WHILE the main front in the effort to contain Iraq is on the border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, a second important front has been opened on Iraq's northwest border with Turkey. Quickly after Saddam Hussein seized Kuwait, Turkey shut down the Iraqi oil pipeline that crosses its territory. Late last week, in response to a visit to Ankara by Secretary of State James Baker, Turkish President Turgut Ozal further granted permission for American military aircraft based in Turkey for NATO defense to be used in any conflict with Iraq.
These were not easy or cost-free actions by Turkey. In arraying itself against Iraq, Turkey - a poor country - stands to lose some $3 billion a year in pipeline revenues and trade with its Arab neighbor. Turkey also invites military reprisal from Iraq.
Despite the risks, Turkey sees the Iraqi crisis as an opportunity to raise its stature in Europe. Geographically and historically, Europe has ended at the Bosporus. Modern Turkey would like, in effect, to push Europe's frontier to its own eastern borders.
Turkey is a staunch member of NATO and has been an invaluable listening post for Western surveillance of the Soviet Union. But in most other respects, Europe has treated Muslim Turkey as a distant bumpkin cousin, one whose Western clothes still don't fit very well.
As the cold war melted, Turkey's strategic significance abutting the Soviet Union declined. But Turkey is equally well positioned to be a bulwark for Western interests in a stable Mideast and reasonable oil prices.
The West needs to demonstrate its appreciation. The NATO foreign ministers last week properly reaffirmed that their countries would help defend Turkey against Iraqi aggression. And the Western allies should assist Ankara in its request to Kuwait's exile government for indemnification against economic loss in standing up to Saddam Hussein.
Beyond that, Turkey deserves membership in the European Community. Admission would confirm that Turkey, having paid its dues, is truly a citizen of the West. That acknowledgment, together with the trade and economic benefits that would flow from EC membership, in turn would strengthen Turkey's democratic institutions.