By Arab News
By Menekse Tokyay
Ankara is reportedly blocking the approval of a NATO defense plan for the alliance’s eastern flank until it gets the green light over its security concerns in Syria.
Ahead of NATO’s 70th anniversary summit in London next week, Turkey has allegedly asked for more political support in its fight against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria in return for backing NATO’s latest defense plan for the Baltics and Poland, according to a Reuters report.
Turkey’s NATO envoy has reportedly been instructed to stall the plan until the alliance formally recognizes the YPG as terrorists. Ankara considers YPG an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — listed by the US, EU and Turkey as a terror group.
The military plan, aimed at defending Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland against aggression from Russia, can only be approved unanimously by all 29 member states. Turkey’s strategic location on the eastern flank of the alliance makes its approval even more critical because of its proximity to the Middle East and Russia.
According to NATO’s founding treaty, an attack against one ally is considered an attack against all, and will trigger the alliance’s military strategies for collective defense.
Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs, said that the move is unlikely to make Central European countries sympathetic toward Turkey.
“Secondly, this may be interpreted as a another sign that Turkey is unwilling to contribute to the deterrence policy against Russia and it wants to remain neutral, yet the stakes are located in a different sphere — Turkey wants to get help when it comes to the safe zone in Syria,” he told Arab News.
“Turkey will be less and less trusted in NATO and might be seen as Russia’s Trojan horse within the alliance,” Wasilewski said.
The latest move is seen as a tactic by the Turkish side to break its international isolation on its cross-border military operation into Syria. But it is unclear whether this will pay off or whether this is a new sign of division within NATO if no compromise is reached.
The latest move is seen as a tactic by the Turkish side to break its international isolation on its cross-border military operation into Syria.
The alliance is going through a difficult period. NATO has been the focal point of criticism by US President Donald Trump due to the allies’ spending on defense, while French President Emmanuel Macron recently argued that the alliance was experiencing “brain death.”
According to Wasilewski, the matter is highly problematic in Poland since up till now Polish decision-makers could argue that Turkey had done nothing that ran counter to Polish interests. The two countries have diplomatic relations dating back more than 600 years.
“And now it wouldn’t stick anymore,” he said, adding that in Europe this will most probably be seen as Turkey’s endeavor to transfer domestic problems to NATO.
For Madalina Sisu Vicari, an expert on geopolitics and Turkey, if the report is true then by holding up the upgraded plan of defense for Poland and the Baltic states, Turkey is attempting to build leverage that could enable it to achieve two objectives. The first is noninterference in its Syrian military operation from other NATO members, especially from those who have criticized it (France, Germany); the second is legitimization of the operation as Ankara seeks to obtain NATO’s acknowledgement of the YPG as “terrorists.”
“Whether Ankara will achieve both objectives, and to what extent, is hard to say now, but nevertheless it may get minimization of the public criticism expressed so far by some NATO members, especially European ones, who are mostly concerned and affected by the Syrian operation,” she told Arab News.
Macron, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are expected to meet on the sidelines of the NATO summit next week to discuss the latest developments in Syria.