NATO Summit: Turkey as a litmus test for a collapsing alliance

NATO Summit: Turkey as a litmus test for a collapsing alliance

NATO’s anniversary summit recently came to a close in London, where 29 NATO members summed up the results of the alliance summit held in London on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the military bloc.

This time, the role of “bad guys” was played not by US President Donald Trump, but by the leaders of France and Turkey – Emmanuel Macron and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On the eve of the summit, Macron had stated that NATO was “brain dead” and criticized the alliance’s unwillingness to solve problems, its excessive interest in Russia and its demand for solidarity with Turkey. In turn, Erdogan criticized Macron and set an ultimatum regarding NATO’s plans in the Baltic States and Poland, saying they would not sign on unless Ankara gets support in Syria.

These statements set the tone for the entire summit, which was full of contradictions and internal conflicts from start to finish.

Key statements and trends

– According to the final declaration, all NATO members will remain committed to the integrity of the Alliance.

– Questions remain about defense spending, especially on the part of European allies (in 2020, defense spending will increase by $130 billion, and in 2024 – by $400 billion compared to 2016). Donald Trump warned that countries that have not met the target for defense spending (2% of GDP) could face trade problems.

– Commitment to the war on terrorism (the fight against ISIS, and common work and training in Iraq and Afghanistan)

– Russia (commitment to deterrence and defense – The document stresses that Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security).

– S-400 (will not be integrated into NATO systems).

– Turkey (YPG question was not resolved).

– Baltics (defense plan has been adopted).

– Rise of China (Stoltenberg said that the alliance members agreed to pursue a joint policy towards China. He also said that NATO would make efforts to involve Beijing in arms control negotiations).

Turkish question

NATO members were most worried about the Turkish question. On the one hand, Trump was friendly and praised Turkey for its contribution to the anti-terrorist struggle.

Trump met with Erdoğan on the margins of the summit and discussed regional security issues, energy security and further strengthening trade ties by increasing bilateral trade by $100 billion.

Nevertheless, Turkey is increasingly the focus of attention on NATO and the EU. In recent years, there have been many contradictions:

– Increased anti-American sentiment following the attempted coup d’état of Fethullah Gulen on 15 July 2016, which resulted in the death of 251 people.

– Contradictions on geopolitical issues (in particular, on the Kurdish issue).

– Funding issues (in particular, from the EU on refugee issues).

Turkey is leaning towards a multipolar path, trying to strengthen itself militarily, economically and politically. In this sense, Turkey’s logic is leading it to strengthen ties with alternative and more natural allies: Russia, China and Iran. In the course of Turkey’s gaining independence and strength, conflicts with the North Atlantic Alliance have inevitably occured. For example, Ankara has blocked NATO’s plan to counter the “potential Russian threat” in Eastern Europe. Before signing the plan, Turkey set its own conditions – ensuring the security of Turkish borders and the recognition of all 29 members of NATO YPG as a terrorist organization.

The question of the expediency of Turkey’s membership in NATO.

The North Atlantic Alliance, which was adapted after the end of the Cold War to respond to regional crises and asymmetric threats in the context of globalization, was not prepared to be destroyed by one of the participants – in this case, Turkey.

Ankara criticizes NATO allies for not recognizing Turkey’s contribution and efforts on important global issues, including the fight against ISIS, the refugee crisis and much more. Turkey also insists on cooperating to extradite fugitives from the FETÖ (the Gulen organization), who played a key role in the coup attempt.

Turkey has gotten no support for the extradition of the FETÖ fugitives, who played a key role in the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, which resulted in 251 deaths. There was also a total misunderstanding between Ankara and NATO leaders about the enemy – for Turkey, the terrorist organization is YPG, for other NATO countries (especially the US) the YPG became an ally in the fight against ISIS.

Why is Turkey important to NATO?

Since joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952, Turkey has made some of the most important contributions to the alliance. Turkey is one of NATO’s top five leading allies. The country is important geopolitically, strategically and economically.

At the same time, Turkey is on the front line of the fight against terrorism, one of the main global threats facing the world today. It also plays a significant role for NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq. Turkey also provides the Izmir base for NATO operations. Turkey plays a leading role in the development of relations between NATO and its partners, especially in the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East. Turkey contributes to NATO’s Maritime Guard Operation in the Mediterranean and also provides ongoing naval assistance to NATO’s Aegean missions.

But most importantly, the US is important to keep Turkey from getting closer to Russia, China, Iran and other “enemy” countries for NATO.

Possible scenarios for Turkey

There are several options available for overcoming the current crisis.

1) Make concessions to Turkey, in particular, to recognize YPG Syrian Kurds as terrorists. This will result in criticism of US President Donald Trump, who is accused of “betraying the interests of the Kurds”. For Trump, this will be an inconvenient moment in the run-up to the 2020 elections. On the other hand, Trump immediately demonstrated that he pursues a different policy than the Democrats, and that in the geopolitical game, he proceeds from pragmatic considerations, focusing on the ultimate benefit for Americans, rather than on globalist hegemonic claims. The Kurdish support project was precisely a liberal-globalist scenario that complicated the situation in the region and provoked powerful separatist sentiments in a number of states.

2) A possible solution to this controversy would be to broaden the scope and frequency of Article 4 consultations, which allows NATO members to exchange views on any developments that could affect transatlantic security. That is, dragging on difficult issues.

3) Another option would be enacting Turkey’s exclusion from NATO, as already proposed by American Senator Lindsay Graham, Congressman Eliot Engel and Canadian politicians. The reason may be the accusation of disagreement with the common “democratic values” of the bloc, which do not share common democratic values. If Turkey withdraws from NATO, the alliance will be severely weakened.

Some Western officials already call Turkey an unreliable ally. Others say the Turks are unwelcome partners, calling for the country’s exclusion from the organization. They argue that Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia, the purchase of the S-400 system and the incursion into northern Syria, as well as the escalation of tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, require this approach.

According to sources, the Erdogan administration in Turkey has already launched a project to exit from NATO. At present, Turkey’s contradictions with NATO are rising: the question of S-400, the growing restrictions on the use of the military base Incirlik by the Americans. Americans are dissatisfied with Erdoğan’s excessively independent course and are working on the option of withdrawing their nuclear weapons from Turkey.

However, the structural problem is that the NATO charter does not have a clear algorithm for withdrawing from the alliance of member states. One may recall, for instance, the example of 1966, when Charles de Gaulle initiated France’s withdrawal from NATO and proposed a model of equal decision-making on key issues of the use of nuclear weapons (trilateral administration of the United States, France and the United Kingdom), but the United States refused to do so. In February 1966, France withdrew from NATO, but remained a member of the alliance’s political (non-military) structure. France rejoined the alliance in 2009.

4) Possible measures that NATO’s leadership can take now to “punish” Turkey include denial of access to NATO’s military technologies and weapons, imposition of unilateral economic sanctions, and denial of Turkey’s voice in the North Atlantic Council. If Turkey is isolated from NATO, Erdoğan will be interested in leaving the organization. In this case, the development of a plan for the country’s exit from NATO will be accelerated.

Crisis and prospects for NATO

Macron’s statement regarding NATO’s ‘brain death’ is justified. Inconsistencies between NATO member states could paralyze one of the most powerful politico-military blocs in the world.

The traditional meaning of NATO’s existence has been territorial defence. The Alliance has used its conventional and nuclear capabilities to deter attacks on its members’ territories, and territorial defense has been the traditional meaning of NATO’s existence. But at the end of the Cold War, NATO faced an identity crisis. The existential danger of a total war between the Warsaw Pact and the NATO Alliance disappeared.

NATO has developed a more holistic view of its national security and has become more ambitious, going beyond the scope of some of its activities since 2010, particularly in Afghanistan and Libya. Bolder plans to move eastwards (closer to Russia’s borders) were prepared for the Baltic States and Eastern Europe, and separately for the Southern flank countries (with a focus on Turkey).

However, since 2016, NATO has found it more difficult to meet the various national priorities of its members, including the leading member of NATO, the United States. Trump’s mocking rhetoric about NATO has begun to raise questions about Washington’s commitment to the security of its European allies, and Euro-Atlantic security is hiding in a vague perspective because of Turkey’s position and criticism of individual leaders.

It is important to remember that the current crisis is neither French nor Turkish in origin.  NATO’s problems have deeper roots than the recent US-Turkish quarrel over Syria or Macron’s harsh words. Both Macron and Erdogan are actually preparing a response to the serious damage they have already done. Macron, even if he has no political weight, tries to present the US as an ally who has turned his back on the members of the alliance, and for the first time speaks out loud about what many Western leaders have been saying for a long time: it is becoming unprofitable for Europe to become a member of the alliance.

In turn, Erdogan plays from a position of strength and demands respect from bloc members. The format of direct agreements with Trump (for example, on the Syrian issue) is also more convenient and acceptable for him than through all NATO members. This creates additional tension.

But most importantly, NATO no longer believes in the all-powerfulness and unity of the alliance’s goals. Diplomatic and military initiatives are too expensive for many participants, and when their geopolitical or economic interests are not taken into account, the question of the need for existence is increasingly on the agenda…

United World International

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March 2023