Turkey’s Disaster with the West: How a New Low in Relations Dangers Paralyzing NATO


NATO’s most necessary problem as we speak might not come from Russia, however from inside. With the variety of disputes between Turkey and a number of other European allies but once more on the rise, the 2 events’ souring relations have begun undermining the group’s cohesion and skill to make well timed collective choices. If left unaddressed, these tensions may trigger critical injury to the world’s strongest alliance.

The newest flashpoint got here from Turkey’s open backing of Azerbaijan’s struggle effort within the small landlocked enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which ended abruptly in early November due to a Russian-brokered deal. Studies of navy help and alleged Syrian mercenaries despatched by Turkey positioned Ankara at loggerheads with its NATO allies’ calls for a peaceable, negotiated decision to the battle. The deal, which foresees Baku reacquiring sizeable parts of the disputed enclave, has made Turkey one of many apparent winners of the current flare-up, whereas its Western allies stay on the sidelines. For some, this could possibly be the straw that breaks the camel’s again, including to a protracted checklist of complaints they’ve lately leveled towards their NATO ally.



Final month, Greece and Turkey got here dangerously near a head-on naval confrontation in disputed Jap Mediterranean waters over Turkey’s fuel exploration actions close to the Greek island of Kastellorizo, just some hundred meters away from the Turkish coast. Although Turkey later withdrew its ship, tensions between the 2 NATO allies spiked once more following Turkey’s announcement that it might ship the ship again for a 10-day seismic analysis mission within the space, renewing Greek requires sanctions. What makes this a very explosive scenario, after all, is the 2 Jap Mediterranean powers’ lingering dispute over the post-1974 division of Cyprus and the invention of vitality sources within the space.

An analogous confrontational encounter occurred in June when France and Turkey practically got here to blows after a French warship, the Courbet, tried to examine a Turkish vessel for allegedly breaching a U.N. arms embargo on Libya — a declare Ankara fiercely denies. Supporting completely different sides within the Libyan Civil Conflict, the 2 allies have been engaged in a confrontation over one another’s provocative deeds within the Libyan, Syrian and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts, in addition to over Turkey’s territorial claims within the Mediterranean. The newest spat adopted President Emmanuel Macron’s protection of a cartoonist’s proper to caricature non secular figures within the wake of a trainer’s beheading, to which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded by calling for a boycott of French merchandise.

Inside NATO, the escalation in tensions and rising entanglement of the 2 camps’ now quite a few disputes displays European allies’ mounting frustration over what they understand as Turkey’s self-serving and aggressive regional posturing, and its unwillingness to seek the advice of allies earlier than performing. A NATO member since 1952, Turkey has all the time occupied a considerably distinctive position within the alliance. Its dimension, navy sources, and key place on the doorstep of Asia — in different phrases, as NATO’s southern flank — give it necessary strategic relevance throughout the context of renewed curiosity within the Center East. Although relations have usually been fragile, particularly because the 2016 coup try, the present rift marks a brand new low within the current historical past of the alliance, with doubtlessly damaging penalties. Given this backdrop, NATO ought to reap the benefits of its personal sources to attempt to deal with its members’ deteriorating relations, and work to reconcile their diverging safety pursuits. This can be a lot simpler stated than performed, however it might be the one possibility to stop a extra elementary rupture within the relationship.

Divided We Stand

As tensions develop, a key danger for NATO pertains to the disaster’ potential to hamper its cohesion and skill to behave decisively, because the alliance depends on the precept of consensus to efficiently function. Each main NATO determination embodies the collective will of all allies and outcomes, due to this fact, from a fancy however fragile strategy of negotiation whereby nations are invited to compromise on issues of mutual curiosity. The inevitable downside to that is that each ally possesses a de facto proper to veto any NATO concern if its calls for usually are not met, which they might be incentivized to make use of as leverage to pursue nationwide pursuits. The identical could be stated of the European Union, which operates on unanimity and the place Cyprus lately made headlines for blocking sanctions on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, insisting on the imposition of E.U. measures on Turkey for its vitality exploration in Mediterranean waters. The European Union was criticized for failing to agree on well timed sanctions.

Not like the European Union, NATO consultations are held behind closed doorways, and disagreements largely keep away from public scrutiny. In precept, nevertheless, any nation’s objections may stall key alliance coverage or enterprise. Final yr, leaks revealed that Turkey had threatened on the eve of a NATO summit to dam a key protection plan to guard the Baltic states and Poland towards Russian aggression until NATO backed its personal recognition of the Kurdish Folks’s Safety Items militia as terrorists. Likewise, for years, Turkey had vetoed NATO cooperation with impartial Austria beneath its partnership program in response to Vienna’s requires the European Union to halt membership talks with Ankara. Although in each circumstances offers have been finally reached to interrupt the impasse, and although such negotiation ways usually are not unusual, these incidents spotlight a mounting local weather of uncooperativeness and unwillingness to compromise between allies, making interplay more and more tough.

As Ankara grows extra defiant, NATO members are certainly discovering it tough to reign of their southeastern ally. With the 2011 Arab Spring and its aftermath, the fast deterioration of Turkey’s regional and home safety environments has coincided with a rising notion that its Western allies usually are not giving sufficient credence to its core safety pursuits. The stalled European Union membership mission, along with America’s disengagement from the Center East, help for the Kurdish Folks’s Safety Items militia, and chronic refusal to extradite cleric Fethullah Gülen, the presumed mastermind of the failed 2016 coup try, have all contributed to strengthening the conviction that Turkish safety pursuits are possible finest served by autonomous motion — and never by counting on a suspicious and divided West. This impression is bolstered by Europe’s vocal criticism of Erdoğan’s focus of government energy, and by the nation’s worsening financial and social woes.

General, these components have eroded NATO’s credibility and affect over Ankara, simply because the latter has develop into extra aware of its personal appreciable leverage over Europe resulting from its key position in Syria, which NATO sees because the protection of its southern frontier, and in easing the strain to accommodate giant arrivals of refugees on European shores. The previous is linked to Turkey’s vetoing of NATO’s protection plan for Poland and the Baltics, which aimed toward compelling NATO to offer larger help in Turkey’s protection of the alliance’s southern flank — one thing Ankara has demanded for years. Likewise, Turkey’s dealing with of its 4 million-strong refugee inhabitants, the biggest on the planet, has contributed to Ankara’s affect over Brussels by its instrumentalization of fears that it might “open the gates” to Europe for migrants and refugees, which Erdoğan introduced earlier this yr in violation of a 2016 E.U.-Turkish settlement. Given its shrewd sense that the tables have turned, Ankara has misplaced many incentives to cooperate. In fact, one key danger is that Turkey’s daring technique backfires and results in a contemporary spherical of retaliatory measures comparable to collective sanctions or cutbacks in E.U. funds, with damaging results on Turkey’s weakening economic system.

For NATO, one other conceivable consequence lays within the reinforcement of requires larger European “strategic autonomy” within the realms of protection and safety, with doubtlessly dangerous repercussions on the way forward for the transatlantic neighborhood. In opposition to a backdrop of deteriorating Euro-Atlantic relations, a number of leaders have begun to publicly query the relevance and effectiveness of NATO as a company. A staunch advocate of the “strategic autonomy” idea, Macron reacted to the conflict with Turkey over the arms embargo on Libya by reiterating his assertion that NATO was “mind useless” for being unable to mood Turkish adventurism. In a current interview, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian echoed these remarks by placing at stake NATO’s credibility over the group’s seeming incapacity to affect its member’s involvement within the Caucasus. Have been NATO to develop into more and more paralyzed by souring inner relations, doubts in regards to the effectiveness and reliability of the group may additional incentivize E.U. nations into performing past the NATO framework. Regrettably, this might lead to accelerating E.U. states’ ostracizing of Ankara, whereas persuading some allies into in search of further bilateral preparations as extra dependable types of safety ensures.

E.U.-Turkish tensions have additionally delivered to the fore Ankara’s ambiguous ties to Moscow. Although relations hit all-time low over the downing of a Russian Su-24M fighter jet in 2015, the 2 nations have since rebuilt in depth political and financial ties, culminating with high-profile endeavors such because the TurkStream pipeline and Ankara’s 2017 buy of a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile protection system. The strikes drew stern condemnation from Washington and different NATO allies, with some going so far as to label them as indicators of a Turkish pivot to the East. What made this rapprochement all of the extra alarming have been the 2 nations’ ostensible affinities over their extremely centralized, authoritarian-leaning political programs, which run counter to the core values of the alliance. The principle worry is that these newfound affinities introduce vulnerabilities throughout the alliance by bilateral ties that Moscow can exploit to drive Turkey additional away from the West, and sow division to weaken NATO’s capacity to behave.

Finally, nevertheless, fears of a Turkish realignment with Russia are possible overblown. Moscow and Ankara’s relations have traditionally been fraught, and the current rapprochement stems extra from opportunism and coinciding pursuits than a serious reorientation in Turkish international coverage on the expense of its conventional alliances. In actual fact, Turkey’s forceful posturing is making it steadily extra at odds with Russia in battle environments the place each function, together with Nagorno-Karabakh, Syria, and Libya. Its rising involvement within the Caucasus, as an illustration, has introduced it dangerously near armed confrontation with NATO’s major contestant, Russia, which helps Armenia beneath the Collective Safety Treaty Group framework. This was highlighted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s underscoring of Russia’s “obligations to Armenia.” Although the violence ended there, Turkey’s proxy saber-rattling contributes to extend dangers of accident or miscalculation resulting in armed confrontation with Russia — one thing all events are desirous to keep away from. With antagonistic safety pursuits at stake, Turkey and Russia are in the end extra more likely to stability towards reasonably than align with one another, although a number of NATO allies proceed to treat Ankara’s ties to Moscow with a deep-seated sense of suspicion.

A Constructive Function for NATO

As Turkey and the European Union ramp up their rhetorical joust, it’s maybe no shock that NATO is healthier positioned to behave as a discussion board for the de-escalation of the disaster. It’s certainly Turkey’s membership to NATO, and the every day staff-to-staff contacts which it generates, that makes the alliance in a position to work as a platform the place their diplomats can negotiate, alternate info, and deal with problems with frequent strategic curiosity with European counterparts, thus serving to to undermine the “us-versus-them” mentality which at instances prevails throughout E.U. establishments. Because the latter hardens its rhetoric, NATO can generate the much-needed security valve the place diplomatic efforts have an opportunity of succeeding.

To this finish, the alliance ought to capitalize on the consultative operate of its establishments to permit for events to sit down collectively, categorical their views and considerations on nationwide and collective safety issues, and enhance mechanisms to succeed in a consensus on the means to handle any perceived challenges. Consultations have certainly all the time been on the core of the alliance, and stay necessary vectors for addressing intermember disagreements. The current announcement by NATO Secretary Basic Jens Stoltenberg {that a} navy de-confliction mechanism could be established between Greece and Turkey is however one instance of the productive outcomes that such diplomatic efforts can yield, and an encouraging signal that the 2 sides usually are not prepared to see their relations deteriorate additional. But a restricted association between Greece and Turkey can be unlikely to handle the deep-seated causes of the political turmoil between Ankara and European allies, and NATO ought to discover new and improved methods to behave as a discussion board to debate, and to behave, the place obligatory, on points affecting the safety pursuits of its member states. That is key if the group needs to stay versatile and related within the more and more contested and fast-paced safety setting of as we speak.

Furthermore, however the important thing significance of consultations, NATO ought to discover methods to show speak into motion. The alliance ought to transfer past hole statements of help or condemnation, and take into account find out how to extra proactively interact with crises occurring on its periphery. This could assist assuage the rising considerations of Turkey and others that it fails to do sufficient to defend its members’ pursuits, whereas reaffirming the necessary strategic advantages that membership to the group — “essentially the most profitable alliance in historical past” — can yield. In fact, this is able to require allies to reconcile their typically conflicting safety pursuits and comply with a unified stance on Libya, Syria, the Caucasus, and elsewhere, one thing which at current appears maybe unlikely.

Have been relations between Turkey and the West to break down, NATO allies may in the end take into account calling for extraordinary consultations beneath Article four of the Washington Treaty. Whereas the latter has historically been linked to extra typical menace perceptions beneath collective protection commitments, Article four may formally deliver the continuing E.U.-Turkish disaster to the eye of the North Atlantic Council, given its potential to threaten the solidarity, cohesion, and effectiveness of the alliance as a complete. Turkey, the truth is, has a protracted file of calls for for Article four consultations over fears of spillover from Syria, which have led to some demonstrations of NATO help. Although this is able to be a transfer of nice political significance, its symbolic worth would undoubtedly function a strong catalyst for allies to type out their disagreements, whereas sending a transparent ultimatum for extra recalcitrant nations to vary path. Finally, each events ought to admire that neither advantages from a complete breakdown in relations.

At current, for diplomatic efforts to succeed, the 2 sides ought to acknowledge that participating in bombastic statements and provocative measures, together with sanctions, would solely serve to additional polarize each camps and reinforce Turkey’s conviction that its European allies are teaming up towards it. One consequence from this is able to be the affirmation and reinforcement of Ankara’s self-perception of being beneath siege, with extra causes to hunt companions to the East or undermine NATO from inside. E.U. nations, as a substitute, ought to sign their willingness to compromise and provides Ankara a way that its grievances and safety pursuits are heard. In fact, concessions must go each methods, and Turkey ought to be prepared to sacrifice a few of its personal international coverage goals to enhance relations, together with its help for international proxies and different actions that deliver NATO nearer to confrontation with Russia. Most significantly, Turkey ought to keep away from placing gasoline on the fireplace in Jap Mediterranean waters by preserving its analysis vessel, the Oruç Reis, ashore. This is likely one of the best compromises Ankara could make. A part of E.U. states’ grievances can be the conviction that Turkey ought to do extra to seek the advice of allies and present transparency within the expression of its international coverage objectives and intentions, as a substitute of resorting to unilateral motion.

Trying Forward

Two further components will play a decisive position on this course of. One shall be NATO’s and the European Union’s capacity to coordinate their respective methods. On this space, larger convergence is warranted, for the provocative measures of 1 would solely serve to undermine the opposite’s efforts towards conciliation. The upcoming European Council assembly in December 2020, which is able to deal with the bloc’s exterior relations with Turkey, shall be a litmus take a look at of how the European Union needs to deal with the query and a sign of whether or not its members can comply with a unified stance, particularly on sanctions. This provides Turkey restricted time to show it’s each prepared and in a position to compromise.

Lastly, when Greece and Turkey have been on the cusp of struggle over Cyprus in 1974, a decisive issue that prevented hostilities from occurring was the flexibility of america to lean in and pressure the contenders into making concessions to keep away from direct confrontation. Whereas america of President Donald Trump has remained largely silent over the continuing disaster, Washington’s willingness to leverage its affect on each side could be an necessary issue, as earlier than, in making certain their rising rift doesn’t trigger irreparable injury to NATO. Trump’s seemingly sturdy private rapport and populist affinities with Erdoğan has made this unlikely, however a brand new U.S. administration beneath Joe Biden will possible permit for a extra proactive method in rebuilding the strained relationships between the members of the alliance beneath renewed U.S. world management, and a more durable stance on Turkey.



Antoine Bought is predicated in Europe and works on safety and protection points. The views expressed on this article are his personal, and don’t mirror the views or positions of any group with which he’s affiliated.

Picture: U.S. Navy (Photograph by Mass Communication Spc. third Class Robert S. Worth)

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