Does Turkey Really Belong to NATO?
Andrei AKULOV | 05.12.2015 | FEATURED STORY

Does Turkey Really Belong to NATO?

The tensions between Moscow and Ankara are on the rise as a result of downing the Russian Su-24 warplane by Turkish F-16 fighter – an outright provocation pursuing Turkey’s long-term foreign policy goals.   So far, Russia has shown restraint and has avoided escalation by not retaliating militarily. However, the tension has not been diffused. By taking down the Russian aircraft Turkey dragged itself and, potentially, NATO into a very dangerous territory.

Ever since Turkey joined NATO in February 1952, it has been a kind of black sheep in the family. The examples are plentiful. For instance, the Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974 caused a rift in the alliance. As a result, Greece withdrew its forces from NATO's command structure until 1980. 

The war with the Kurdish nationalists in Anatolia was prosecuted rather brutally, and Turkey has never come close to West European standards of individual liberties or transparent government.

As Prime Minister and then President Erdogan reinterpreted foreign policy as being a protector of Islam and the Arabs and railing vituperatively at Israel, sponsoring violations of the arms ban on Gaza, and threatening the right of Greece and Cyprus to extract offshore oil and natural gas.

In the Iraq War of 2003, Turkey at first said the Americans and their allies could attack Iraq from eastern Turkey but then reneged; there was no thought of Turkey’s joining the attack, only permitting that it be launched from Turkey. In the recent disintegration of Iraq, Turkey, which has 17 million Kurds in its population of 80 million, has refused to be even slightly helpful to the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds; it watched idly as fighting unfolded in the Syrian Kurdish town of Khobani, located near its border, coming under intense attack by the Islamic State for several weeks. 

Turkey, in its opposition to the Assad’s government in Syria, has effectively supported the Islamic State (IS or ISIS – the Islamic State in Syria), tolerating the dispatch of some supplies to it and denying for some time the United States and its allies the right to use Turkish air bases as launching points for air strikes on it. As a result, the strikes had been launched until recently from aircraft carriers causing a serious inconvenience. The US started to deliver manned air strikes only this August.  

In 2012, Syria shot down a Turkish fighter jet after it deliberately strayed into Syrian airspace.  Later that same year, Turkey fired artillery at government targets in Syria as a response to claimed Syrian artillery hits in Turkey. Some say the Turkey's objective is to simply leverage its NATO membership to achieve its own political goals – which generally do not coincide with NATO's interests. Its devotion to Islamism since the early 2000s raises serious questions as the Islamists have always been a civilizational threat to the West.  Unlike most Muslim countries in the region, Turkey used to be a secular state. Unfortunately for the Turks, and the geopolitical balance, this quickly changed once Erdogan’s Sunni Islamist party took power. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates and Turkey became staunch allies to promote, including by force, a Sunni agenda in the region. 

Turkey opened wide the flow of some of his 2.2 million Syrian refugees to the European Union. The elusive forces of IS, and their European networks of criminal associates, losing ground in Syria decided to expand their war zone into Europe and threaten NATO members. By orchestrating the Paris attacks, the terrorists challenged the alliance demonstrating the capacity to strike any target, anywhere at any time. The tragedy was a wake-up call for France, a leading NATO member. An agreement with Russia and France was quickly reached to establish a military cooperation in Syria. The incident is a culmination of that tug-of-war and Turkey’s desire to help its clients in Syria. For Turkey, putting pressure on Russian air operations in Syria was a way to reassure the rebel groups under its aegis to keep fighting the Assad regime. The Turkey’s action is a rather serious challenge for NATO as Turkey's position in the military field as a member of the North Atlantic Alliance must comply with the strategy of NATO, as well as the Alliance shall be responsible for the actions of one of its members.

An emergency NATO summit supported Ankara's accusations against Moscow, however called Moscow and Ankara to «diplomacy» and «de-escalation».

Such a cautious statement indicated that the members of the alliance are aware of the danger of a military confrontation with Russia; there is no common understanding of the situation. There seems to be a crack inside the alliance that Turkey is responsible for. A national foreign policy must also be a regional foreign policy. A mere alliance with the West will be sufficient for its national and regional goals. Turkey is bound to tread a fine line between belonging to the Western bloc and its immediate environment.

«Turkey is trying to convert its conflict with Russia into the NATO-Russia conflict, but I think that the alliance understands this and will not yield», said Amin Shalabi, the head of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFA). 

According to Shalabi, the incident looks more like a provocative move staged by the Turkish side. The incident coincided with the time when the international community had reached compromise on the coordination of anti-IS fight in both Syria and Iraq.

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark responded to the downing shoot down of a Russian fighter jet by pointing out that Turkey is supporting ISIS.

Appearing on CNN, Clark asserted that there was a «larger context» to the incident, pointing out that ISIS is a Sunni terrorist organization and therefore targets Shia nations.

«That means it’s serving the interests of Turkey and Saudi Arabia even as it poses a threat to them because neither Turkey or Saudi Arabia want an Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon bridge that isolates Turkey and cuts Saudi Arabia off», said Clark.

Asked whether he agreed with Vladimir Putin that Turkey was aiding ISIS, Clark responded, «All along there’s always been the idea that Turkey was supporting ISIS in some way», before going on to accuse Ankara of funneling ISIS terrorists through Turkey and buying ISIS’ stolen oil in the black market.

«Someone’s buying that oil that ISIS is selling, it’s going through somewhere, it looks to me like it’s probably going through Turkey», said Clark, before also going on to accuse Putin of supporting terrorists through his allegiance with Bashar Al-Assad.

«There’s no good guy in this, this is a power struggle for the future of the Middle East», concluded Clark.

Turkey pursues its own interests in the Syrian conflict and it is not cooperating with NATO or other forces in the region, a retired US Army Major General Paul Vallely said in an interview with RT.

The downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber by the Turkish air force will hardly be the last act of provocation by Ankara, so NATO should kick Turkey out of the alliance, Vallely added

He believes that the attack on the Russian aircraft had nothing to do with protecting national borders. It was aimed at demonstrating to Russia that Turkey is the dominant power in the region and that it’s not going to give ground.

Some sources report  that  Ankara may well be the jihadists’ fifth column in NATO. Turkey itself is reportedly a major buyer of the cheap black market oil.

The income from ISIS’s oil sales through the black market, as much as $30 million a month, helps finance ISIS’s expansion, making Turkey one of ISIS’s key bankrollers and enablers.

The Erdogan’s regime has not appeared to have discouraged ISIS recruitment within its borders or the flow of recruits from Turkey, and the flow of recruits from other countries traveling through Turkey, who are joining ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria. Tellingly, Turkey refused to sign the recent Jeddah Communique, which was endorsed by the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and the United States, stating that they will «stand united» on the threat posed by Islamic State and that they would all «do their share» in the fight. 

Unlike Turkey, none of the Arab nations who signed the declaration are NATO members.

According to Hoover Institute’s report, «…the new ostensible mission of NATO involves a deep distrust of Islamism and its many anti-Western agendas – from a would-be nuclear Iran to ISIS and al Qaeda.

«Every member but Turkey would agree, Turkey is not just aberrant in this regard, but increasingly antithetical to the entire democratic and liberal pretenses of NATO itself», the report states. 

* * *

The provocations staged by Turkey lead the alliance in the wrong direction. This is a dangerous path. All the above mentioned arguments lead to the question if Turkey really belongs to the North Atlantic Alliance. 

Tags: NATO  ISIS   Middle East  Russia  Syria  Turkey  US