American military bases, long identified with US interests, have always been a controversial subject among scholars. A significant increase in the number of military bases possessed by the United States around the world following World War Two is striking to observe. Many different arguments have been developed to try to understand the dynamics and motives behind the establishment of such a great number of these bases, the most commonly held one is that these military bases serve the strategic and geopolitical interests of the United States. But don’t they also help expand the US’s sphere of ideological influence?
Turkey, as a country that began to host US military bases when it joined NATO, hasn’t stayed outside discussions over military bases. Their legal status and the functions of the bases have led to heated debates among the political elite of the country. Given the high levels of anti-American public sentiment in the country this is nothing but normal. However, despite how long the bases have been around and the high visibility of the issue in the country, it is striking to see the absence of academic studies that delve into the role of American military bases in Turkey in an analytic and systematic manner. Incirlik Military Base: Military Base Politics of the US and Turkey by Dr. Selin Bölme sets to fill this gap in academic literature and paves the way for further research on the military aspects of Turkish-American relations.
With reference to the Incirlik military base, the book examines a wide array of issues ranging from the politics of military bases for the US and to the impact of such bases on American hegemony in general, and to Turkish-American relations in particular. The author compiles her arguments in three parts. In the first part, Bölme introduces the concept and emergence of military bases. A meticulous analysis of various concepts that are interchangeably and often mistakenly used for one another in daily discussions is worth noting for eliminating the confusion encountered in categorizing and describing the types of military bases. But it is not only a conceptual analysis that the book provides. The author also does a good job of portraying the continuities and discontinuities in the base concept itself in history. Here, the history of military bases from the Roman Empire to the Ottoman Empire, and from China to Europe, is offered, including the role of technological advances.
The second part provides an explanatory framework on the US’s motives in wanting to have military bases in the first place. Bölme does not resort to mainstream international relations theories, such as the realist and geopolitical perspectives, in explaining the reasons behind the establishment of military bases by the US. This is not to deny the relevance of these conceptual frameworks. On the contrary, Bölme acknowledges that military bases help increase US strategic interests. However, Bölme argues that these perspectives remain limited in explaining the broader dynamics behind the US’s military base politics, and she breaks down the dominance of mainstream theories that reduce interstate relations to military strategies. According to Bölme, military bases are more than just means to increase the strategic interests of the country that owns them. They should rather be seen as instrumental tools to expand American hegemony. Drawing on Robert Cox’s approach to “hegemony”, Bolme addresses the issue of military base politics from a critical perspective, and stresses that military bases are institutional mechanisms to strengthen the American hegemony by spreading the ideological, cultural and economic values of the US in the host country. This broader perspective integrates both material and non-material factors in its analysis of military politics.
The final part places the focus on the book’s main topic: the Incirlik military base. Bölme discusses, in detail, the most controversial military base in Turkey from its founding to today in the context of Turkish-American relations. Unraveling the complex negotiation processes between American and Turkish officials, the author documents how the Incirlik base has turned out to be a pressuring mechanism in the hands of Turkey to gain concessions from the US. This is not a one-sided story of course.
Based on archival research that the author has conducted both in Turkey and the US, Bölme provides an historical account of the role of US military bases in Turkey, particularly the Incirlik base, in embedding Turkey into the American hegemonic sphere. From the Lebanon crisis of 1958 to the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, from Black September in Jordan in 1970 to the Iranian revolution in 1979, “aircraft have taken off from Incirlik’’ rumors are enlightened through archival documents. As well as the political meaning of Incirlik military base in Turkish-American relations, Bölme also does a good job in scrutinizing the legal status of all military bases in Turkey. In brief, we get to differentiate between military bases and military facilities.
Bölme’s book is not only the first of its kind on American military bases located in Turkey, but it stands out with its impressive archival research. Given the well-known difficulties of examining recent military issues, and particularly doing that in Turkey, the author seems to have overcome all challenges by reaching a great majority of available documents on the Incirlik military base. The declassification of 3,500 archival documents is worth noting, and shows the availability of primary source to students, academics and researchers of Turkish-American relations, Cold War history and US politics.
The author’s fluent and plain language makes the book an easy read for people with an interest in Turkish political history. Flipping through the pages, one gets to think that military issues are not always unappealing and Bölme’s narrative and descriptive wording takes the reader on a trip to places and to various characters in the book.