How Erodgan-led Turkey went from NATO ally to liability

How Erodgan-led Turkey went from NATO ally to liability
The blue-homeland doctrine envisions Turkey ignoring internationally recognized coastal rights of islands and laying claim to huge chunks of the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas. (Getty Images/File)
Short Url
Updated 24 September 2020

How Erodgan-led Turkey went from NATO ally to liability

How Erodgan-led Turkey went from NATO ally to liability
  • Country now viewed as an unpredictable, dangerous force at odds with the interests of its NATO “allies”
  • Rich gas deposits in eastern Mediterranean believed to lie at the heart of its aggressive new naval doctrine

MISSOURI: Reflecting a new Turkish naval doctrine, the phrase “blue homeland” is widely used in Turkey today.

Developed by former Turkish Rear Admiral Cem Gurdeniz, the blue homeland doctrine envisions Turkey ignoring the internationally recognized coastal rights of islands and laying exclusive claim to huge chunks of the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas.

The new Turkish territorial waters doctrine would leave nothing for Greek Cypriots and encircle most of the Greek islands in the Aegean.

Newly discovered rich gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean may lie at the heart of Ankara’s new naval doctrine, which pits Ankara against Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Israel.

France has sent some of its warships to the Mediterranean to back Greece and the others, as a dangerous dance of gunboat diplomacy and naval drills is played out adjacent to gas explorations vessels in contested waters.

France and Greece are members of NATO as well, of course, but this has not prevented a barrage of bellicose exchanges between them and Turkey over maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean.

While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned France “not to mess with Turkey,” French President Emmanuel Macron has said the Turks “only respect actions rather than words” and that he has “set red lines for Turkey.”

Things were not always so bad between Turkey and its NATO allies. For 50 years after its admission into NATO in 1952, Turkey played a key and model role in the alliance.

Bordering the Soviet Union’s Georgia and Armenia and controlling the Bosporus straits to the Black Sea, the Turks offered the alliance unparalleled benefits and the second largest land army in NATO.

In return, the Turks received NATO’s protection against the Russians, who had since the 19th century been Turkey’s greatest external threat, as well as top-of-the-line NATO military hardware and expertise.

During those years a staunchly secular Turkey made significant sacrifices on behalf of the NATO alliance. A key NATO radar base was built in Kurecik in eastern Turkey, along with the very important shared NATO-Turkish airbases in Konya and Incirlik.

Turkey contributed troops to the war in the Korean Peninsula in the early 1950s, the 1991 Gulf War, NATO operations in the Balkans during the 1990s, and the 2002 war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In the case of the Gulf War, Turkey’s cooperation with its NATO allies cost the country a great deal economically.

Iraq had been a key Turkish trading partner and major source of oil imports, but Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal fell in line with the US and other NATO allies in applying sanctions on Saddam Hussein and ending this trade.

Since joining NATO in 1952, Turkish military officers trained at military academies in the US and developed a close working relationship with their NATO counterparts in Brussels.

INNUMBERS

639k Size of Turkish armed forces.

11 Rank in Global Firepower military strength.

$19bn Annual military budget.

The only real glitch during those first 50 years of Turkey’s NATO membership occurred over Cyprus, culminating in the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus. During that conflict, Turkey and fellow NATO member Greece almost went to war against one another.

The blame for the 1974 episode resides more with Greece, however, which had just lost its civilian government to a military coup. Greek nationalists in Athens were busily trying to upset the status quo in the Mediterranean, supporting enosis (Cypriot union with Greece) and the persecution of Cyprus’ Turkish minority.

At the time, Greece stood out as the liability in the NATO alliance, violating the terms of Cyprus’ founding treaty of independence and simultaneously not contributing very much to the NATO alliance.

The Greek and Turkish roles in NATO look very much reversed today. Since 2003, Turkey has increasingly become a liability and even a danger to other NATO members. The irredentism in the region now comes from Ankara rather than Athens.




The catalogue of problems Erdogan’s Turkey has caused for NATO since 2002 is lengthy and complex. (AFP)

Whereas Turkey once pursued a prudent foreign policy and largely eschewed military adventurism in the region, the country under Erdogan’s leadership looks very different today.

Turkish forces occupy large swaths of northern Syria, engage in regular strikes in northern Iraq (despite Baghdad’s protests), lead thousands of mercenaries in Libya and advise and assist Muslim Brotherhood-linked politicians in Yemen.

In his speeches, Erdogan increasingly criticizes the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the borders it created, claiming that Mosul and the islands in the Aegean were stolen from Turkey.

Turkish media (which is overwhelmingly government-controlled these days) frequently show maps of Turkey that depict the Greek islands, all of Cyprus, parts of mainland Greece and Bulgaria, and most of northern Syria and Iraq as part of Turkey.

Besides Turkey’s dispute with Greece and France in the Mediterranean, Ankara and Paris back different sides in the civil wars in Libya and Syria, as well. France and Greece are not the only NATO allies at odds with Turkey.

While Washington, Paris and London backed Syrian Kurdish forces against the so-called Islamic State, or Daesh, Ankara stood accused of backing both Daesh and other radical Islamist groups in Syria.

Turkey’s invasions of northern Syria in 2018 and 2019 were not welcomed by its NATO allies and threatened to unravel the Kurdish-led offensive against Daesh.

The catalogue of problems Erdogan’s Turkey has caused for NATO since 2002 is lengthy and complex. Besides its support for Islamist and radical groups in Syria, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere, Turkey for a long time denied NATO permission to use shared airbases in Turkey against Daesh.

Erdogan repeatedly threatened to unleash waves of refugees on Europe if the EU did not pay Turkey to host the refugees and even, on two occasions, if the EU dared to criticize Turkish invasions of Syria.

 




Turkey has become an unpredictable, dangerous force for instability in the region that seems very much at odds with the interests of its NATO. (AFP)

During the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey, the government accused the Americans of involvement in the coup attempt and even cut off electricity to the Incirlik base – where the US forces maintain several nuclear warheads. Erdogan’s government has repeatedly helped Iran to evade US sanctions.  

In 2015 Turkey shot down a Russian warplane flying along its border with Syria, which threatened to drag NATO into an unwanted war with Moscow. Just a few years later, however, Ankara not only repaired relations with Moscow but went on to purchase advanced Russian military hardware, including the S400 air defense systems.

Since the Russian equipment, operating in conjunction with the new American F-35 fighter aircraft, could potentially expose critical vulnerabilities in the latter (allowing the Russians to learn the F-35’s weaknesses), the Americans were forced to remove Turkey from the F-35 fighter program.

The list goes on and could include Turkey’s slide into authoritarianism and Erdogan’s overt disdain for Europe, the Americans and the West in general, but the point is that Turkey has become an unpredictable, dangerous force for instability in the region that seems very much at odds with the interests of its NATO “allies.”
 




For 50 years after its admission into NATO in 1952, Turkey played a key and model role in the alliance. (AFP)

US officials began publicly questioning Turkey’s place in NATO several years ago. Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican chair of a House subcommittee on emerging threats, expressed serious doubts in 2016 when he said: “Ten years ago Turkey was a solid NATO ally and a staunch opponent of radical Islam and a friend of the United States, and today that’s all in question … Erdogan is purging pro-Western people throughout his country who are in positions of influence. He himself has become more aggressive in his Islamic beliefs, and there’s reason for us to be seriously concerned.”

The rupture between Erdogan and his NATO allies is so serious, in fact, that most of the Turkish military officers who trained with NATO in America and Belgium have come under suspicion in Ankara, with those abroad at the time of the 2016 attempted coup mostly requesting political asylum lest they be arrested in Turkey on trumped-up charges.
 




The blue homeland doctrine envisions Turkey ignoring the internationally recognized coastal rights of islands and laying exclusive claim to huge chunks of the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas. (AFP)

In a world where Russian expansionism is no longer the threat it was in Soviet times, such developments put in question Turkey’s very place in NATO. There seems little doubt that today’s Turkey would not be admitted to the Western military alliance. The problem, however, is that with an increasingly hostile Turkey already a part of the alliance, NATO lacks any mechanism for expelling members.

American policymakers in particular also seem to reason that expelling Turkey from NATO would only exacerbate Ankara’s current tilt towards Russia and Islamist tendencies.

They instead hope to use NATO to smoothen out relations with the Turks, with NATO’s headquarters in Brussels this week serving as a venue for negotiations between Turkey and France and their dispute in the Mediterranean.

Only time will tell if it is right to treat Turkey as the ally the Americans and other NATO members wish they still had rather than the liability that Erdogan and his government have become.

• David Romano is Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University


Iran says nuclear talks with world powers to resume in a few weeks

Iran says nuclear talks with world powers to resume in a few weeks
Updated 9 sec ago

Iran says nuclear talks with world powers to resume in a few weeks

Iran says nuclear talks with world powers to resume in a few weeks
  • World powers held six rounds of indirect talks between the US and Iran in Vienna
  • The talks stopped in June, pending the start of Iran’s new government

DUBAI: Iran said on Tuesday that talks with world powers over reviving its 2015 nuclear deal would resume in a few weeks, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
“Every meeting requires prior coordination and the preparation of an agenda. As previously emphasized, the Vienna talks will resume soon and over the next few weeks,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to IRNA.
The world powers held six rounds of indirect talks between the United States and Iran in Vienna to try and work out how both can return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which was abandoned by former US President Donald Trump in 2018. The talks stopped in June, pending the start of Iran’s new government.


Libya’s eastern parliament pulls confidence from unity government

Libya’s eastern parliament pulls confidence from unity government
Updated 21 September 2021

Libya’s eastern parliament pulls confidence from unity government

Libya’s eastern parliament pulls confidence from unity government

TRIPOLI: Libya’s eastern-based parliament said on Tuesday it had withdrawn confidence from the unity government, though it would continue to operate as a caretaker administration.
The vote in the House of Representatives exemplifies the wrangling between rival factions and state bodies that has plagued UN-backed efforts to resolve Libya’s decade-long crisis by establishing a unity government and holding national elections.
In 2014, eastern and western factions split Libya in two in a civil war, with an internationally recognized government in Tripoli and a rival administration backed by the House of Representatives in the east.
Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah’s unity government was selected through a UN-sponsored dialogue and his government was installed by the House of Representatives in March.
Dbeibeh has a mandate to unify state institutions, improve government services and prepare for national presidential and parliamentary elections.
However, on Tuesday, after parliament summoned Dbeibeh and his ministers to answer questions this month, 89 of the 113 members present voted to withdraw confidence in him, the chamber’s spokesman and several other parliament members said.
There was no immediate comment from the government.
The UN forum decided that presidential and parliamentary elections should take place on Dec. 24, but disagreements now rage over the legal basis for the votes and the laws that will govern them.
This month, parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh said the House of Representatives had passed a law for the presidential election, though it did not hold a final vote on the bill.
The validity of that law was promptly challenged by the High Council of State based in Tripoli, in the west, which produced its own, alternative election law.
The House of Representatives, which was elected seven years ago but divided when Libya split, has not yet produced a law for a parliamentary election. 


Egypt offers to host 2022 UN Climate Change Summit

Egypt offers to host 2022 UN Climate Change Summit
Updated 21 September 2021

Egypt offers to host 2022 UN Climate Change Summit

Egypt offers to host 2022 UN Climate Change Summit
  • El-Sisi’s announcement came during his virtual participation in the Heads of State and Government on Climate meeting

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has announced Egypt’s aspiration to host the UN Climate Change Summit in 2022 on behalf of Africa. Britain will host this year’s summit in Glasgow in November.

El-Sisi’s announcement came during his virtual participation in the Heads of State and Government on Climate meeting on the sidelines of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

During the meeting, he stressed the importance of developed countries shouldering their responsibilities within the framework of the Paris Agreement and the UN Convention on Climate Change.

He also stressed the need to deal seriously with any unilateral measures that contribute to exacerbating the consequences of climate change, including construction of dams on international rivers without agreement with downstream countries.


El-Sisi: Egypt seeks comprehensive political solution to Yemeni crisis

El-Sisi: Egypt seeks comprehensive political solution to Yemeni crisis
Updated 21 September 2021

El-Sisi: Egypt seeks comprehensive political solution to Yemeni crisis

El-Sisi: Egypt seeks comprehensive political solution to Yemeni crisis

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi affirmed his country’s support all efforts to reach a comprehensive political solution to the Yemeni crisis.

Egyptian presidential spokesman Bassam Radi said Yemen’s Defense Minister Muhammad Ali Al-Maqdashi conveyed the greetings of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to El-Sisi and praised bilateral cooperation in all fields, especially military and security.

Radi added that El-Sisi asked to convey his greetings to Hadi and stressed the need for a solution that achieves Yemeni stability and unity, meets its people’s aspirations and ends foreign interference in the country.

El-Sisi said Egypt will spare no effort to assist Yemen in achieving these goals.


Sudanese coup attempt failed, army in control – officials

Sudanese coup attempt failed, army in control – officials
Updated 21 September 2021

Sudanese coup attempt failed, army in control – officials

Sudanese coup attempt failed, army in control – officials
  • Government claims the coup plotters were linked to the ousted Al-Bashir regime

DUBAI/KHARTOUM: An attempted coup in Sudan was organized by elements inside and outside the military establishment, leading to the first arrests of those involved in such a plot, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said on Tuesday.

The failed attempt was preceded by attempts to sow insecurity, especially in the east of Sudan, but had failed to undermine the country's democratic transition, Hamdok said in a televised statement.

The development underscored the fragility of Sudan’s path to democracy, more than two years after the military’s overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir amid a public uprising against his three-decade rule.

Sudan’s state-run television called on the public “to counter” the coup attempt but did not provide further details.

“All is under control. The revolution is victorious,” Mohammed Al-Fiky Suliman, a member of the ruling military-civilian council, wrote on Facebook. He also called on the Sudanese to protect the transition.

The government claimed the coup plotters were linked to the ousted Al-Bashir regime.

A military official said an unspecified number of troops from the armored corps were behind the attempt and that they tried to take over several government institutions but were stopped in their tracks. He said they had aimed to seize the military headquarters and the state television.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said over three dozen troops, including high-ranking officers, have been arrested. He did not provide further details, saying that a military statement would be released shorty.

The state-run SUNA news agency quoted Brig. Al-Tahir Abu Hajja, a media consultant for the military’s chief, as saying that the armed forces “thwarted the attempted coup and that all is completely under control.”

The agency said all troops taking part in the attempt were detained and that investigations have started. It did not provide further details.

Footage circulated online showing troops and armored vehicles deployed to main roads and intersections in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. Security was also boosted at the military headquarters and other government buildings in the city.

Mohammed Hassan Al-Taishi, a member of the sovereign council, called the attempt a “foolish and bad choice.”

“The option of military coups has left us only a failed and weak country,” he wrote on Twitter. “The path toward democratic transition and securing the country’s political future and unity remains one option.”

Later, in a statement read on the state-run TV, Culture and Information Minister Hamza Baloul said security forces have arrested civilian and military leaders of the coup attempt, and that they have been interrogated after the military managed to get the armored corps camp south of Khartoum under control.

Baloul, who also the government spokesman, said authorities were chasing others “from the remnants” of Al-Bashir’s regime who were suspects in orchestrated the attempted coup. He did not give further details.

Sudan has been on a fragile path to democratic rule since the military’s ouster of Al-Bashir in April 2019, following four months of mass protests. The country is now ruled by a joint civilian and military government.

The transitional government has been under increasing pressure to end wars with rebel groups as it seeks to rehabilitate the country’s battered economy, attract much-needed foreign aid and deliver the democracy it promised.