By Leyla Karayilan,
Turkey and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) have enjoyed an enduring relationship since Ankara decided to join the Alliance in a strategic partnership against the USSR in 1952. Whilst the creation of the alliance formulated assistance for a congregation that would make joint decisions and develop mechanisms to maintain and preserve its member states against security threats. Whilst Turkey has been historically affiliated with having a strong military, NATO played an important role in the early years of the Republic against Russian communism, Arab nationalism and other forms of intervention from its eastern neighbours.
Whilst the role of Turkey for NATO is historically important in Turkish foreign affairs, today the role of NATO plays a greater role as recent Russian violations of Turkish airspace and the growing threat of Terror for both Turkey and Europe has occupied, flagging growing security issues leading to inefficiency in crisis management for both Turkey and Europe.
A summit held by the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists in Antalya -- from 17th – 19th May -- aimed at discussing the future of Turkey-NATO relations alongside modern day security threats, the fight against Daesh and the PKK in particular. In a plenary titled “NATO, Turkey and the Front Line” Osman Askin Bak, Head of Turkish delegations to NATO and Suay Alpay, Deputy Minister for National Defence spoke alongside Anna Fotgya, MEP from Poland and Khouloud Al Khatib from and academic from Lebanon, Sat. 19th May.
A number of issues were raised in relation to NATO and Turkey, particularly by Mr Bak, where he expressed his gratitude towards the European community for supporting Turkey’s decision on its actions against the violation of Turkish airspace by Russia. However, he went onto discussing his concerns for the lack of outspoken support by NATO on high level security issues alongside its borders, as the threat of Daesh is, as mentioned by him, “knocking the door from the East, and if it is not dealt with soon, the terror organisation will be advancing from the West as well.”
Minister Bal expanded on the troubles by Russia in the region by adding that ‘Russia is keeping a close eye on the Atlantic region’ simply because the West is failing to cooperate and make a decision on action points to preserve, or even demolish the crisis it faces’. This was made in reference to the ‘migrant crisis’ and growing tangibility of the Syrian war – which is also attracting many youth from Europe to join the battleground in Syria.
Osman Askin Bal referred to this situation by quoting the all-time famous political philosopher, Francis FuKiyama’s ‘return to history’. Reason being, Minister Bal expanded that Russia is aiming to create 90% of its military force through its spheres of influence, which was once known as ‘satellite states’. He stressed the need for a collective stance against Russia, as NATO, believing that it would bring clarity to the situation in Syria, as well as better cooperation between Turkey and NATO.
Further adding that “challenges faced by Turkey today, whether on the Syrian border, the fight against Daesh, the PKK, or the violation of airspace and sovereignty by non-NATO states, these issues are no longer a problem of Turkey but also a problem of NATO as a whole.” Minister Bal concluded his statement on the note that they are ready for a better coordinated NATO with a faster decision making mechanism as they understand that NATO has not been actively involved in preserving security in Turkey as much as the republic had expected them too…
The panel followed onto the argument that the current migrant crisis can also be interpreted as a modern argument around the notion of sovereignty and security. It was almost agreed upon that the crisis must be handled better, with further cooperation between Turkey and mainland Europe, making it more able to track the migrant flow and understanding the crisis on a social, political and economic level.
Suay Alpay contributed to the discussion by beginning that ‘in the coming days it is clear that there will be a greater crisis in the West and Europe in general if they continue to use an aggressive approach, making the situation less able to solve.’
This was of particular importance on the issue of Turkey and NATO as the migrant crisis revolves around free movement, meaning that amongst the refugees, people with various other agendas have also been exposed to movement around and across the NATO states. Moreover, the unmanaged flow of migrants via the sea route has left the coastal states face to face with the question of sovereignty and handling of boats that violate each member states coastal province.
Alpay also stressed that ‘‘Turkey has been protecting its position as a problem solving state rather than a problem making country … the revolution like changes made by the AK Parti has made Turkey the centre of attention on the international arena … which is why collaboration with Europe is of importance when the 30 year long struggle against the PKK and the new actors in the region such as Daesh, YPG and PDY is knocking on the door of Europe”
Alpay also went onto calling for Europe to stop its support for the PKK, a listed terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and EU, which has resumed its 30-year armed campaign against the Turkish state in July. 2015. Since then, more than 300 members of the security forces have been killed and a number of suicide bomb attacks have taken place. Most recent one being the car bomb attack in Ankara’s central Kizilay neighbourhood on March 13 killing and injuring dozens of civilians.
Jan Zahradil, President of the AECR said in a supporting statement “we believe that the only way to achieve real change is to work together with friends across the regions to build moderate Centre-Right movements in countries which so desperately need them.” Whilst also expressing support and further engagement with Turkey on the issue of terror and security.
He further added that “At such a critical time, when mass migration toward Europe shows no signs of slowing down, and extremists threaten our lives on a regular basis, we believe that moderate, free-market conservatism is the best platform to build stronger democracies in the region.” The challenges in the region were described as ‘common’.
From the point of view of NATO, and particularly the United States, it is of particular importance to note that Turkey was initially considered a strategic asset in the Middle East rather than Europe. It is also for this reason that Turkish speakers stressed the need to intervene with manner into the region, as an infringement of Turkish sovereignty and integrity will predominantly have a knock on domino effect into Europe, were a majority of NATO states are found.
Emrullah Isler, Head of Security and Intelligence Committee of National Parliament urged in a separate conversation that there is a need for a united decision by Europe and friends of Turkey to join in the understanding that the fight against terror by the PKK, PYD and PDY is possible through the denouncing of the terror organisations, as they are posing as much a threat as Daesh for the region and Turkey in particular.
It must also be noted that just a day before the summit, the European Parliament allowed the PKK affiliated organisations in Brussels to set up a tent, to gather support and desperate recognition on the day Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was expected to arrive for decisions on crucial matters affecting Turkish-European relations.
Minister Isler concluded with the following words, “Turkey is strong in their decision to continue their fight against the threat of terror”.
Syed Kamal added that “Turkey, as we see it, has for many years been seen as a success story in a region that needs success stories. The Turkish model was initially seen as a possible model for many countries after the Arab Spring.” Continuing with the following words;
“At such a critical time, when mass migration toward Europe shows no signs of slowing down, and extremists threaten our lives on a regular basis, we believe that moderate, free-market conservatism is the best platform to build stronger democracies in the region.”
This leaves us with the following questions on the efficiency and willingness on NATO in curbing issues before they reach an untenable state, where resolutions and decisions become ever the more difficult. It can also be understood however, that the Turkish delegation to NATO believes in the ability of the alliance to contribute towards solving the issues faced in the region, which is as mentioned close to knocking the door of Europe. It can also be argued that there is a clear cut call to Europe for better crisis management, as it seems to be narrowing the issues of the region, and almost avoiding it. Whilst this has worked as a short term solution, on the long term, the rise of xenophobia and the alike has been identified.
The involvement of Russia in the region continues and NATO has yet to draw up a clear cut decision on its actions of inaction on the war in Syria. This left us with the question of whether Europe will accept the collaboration with Turkey, as it could be argued that they could do with some assistance?
Leyla Karayilan, International Relations and Democratic Politics graduate, Former researcher in the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) Foreign Relations dept. Correspondent at the Anadolu Agency, Ankara headquarters