidency department and involves the Turkish armed forces (search and rescue or SAR helicopters), the Ministry of Health (national medical search and rescue units), municipalities (fire brigades), the Ministry of Interior (water search and rescue units), NGOs (SAR teams) and AFAD personnel. AFAD supervises the acquisition of an integrated warning system (IKAS) to notify the 81 Turkish provinces of CBRN threats, among other emergencies.

Additionally, Turkey’s armed forces count on a CBRN Defense Battalion Command to intervene in defense operations with a CBRN scope, which is the only unit that supports the Land forces Command in the CBRN field. Regarding the police, as laid out in AFAD’s overview of its CBRN incident management model, their role is to secure the affected zones. Due to its goal of achieving energy independence, the country counts on a TR-2 5MWt reactor at the Cekmece Nuclear Research Training Center and the ITRU TRIGA MARK II at the Istanbul Technical University, with the building of the Akkuyu, Sinop and Thrace civilian nuclear power plants still in the works. The government still meets 72% of its energy demand through imports, having created the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK) back in the 1950s to also conduct nuclear fuel cycle research. To counter explosive threats, the Underwater Defense unit of the Turkish Navy, based on the Aegean coast, counts on deactivation tools and expertise. Most recently, this unit neutralized a strayed naval mine close to the Bosphorus Strait, possibly coming from Ukrainian ports, that was endangering shipping in the Black Sea. Belonging to the Armed Forces, the Blue Berets are trained to defuse mines, handmade explosives and, to dodge plastic explosive traps, operating in special forces type of contexts. Within the Ministry of Interior, the Turkish National Police Bomb Disposal and Investigations Division is the body usually deployed to bomb threat scenarios. They are in charge of rendering safe IEDs, training bomb technicians, assignment planning and collecting evidence from hazardous devices. They assist police raids needing bomb search and destroy operations. The Gendarmerie Search and Rescue Battalion (JAK) responds to disasters and hazmat incidents.

On a local level, AFAD provincial directorates and the Brigades of disasters and emergencies are tasked with managing crisis of a CBRNe nature, counting on engineering activities and SAR operations.

Procurement

The Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM), under the Ministry of National Defense, was tasked with setting the infrastructure of the defense industry policies. Indeed, reducing its foreign reliance on defense equipment has been the cornerstone of Turkey’s defense trade policy, as the country has transitioned from importing 70% of its military hardware to 30%. With that purpose, and since the failed coup, the SSM was affiliated to the Presidency of the Republic in 2017 and renamed as Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) in 2018, concluding contracts of purchases as ordered by the Defense Industry Executive Committee chaired by the President of the Republic. The Turkish Armed Forces Foundation, a public fund to support a self-sufficient defense industry, transferred 71bn Turkish liras to the Defense Industry Support Fund in 2017. Plans to establish a Defense Industry Investment Fund and support companies with technological potential were disclosed in 2021. Among its defense companies standing out there are Nanobiz, IDC Defense, MKEK, and Meteksan Defense. The latter produces laser-based systems to detect the content of gases or extraction of gas content as part of CBRN applications, and aerial detection of mines in shallow waters. Environics has supplied the Turkish Civil Defense Organization with chemical detectors and Havelsan provided a CBRN IS software that supports CBRN cleaning activities, scenario planning and which calculates the spread drawing from an incident.

Partner diversification has been the core of its trade policy, as suggested by the country’s 2021 export figures. As announced by the Turkish Exporters Assembly in December 2021, Turkey’s arms sales reached a record high, with a staggering 700% increase to African countries, from $41m to $328m. So far, Turkey has signed bilateral agreements with Tanzania, Sudan, Uganda, Benin, and Côte d’Ivoire to cooperate in industrial production, procurement and maintenance of military and defense materiel as well as technical and logistical support. Defense exports to the US also broke a new high. However, North America continues to top the list ($1.56bn), followed by the Commonwealth of Independent States ($411m), the Middle East ($381m) and European Union countries ($338m). For instance, it was revealed in April 2021 that Morocco had signed a contract with Turkey for the acquisition of 13 Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) for $69.6m. Ukraine has also bought dozens of TB2 over the past couple of years, destroying with it a howitzer used by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region in October 2021.

In 2021, exports of defense products reached a 40% increase compared to the previous year, exporting $2.79bn worth of defense products, and foresee exports worth around $3bn for 2022. In 2020, the country spent 2.8% of its GDP in the military sector, and 7.5% of the government’s budget went to military expenditure.

Capabilities

The AFAD’s Training Centre in Bursa covers disaster preparedness training and evacuation drills. USAR, CBRN, submarine activities for floods, winter equipment for avalanches. It also offers disaster awareness in the society, with 12,594,675 people attending their Disaster Awareness Training programs since the beginning of 2021. Nonetheless, AFAD considers the continuous expansion of early warning systems and raising public awareness of CBRN threats a key priority. AFAD also instructs a CBRN Awareness and Suspicious Mail Training, undertaken by more than 26,000 people by the end of 2017.

The CBRN School and Training Center Command, located in Konya, is the only institution that trains units and personnel from public institutions, and foreign military personnel that will perform reconnaissance, assessment, and cleaning tasks during CBRN defense operations. In February 2022, they organized a 59th Term CBRN Defense Specialized Sergeant Course.

Within the Ministry of National Defense, and established by the Navy, the Maritime security Centre of Excellence (MARSEC CoE) organized its latest CBRN Defense Course in 2019, hosting 50 participants from 9 foreign countries. It is aligned with NATO standards. Turkey also has the NATO Partnership Training and Education Center, awarded a NATO certificate to advance NATO education and training community.

The Gulhane Institute of Defensive Health Sciences operates within the framework of the University of Health Sciences, created in 2017. It has a Medical CBRN Defense department that trains Masters/PhD candidates to diagnose, treat and respond to CBRN injuries. Additionally, in May 2022 the CBRN Department under the University of Health Sciences established a new CBRN Training and Simulation Center.

The non-governmental organization CBRN Defense develops strategies to counter CBRN threats and organizes training courses and exercises for military personnel, civilian staff, and commercial facilities, where they provide equipment for early recognition, choice and use of protective equipment, antidotes, triage, treatment, contamination control, prevention of secondary contamination, use of detection equipment, and setting up a contamination control station. There is also a highly specialized training for health professionals in toxicology, medical treatment and management of patients suffering from exposure to chemical agents. To address demining actions and non-technical Survey action, there is the Turkish Mine Action Center (TURMAC), partially funded by the EU-IPA funding instrument.

Programs and Joint Operations/Exercises in the field of CBRNe

AFAD hosted an international CBRN Congress in November 2019 to discuss new CBRN Risks and how best to enhance preparedness.

In November 2021, the Turkish Air force airfield in Antalya hosted the Toxic Trip NATO exercises, aimed at developing cooperation with the national Air, Navy, and Ground Forces against CBRN threats of NATO countries and the Partnership for Peace.

Conclusion

Despite its economic struggles, and judging by its past actions, it is expected that the country will continue counterbalancing and bandwagoning with external actors, including defense business partners – well exemplified in the ups and downs of the Erdogan relationship with Syria, Russia, and USA over the last twelve years – whenever it sees further strategic value to promote its national interests.

A U T H O R

Nora Ljubojevic is an Analyst at IB Consultancy. Her prior work experience includes the EU Delegation to the UN in New York, the Council of Europe, the Centre for European Policy in Belgrade and the Human Rights Foundation. She holds an MLitt in Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia security studies from the University of St. Andrews and a BA in Political Science from the Complutense University of Madrid.