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Turkey reiterates its commitment to NATO despite drill incident

Protestors wave flags and carry a banner during a demonstration against NATO military exercises on Nov. 18, 2017 in Ankara. (AFP / ADEM ALTAN)
ANKARA: Turkey remains committed to NATO membership despite withdrawing its troops from the alliance's drill in Norway on Nov. 17, the country's chief of general staff has said.

Turkey withdrew from the drill after the name and picture of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the founding leader of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, were used in an “enemy chart.”

Anti-NATO protests erupted in several Turkish cities of Turkey and a hashtag #NATOdanÇıkalım (Lets Exit NATO) pioneered by the Eurasianist Vatan (Homeland) Party trended on Twitter.

But Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar said: “Turkey’s alliance with NATO should not be undermined, and NATO is the most successful and most effective military organization that has existed throughout history.”

Speaking about the drill incident while attending the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada on Nov. 18, he said: “NATO administrators responded timely and appropriately. We should not allow anyone to undermine our alliance and our solidarity.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg immediately apologized to Turkey verbally and in writing to Akar during the meeting in Canada.

A NATO member since 1952, Turkey is one of the key members of the Alliance contributing with the highest number of troops and supporting 14 missions in 11 countries.

The presence of Turkey in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, with its Muslim identity, reinforces the alliance’s mission. With the deployment of 659 soldiers for peacekeeping, Turkey is among the Top 10 contributor nations in Afghanistan, while two Turkish diplomats, Hikmet Cetin and Ismail Aramaz, served respectively in 2003-2006 and 2015-2016 as NATO’s top civilian representatives in Afghanistan.

Retired Brig. Gen. Haldun Solmazturk, who spent many years serving with NATO, does not think that the drill incident will cause problems. The incident occupied the domestic agenda for populist and political reasons, he said. He hoped that relations between Turkey and NATO would be strengthened.

“Although the strongest military alliance where Turkey takes part is NATO, the relations between both sides have never been so warm,” Solmazturk told Arab News. “As a member who has equal rights and powers under the Alliance, Turkey should take appropriate steps to render its ties with the Alliance much more effective.”

According to Solmazturk, Turkey should assign specialized experts to the missions within NATO, and support its membership with a political will.

“For instance, each year NATO organizes summits where presidents as well as defense ministers and chiefs of staff attend. I would suggest that Turkey should make public its positions regarding the critical decisions taken during those summits, but so far it has not been the case,” he said.

However, Nursin Atesoglu Guney, dean of the faculty of economics, administrative and social sciences at Bahcesehir Cyprus University, said the drill incident did not target only the Turkish president but also its founder leader Ataturk.

“The intensity of social and political reactions that were given afterward are mainly grounded on the fact that this incident was aimed at the Turkish republic’s existence,” Guney told Arab News.

“The exit of Turkey from NATO would weaken the alliance to a great extent, especially in terms of Turkey’s successful peacekeeping contributions to NATO operations in Muslim countries like Afghanistan,” she added. “Even the withdrawal of 40 soldiers from the drill resulted in the failure of the drill scenario of NATO.”

According to Guney, given the increase of geopolitical uncertainties in its region along with the threats of non-state actors and the rising capacities of some regional countries to develop weapons of mass destruction, Turkey’s identity as a NATO member country is a powerful deterrence against present and emerging threats.

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