Today’s Zaman – December 16, 2015 – Turkey and NATO rediscover each other

A recent incident helped Turkey and NATO rediscover each other. Turkey rediscovered the importance of remaining close to the Euro-Atlantic community while NATO rediscovered the importance of cooperating with Turkey to overcome the problems that it faces in the Middle East. This incident is the straining of relations between Turkey and Russia.
Turkish-Russian relations were severely strained when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter because it had violated Turkish airspace for 17 seconds. Russia has already taken a set of retaliatory economic measures. Another set of measures is on the repositioning of Russia in the Middle East. NATO is more concerned because of this second set of measures.
Russia did not miss the opportunity created by the downing of the fighter to step up its military presence in Syria and deploy more fighters equipped with sophisticated weapons. It is using the advantage of being invited to Syria by the “legitimate authorities” of the country. Now it is restoring a new airport near Homs. It will be used to strike those opposition fighters who threaten Damascus and its environs.
The Syrian government has issued a new warning that any air activity in Syrian airspace that is not coordinated with the Syrian authorities will be regarded as a legitimate target. We can view this as being they will be regarded as a target by Russia and Iran.
NATO has immediately noticed the threat posed to its southern flank by the increased Russian presence. It held an emergency meeting to discuss the incident. NATO member countries demonstrated stronger solidarity than expected with Turkey. Many NATO countries sent either their ships or fighter jets to Turkey, theoretically to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but in reality to demonstrate to Russia that NATO is present in the Middle East.
We do not know whether NATO solidarity can be maintained if the escalation between Turkey and Russia continues. Some NATO countries may not wish to be dragged into a conflict for a cause that is alien to them. One of the strengths of NATO is that its force has never been tested.
On Dec. 5, another incident took place in the town of Ba’ashiqah, 32 kilometers northeast of Mosul, Iraq. Turkey deployed a military unit of the size of an armored battalion. They were training peshmerga fighters, the military forces of the autonomous region of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The central authorities of Iraq in Baghdad summoned the Turkish ambassador to the Foreign Ministry and told him if the Turkish soldiers are not withdrawn within 48 hours, Iraq will take the case to the UN Security Council. It is not difficult to guess that the central authorities of Baghdad took such a move upon pressure placed on them by Iran.
Actually, the proper way for Turkey to do it was to seek prior consent from the Baghdad authorities before sending additional troops. There must be reasons behind the move that the public is not aware of. This assumption becomes all the more plausible when we see the US reaction to the move. The US authorities preferred to remain ambiguous by stating they were aware of this troop movement but it was not part of the joint action against ISIL.
Turkey may have understood the importance of being supported by NATO. This is an important deterrent ahead of Russia. During a recent visit to Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asked Vladimir Putin to admit Turkey to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Furthermore Turkey has for a long time negotiated the purchase of a Chinese missile defense system because it was cheaper and the Chinese offer included a clause on technology transfer while the offer from NATO countries did not include such an incentive. After this flirting with Russia and China, Turkey’s return to NATO is perceived as a dictate of realpolitik.
NATO understands the importance of having an ally like Turkey, which is adjacent to the crisis region in the Middle East. Turkey can make important contributions to the fight against ISIL with its air defense ground environment.
This mutual awareness allowed both Turkey and the Atlantic community to rediscover each other.

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