When Turkey needs its friends

Turkey is battling bravely to turn itself around economically. The question is whether the international community, led by West Germany, will muster enough aid to keep Turkey from going under while some tough economic measures are given a chance to take effect. The stakes are high. With Iran still in the throes of revolution, with the Russians in Afghanistan, with the whole of Southwest Asia in a state of change and uncertainty, Turkey takes on enhanced and critical importance as a democratic bulwark of the North Atlantic alliance in the eastern Mediterranean.

As a series of articles by Monitor correspondent Ned Temko detailed, Turkey is in a desperate state. Inflation is running at more than 100 percent. There are more than three million unemployed. Insufficient money to pay for oil imports has led to power cutoffs. Other shortages also abound. Street violence, a chronic problem, has taken on an economic as well as political dimension, as recent near-insurrection by textile workers in Izmir bore out.

Hoping to turn Turkey back from the brink of disaster, Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel has adopted a radical course. He has further devalued the Turkish lira and imposed control on the money supply. He has moved to let market forces govern the state enterprises -- a strategy which goes against the grain of the traditional Ataturkian philosophy of state control. All this represents a massive effort to reorient the economy away from bottomless state subsidization. In the short term it will mean austerity, layoffs, and a lower standard of living for the Turkish people. In the long run, however, it should create the climate for a stabilization of prices, more efficient industry, and an expansion of exports -- the key to the nation's economic growth.

Whether the Turks, now so demoralized, will have the tenacity and discipline to accept economic hardship and keep up the belt-tightening is hard to answer. That will be crucial. But the point is that they are at least beginning to meet the prescriptions set by the International Monetary Fund, and, with adequate outside aid over a period of years to tide them over, they have a reasonable chance. Certainly their toughness and capacity for hard work should stand them in good stead.

Among the issues which West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt will raise with President Carter this week is probably a greater US contribution to the Turkish aid effort. About $200 million has been requested from Congress for fiscal 1981 . Bonn's overall goal for the medium term is over one billion dollars, however, so the pressure will be on Washington to help even more. Later this month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development will also decide whether to infuse a few billion dollars into Turkey's economy.

The Turks merit special consideration. Turkey's democracy may strike many outsiders as chaotic (Mr. Demirel is serving his sixth term in less than 15 years), but it is a democracy nonetheless and worth nurturing. The high election turnouts point to the value the Turks themselves place on their form of government. Turkey, moreover, while a Muslim country, has been a secular state for many decades now and does not confront the kind of religious fundamentalism which plunged Iran into such turmoil.

Whatever the economic risk, in short, the West has to take it. Strategically , politically, economically, Turkey is too important for half-hearted measures.

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