Is NATO’s approach to Turkey satisfying?
TOLGA TANIS WASHINGTON“For the second time in five months, Turkey has turned to NATO for support in the face of Syrian attacks that have killed Turkish citizens. Unfortunately, the transatlantic alliance has responded both times with words rather than deeds.”
This is the view of Jorge Benitez, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, an influential Washington-based think tank on military and NATO issues, who recently wrote an outspoken opinion for the Christian Science Monitor.
Is Benitez right?
According to Sarwar Kashmeri, a colleague of Benitez at the Atlantic Council, the answer is no. “Totally disagree with Jorge,” he told the Hürriyet Daily News and argued that NATO reacted responsibly by putting Syria on notice that the alliance stands ready to defend its member Turkey.
In Washington, there is an ongoing discussion now about NATO’s stand toward Turkey in terms of the crisis in Syria, and one of the participants of this debate is the former U.S. ambassador to Ankara, Ross Wilson, another senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“I would like to see stronger NATO support for Turkey both politically and in practical security areas,” he said during a phone interview with the Daily News, arguing that Turkey was clearly looking for stronger political and practical support from its NATO allies in dealing with the Syrian crisis.
Wilson puts the blame on member countries, especially the European ones for not acting.
“NATO members as a whole should be doing what the U.S. has done bilaterally with Turkey to some extent and develop specific contingency plans and identify practical steps that can be taken now,” he said.
The U.S. is doing its part, according to him, even though he would like to see more robust statements by officials. “But the European leaders are remarkably silent in the course of last several weeks about Syria.”
Kashmeri’s approach is again different from Wilson’s. “NATO, I’m afraid, has little credibility to lose. For all practical purposes, NATO is the U.S. and America isn’t about to get into another war,” he said.
When it comes to the concrete steps Wilson touched upon, Benitez is arguing it is time for NATO to send proportional support to Turkey during its hour of need. “Reinforcing this embattled ally with a small number of AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] radar aircraft and/or units from the NATO rapid reaction force will strengthen Ankara militarily and politically,” he wrote. But according to Wilson, Turkey should be discussing these issues with its neighbors, and determining its needs itself.
On the other hand, Kashmeri’s suggestion is again totally different from both. AWACS could not be sent without knocking out Syria’s anti-aircraft missiles. And the question is, “Who would do that?” “No one but the U.S., as Libya showed. And that would be an act of war,” said Kashmeri.
Wilson pointed out three major areas to be focused on: contingency plans, including the refugee problem, the post-al-Assad period, and the chemical and biological weapons to minimize the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. But when asked whether NATO has a contingency plan for Syria or not, Wilson said: “NATO and the member states need to find an effective way to display publicly or at least talk publicly about some of the work that has been done to address these kinds of specific contingencies. It sends important signals to Syrians.”
Then how about NATO’s Article 5, which is known by everyone now – even to those who don’t pay much attention to international relations? This option, which states that an attack on any member shall be considered an attack on all, is premature right now, according to Wilson. Benitez also argues that too much attention has been focused on the question of invoking Article 5 because even during the many crises of the Cold War, Article 5 was never invoked.
And this is the only topic that all of the three senior fellows agree on, as Kashmeri also says: “An Article 5 resolution is a very difficult undertaking. After 9/11, the U.S.’ NATO ambassador was advised to ask for an Article 5 resolution. He thought long and hard before asking for it. Lord Robertson, in fact, had to lean on at least one European member to get that resolution passed. And that was the U.S. we are talking about!”