You can read the interview published in the 80th Issue of MSI Turkish Defence Review here:
Birol TEKİNCE / firstname.lastname@example.org
Brigadier General Tarek Baccouche, who has completed his first year in Turkey as the Defence Attaché of Tunisia, has been serving also as the Dean of the Ankara Military Attaché Corps (AMAC) for around 8 months. Brigadier General Baccouche took time out of his busy schedule to answer the questions of MSI TDR and its sister publication AMAC Magazine, about his role as the Dean of AMAC, the current status of relations with Turkey and the Turkish defence sector, his views on AMAC Magazine and MSI TDR, and his advice and predictions for the future.
MSI TDR: What can you tell us about AMAC in general after taking over the role of Dean?
Brigadier General BACCOUCHE: Although I haven’t made a detailed research, I believe AMAC is one of the largest foreign military attaché corps in the world, ranking up there alongside the similar organisations in the United States and China. And after 35 years of military experience, my election as AMAC Dean turned out to be a significant experience and challenge for me. The task of communicating with officers with different experiences and different nationalities from five different continents and representing them as a group is a really important and admirable role.
MSI TDR: In order to become AMAC Dean, the candidates should be volunteers. Alongside all of the official responsibilities of your mission, the role of AMAC Dean brings additional responsibilities that cost you additional time and effort. Why did you become AMAC Dean?
I think that defence companies should not aim to build relationships with AMAC members with the sole purpose of marketing. We are already being invited to and participating in the many defence and security fairs within the country. However, as in other countries, events like seminars and conferences can be organised with the support of sponsor companies to bring together Turkey’s most prominent names in the field of defence with politicians, commanders and our members.
Brigadier General BACCOUCHE: As you mentioned, candidates put themselves forward for this task on a voluntary basis. In my case, there were five volunteer candidates, and the election was decided based on the votes of the AMAC members. One of the most important goals of the Dean is to ensure that AMAC members from different countries around the world and their families are in close contact, and to make their tenure-related relations as efficient and enjoyable as possible. This can occur in two ways. First, embassies and AMAC members who have been in Turkey for a long time can guide newcomers, making their lives and tenures more comfortable. The second way relates to the performing of military tasks in coordination with the host nation, and we carry out all of our activities in coordination with the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF). In this sense, we have responsibilities stipulated by laws and rules. Therefore, as the Dean of AMAC, I have a goal of engaging more members in the events, organised either directly by AMAC, or in those to which AMAC is invited. Past statistics show that 30–45 members attend such events, but my goal is to increase this number to a minimum of 70. Seeing that the attendance of especially African and Muslim countries is quite low, I try to persuade and encourage them to attend our activities.
Relations with the Sector Can Go Further
MSI TDR: How do you consider the relations between TAF, the Ministry of National Defence (MND) of Turkey and the Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB) with AMAC?
Brigadier General BACCOUCHE: AMAC’s relations with TAF, the MND and the SSB are already at a high level, but there is room for improvement. For example, last year, during the operations carried out by TAF at different times, two separate briefings were given by the Turkish General Staff following the many attempts we made through the TAF FALO (Foreign Attaché Liaison Office). This was very important for us. In addition, TAF saw how satisfied the military attachés were to receive this information from the primary source. It is possible to garner information from newspapers, magazines and the Internet, but it was very important for us to receive the official information we, as AMAC, needed at that time. The fact that approximately 95 percent of our AMAC members, excluding those who were abroad for business trips, participated at these briefings, showed the importance attributed to the issue. We hope that this dissemination of information by the official authorities will continue and increase in the future.
We also attach great importance to the fact that the 2020 TAF programme announced by FALO is more comprehensive and diverse than before.
MSI TDR: What can you say about relations between Turkish defence and aerospace companies and AMAC? How can those relations be further improved?
Brigadier General BACCOUCHE: First of all, we see that the Turkish defence and aerospace sector has made significant investments, has improved and has developed significant products. We can say that relations between AMAC and the Turkish defence and aerospace sector are already good. That said, I would like to see an increase in the number of trips to defence sector companies, which are currently organised once a year by the SSB and FALO. Even though some defence companies are not based in Ankara, we can still visit them upon request. For example, when the BMC company officials we worked with in Tunisia visited me at my office, they said “We would like to host AMAC members at our facilities in Izmir”, I told them that if such an organisation is made and all AMAC members are invited to Izmir for a day-trip or for a trip with one night accommodation, we would be pleased to take them up on their offer.
That said, I think that defence companies should not aim to build relationships with AMAC members with the sole purpose of marketing. We are already being invited to and participating in the many defence and security fairs within the country. However, as in other countries, events like seminars and conferences can be organised with the support of sponsor companies to bring together Turkey’s most prominent names in the field of defence with politicians, commanders and our members. This may serve as an opportunity both for the promotion of companies and products, and for discussing Turkey-centric security issues with relevant people. Such events may also serve to describe not only the defence products, but also the defence strategy of the country.
Relationships can continue only if they are sustainable. Adopting this perspective at AMAC, we opened such events as the AMAC Winter and Autumn Conferences, the AMAC Picnic, the AMAC FunRun and the AMAC Ball to the participation of Turkish defence and aerospace companies. This is a win-win project. Companies can socialise with AMAC members, can increase their mutual trust and can enhance their relations, while at the same time promoting their companies and products. On the other hand, AMAC can contribute to such activities out of the small sponsorships provided by companies, which have been contributing to the publication of AMAC Magazine as well as its delivery to AMAC members and the Turkish defence sector since 2015.
For this reason, we call on Turkish defence sector companies to spend time with us, to introduce themselves to us and promote their products. The long-term defence relations of countries cannot be sustained without mutual trust, and we should be more involved in activities that give us the chance to get to know each other better.
MSI TDR: As the Defence Attaché of Tunisia to Turkey, what would you like to say about relations between our two countries?
Brigadier General BACCOUCHE: Relations between Turkey and Tunisia are deeper than they appear, considering the 600 years of history between the two countries, our roots and our blood ties. The Ottoman Empire had a long presence in Tunisia, and when we look at the recent diplomatic histories of our countries, we see that our first military attaché was assigned to Turkey in 1979. To date, we have signed a total of 23 military agreements in many fields with the Turkish Land Forces, Turkish Naval Forces and Turkish Air Force Commands in such areas as military health, military training and military cartography. No less recently than last year, some 100 Tunisian officers came to Turkey to participate in military programmes. Likewise, Turkish soldiers are participating in exercises in Tunisia, and we had Turkish officers followed the Tunisian war college program. I can safely say that during my term in office, we have been very busy coordinating the joint military program for the year 2019 and we already start the 2020 one
Since the Tunisian Revolution in 2012, the SSB has been providing significant support to the Tunisian defence sector, and since then, Tunisia has become one of the most important customers of the Turkish defence sector. Since 2012, a military commission has been convening every year, one year in Turkey and the next year in Tunisia, to address issues relating to the defence sector and military cooperation.
From 2015, Turkey started to provide some military aid to Tunisia financing some acquisitions from Turkish defence companies. The first agreement was dedicated to purchase around 7400 ballistic helmet and was signed last September and we are looking to continue to fulfil the orders. Companies like MKEK, BMC and Nurol Makina meet the needs of the Tunisian Armed Forces, and these companies have now opened offices in Tunisia.
In addition, many significant Turkish defence and aerospace companies such as ASELSAN, BMC and Turkish Aerospace will take part in the IADE International Aerospace & Defence Exhibition to be held for the first time from 2–6 April on the Island of Djerba in Tunisia, and prominent delegations from the MND and SSB are planning to participate at the event.
MSI TDR: Since 2015, AMAC Magazine has been published with the great support of AMAC. What would you like to say about AMAC Magazine?
Brigadier General BACCOUCHE: AMAC Magazine, published by you, the MSI TDR team, as the official publication of foreign military attachés in Turkey, is, for us, one of Turkey’s most important magazines in the field of defence. It has a dynamic structure, and the featured news and articles are readable again and again. In particular, the narration and photos of our activities ensure that they can be kept by AMAC members throughout their lives. The reason we publish it quarterly is to maintain its importance as a prestige magazine rather than as a commercial publication.
MSI TDR: Likewise, can we hear from you about MSI TDR?
Brigadier General BACCOUCHE: MSI TDR is a magazine dedicated to the Turkish defence sector. As soon as I receive it, I send it to Tunisia for the consideration of the unit responsible for our defence sector in the Ministry of National Defence. They examine it and take action accordingly. When they need additional information, I get involved to help them.
MSI TDR: Is there any other issue you would like to mention?
Brigadier General BACCOUCHE: As a final message, I hope Turkey will act more openly to the world although it is currently dealing with many regional problems, I hope Turkey, as a strong country, will rid itself of its problems soon and take its existing relations with friendly countries like ours to the next level.
On behalf of our readers, we would like to thank Brigadier General Tarek Baccouche, Defence Attaché of Tunisia and Dean of AMAC, for taking the time to answer our questions and for providing us with such valuable information.