NATO chief recalls Turkey’s commitment to Article 5 amid calls to join Shanghai 5
Serkan Demirtaş - ISTANBULTurkey would never take steps to undermine NATO’s collective defense and unity as spelled out in Article 5, the alliance’s chief has said, recalling President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s commitment to NATO membership amid the revival of a discussion on Turkish participation in the Russian-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization, known as the Shanghai Five.
“I am absolutely certain that Turkey will never do anything which undermines this collective defense, Article 5, and the unity in NATO,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the Hürriyet Daily News in Istanbul on the sidelines of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly meetings late on Nov 21.
Erdoğan resurrected his long-standing ambition to join the Shanghai Five as Turkey’s ties with the European Union have deteriorated in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt.
The Shanghai Five is a political, economic and military organization that was founded in 1996 by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, while India and Pakistan were accepted as full members in 2015. The group was founded to counterbalance the activities of the United States and NATO in Central Asia, according to some observers.
But Stoltenberg, who had a lengthy meeting before the interview took place, remains sure Turkey will remain committed to its NATO membership. “President Erdoğan stated very clearly that he is strongly committed to NATO and to our collected defense rules.”
This is essential for Turkish security and all of Europe, the secretary-general stated. “The strength and the success of NATO is based on the fact that an attack on one NATO ally will trigger a response from all allies. And I am absolutely certain that Turkey will never do anything which undermines this collective defense, Article 5, and the unity in NATO.”
Interoperability key for NATO
Turkey has begun dialogue with Russia and China on strategic cooperation that includes the purchase of the sophisticated, Russian-made S400 anti-missile defense system. The move comes a year after Turkey was forced to cancel a Chinese proposal to develop an air defense system because NATO openly opposed it.
“It is up to each and every nation to decide what kind of equipment they acquire or they invest in. But we will always be focused on the interoperability [of that equipment] with all NATO allies. I think that is the message I have related to this issue,” he said.
“NATO will always welcome decisions that contribute to the interoperability of our forces because the ability to work together, for instance as we do now, the augmentation of NATO or the Turkish air defenses with Patriots and missiles, is key for NATO. NATO is much about working together with interoperability.”
NATO increases presence in Black Sea
Although Turkey has been pursuing positive dialogue with Russia after ties began to normalize following a jet crisis one year ago, it has not objected to NATO’s plans to increase its presence in the Black Sea region.
“On the Black Sea region, we have agreed to have a multi-national, Romanian-led brigade for training. And that would be a multi-national brigade with forces from different NATO allies, but the lead nation will be Romania and it will be relevant for the whole southeast of the alliance. We have also agreed to increase our presence in the air and at sea on the Black Sea. We are working on the details of this increase in presence,” Stoltenberg said.
Noting that Erdoğan had expressed his support for NATO’s plans, the secretary-general said the increase would fully respect the Montreux Convention. “We will make sure that the increased NATO presence in the Black Sea will happen in a way which is defensive, proportionate, and does not increase tensions in the Black Sea region,” he said.
The Montreux Conventions grants Turkey control of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles while restricting the passage of naval ships from countries that are not on the Black Sea.
Turkish personnel seeking asylum
Stoltenberg was among the first international figures to express solidarity and support to the Turkish government on the night of July 15 when a group of soldiers allegedly loyal to Fethullah Gülen staged a coup to topple the government. This was his second visit to Turkey since the coup but came just a few days after Turkish officers based at different NATO commands in Europe, mainly in Germany, sought asylum from host allied countries, causing tension between Ankara and related governments.
“This is a legal issue. This is a judicial issue which needs the necessary legal assessment. NATO will in no way be a part of that assessment, because this is up to each and every nation to assess and decide,” he said.
Turkish officials, however, have asked him to do more to ensure the soldiers are not granted asylum.
“I of course hope that this issue can be addressed in a way which does not add unnecessary tensions to the relationship between different NATO allies. This is a bilateral issue, this is not an issue to be addressed in the NATO framework,” he added.
He also said Turkey had begun to fill in positions that were vacated in the aftermath of July 15 due to the purges of alleged Gülenists.
Staging a coup ‘serious crime’
Asked about the Turkish government’s measures to fight putschists, Stoltenberg underlined that Turkey had every right to prosecute coup plotters. “The army and the defense forces have to be loyal to democratically elected institutions and to the state. So when personnel inside the army are plotters trying to overthrow the government, that is of course a very serious crime. And Turkey of course has the right to prosecute them.”
The NATO chief underscored the importance of carrying out this judicial process in accordance with the rule of law, noting that Turkish authorities had told him that that they would work together with the Council of Europe on the matter. Describing the Council of Europe as the right tool for Turkey in dealing with the post-coup process, Stoltenberg said: “I have spoken several times, but also yesterday, with the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, Mr. [Thornbjorn] Jagland. He is a Norwegian and I know him very well, we have worked together in Norwegian politics for many years. And he assured me that the Council of Europe would work with Turkey in addressing these issues.”
NATO should stay in Aegean
Stoltenberg and his Turkish counterparts also discussed Ankara’s insistence on ending NATO’s patrol mission in the Aegean Sea aiming to stop the illegal crossing of migrants. “We discussed that issue and we have to continue to discuss it. The NATO presence in Aegean has been a success. It has contributed to a significant reduction in illegal crossings,” he said.
When asked whether he saw a link between Ankara’s calls to stop the NATO mission and the ongoing disagreement over its spat with the EU on the migrant deal, Stoltenberg said he would not be drawn into the argument, but did add the following:
“I expect that if NATO decided to end its presence in the Aegean, then the EU and Frontex will continue. So I think actually for Turkey, it is an advantage to have the NATO presence there. … If NATO ends its activity in the Aegean, then we will be left with Frontex. So then it will only be EU that is present in Aegean and not NATO.”
Improved Turkey-EU dialogue welcome
On the ongoing disagreement between Turkey and the EU that prompted calls for the suspension of accession talks with Ankara, Stoltenberg chose not to comment, saying: “I am, and NATO is not, part of the dialogue, part of the talks between the European Union and Turkey. And these talks will only become more complicated if I started to become involved and comment on them.”
However, asked whether the continued accession talks would help NATO pursue its objectives of providing peace and stability in Europe and in the region, he said: “In general, I welcome progress and improved relations between the EU and Turkey, but I will not go into issues because it will only make it more complicated.”