Turkey wants NATO to give more
Prophecies that the Western defense alliance NATO would become obsolete after the disintegration of the Soviet Union have already been proven wrong. It is more than a quarter of a century now and NATO is planning to have a stronger and more updated structure.
Prophecies that Turkey no longer has a place in NATO have also been proven wrong, as Ankara is discussing with its NATO partners during the July 11-12 summit in Brussels to assume a bigger role in Western and European defense.
With U.S. President Donald Trump urging and asking European members of NATO to contribute more in terms of finance, troops and capabilities, the alliance is on the verge of making major strategy changes. Trump says that if Europe is afraid of Russia, international terrorism and uncontrolled influx of migrants from Asia and Africa, they should share the burden more. But that is not the only issue. NATO is thinking of the “changing security challenges” along its “eastern and southern borders.” Turkey holds a key geographic location in that context by controlling the strategic Turkish straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, thus having almost all crises or potential conflicts regarding European security in its neighborhood: Ukraine, Russia, Armenian-Azeri conflict, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel and Cyprus—all in the clockwise order. Turkish contribution is expected to include the formation of a new rapid response force against potential threats in addition to existing responsibilities like hosting the headquarters of NATO’s Land Forces, the strategic İncirlik air base, and the early warning radar station of the NATO-operated U.S. global missile shield system.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who recently got elected in the new “presidential government” system in Turkey and set to hold all the executive power, said on his way to the summit from Azerbaijan that the country was ready to discuss the joint defense with a “positive” stance. He also said it could be possible to put the military’s command under the defense minister — which used to be under the prime ministry but is now under the president — which he said is also “one of the criteria of accession to the European Union.” This is an interesting remark that he made right before the NATO Summit and his meeting with Trump, signaling a reconciliatory move with the West after a few years of antagonism.
That approach is in line with an open letter from the Turkish-American Business Council to both presidents on July 11 asking them to prioritize mutual interests for the benefit of both countries.
But at the same time, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that despite Turkish contributions to NATO, NATO can only give 30 percent of Turkish airspace, in a region of wars and crises. He said that was why Turkey wants to boost its air defense and is buying the Russian-made S-400 missile systems, which Ankara says is doing because it was denied to purchase NATO-interoperable American-made Patriot missiles. Turkey also wants more solidarity against the fight on terrorism, irrespective of the sources of terror. The Russian missiles were one of the reasons why some U.S. senators urged Trump to exclude Turkey from the joint production of the new generation F-35 fighter jets.