NATO supports Turkey’s right to defense in Syria

NATO supports Turkey’s right to defense in Syria

Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
NATO supports Turkey’s right to defense in Syria


Turkey is within its rights in defending itself by staging an incursion in Syria, according to NATO’s secretary-general, who is staging a visit to Ankara.

“Turkey is the NATO ally most affected by the turmoil and violence in Syria and in Iraq. Turkey has suffered many terrorist attacks. Turkey has the right to defend itself, as all nations have,” Jens Stoltenberg told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview on Sept. 9.

“I welcome Turkish efforts to fight ISIL. This is important for Turkey but this is important also for all NATO allies,” he said.

Stoltenberg met President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, as well as opposition parties, in his first trip to the Turkish capital since July 15. 

Below are questions and answers from the interview: 

This is your first visit to Turkey after the failed coup attempt. Have you ever thought a NATO army could stage a coup attempt against its own democratic government?

The coup attempt in Turkey was a real attack. It was real and dramatic experience for Turkish democracy. The coup attempt was also an attack against the core values of NATO. Therefore, it stands in full solidarity with Turkey, the people of Turkey and its democracy. Turkey was one of the first countries I visited after taking my post as the NATO secretary-general. This is my fifth visit to Turkey and this reflects the essential role of Turkey in the alliance and the importance of Turkey for all of the NATO. 

No impact on Turkey’s role in NATO

Turkey purged scores of high-ranking officers which sparked questions over the efficiency of the Turkish army as the second biggest army in NATO. Do you agree with this view, and to what extent do you think Turkey’s contribution to NATO has been affected since July 15?

Turkey has continued to contribute to NATO and Turkish contributions have not been affected by the coup attempt. Turkey has continued to participate in different NATO operations and activities, for instance, in Afghanistan. We understand that in the aftermath of the failed coup, there will be consequences for the armed forces in Turkey. But we have not seen any impact on Turkey’s role in NATO and its contributions to NATO. 

Turkey has undertaken substantial changes in the structure of its armed forces. How do you assess these changes from NATO’s perspective?

It’s for Turkey to decide on the structures of its army. But we appreciated that there is a close dialogue between NATO – as part of the NATO defense planning process – and Turkey on different capabilities and capacities. Because one of the purposes of NATO is to try to coordinate the efforts of different allies. And that is something we do in the NATO defense planning process. 

How would you describe the state of Turkey and its democracy in the aftermath of July 15?

Let me also underline once again that the important thing related with the failed coup is that this was not an attack only against Turkey but also on the core values of NATO. That’s why I, in the early hours of the failed coup on Friday evening, spoke with Foreign Minister Çavusoğlu and expressed my strong condemnation of the failed coup on behalf of NATO and also strong support to Turkey and to the Turkish people. And I also want to salute the Turkish people for their bravery and courage they showed by going out to the streets and defending their democratically elected institutions. I also welcome the very broad support from different political parties both during the coup attempt and its aftermath. So I think that you have seen the strength of democratic institutions in Turkey and the strength of democracy in Turkey. That’s something I welcome. I also welcome the fact that political leaders have stated so strongly that the perpetrators will face due process, according to the rule of law and international obligations. 

Post-coup prosecutions should respect democratic values 

You will also meet oppositional parties, and some of them have expressed criticisms over governmental actions after July 15. 

In a democratic society, there will always be different views. There are different parties and opinions and there are open discussions. That’s part of the democracy, that’s how democracy works. So the fact that there are different views reflects that there is a democratic debate. I am confident that Turkey will prosecute perpetrators in accordance with rule of law. I welcome the announcement of the foreign minister – who visited the Council of Europe this week – that Turkey will work together and cooperate with the CoE in establishing the way the perpetrators will be prosecuted. Those responsible, those involved in the coup should be held responsible. And it’s important that it’s done in a way which is fully aligned with the democratic values of NATO and the CoE. This will only confirm the strength of Turkish democracy. And I am confident that this will happen in a way that respects democratic values. 

Turkey blames a group what we call Gülenists for the coup attempt. Were you familiar with such a group within the Turkish army?

I have read reports and seen media reports about the Gülenist network. But it would be wrong if I – as the NATO secretary-general – start to comment on the investigation. It’s up to the legal structures of Turkey to decide and to investigate. It’s not a NATO task to get involved in the investigation. My message is that I am confident that the investigation and legal process will adhere to democratic standards. 

Turkey has the right to defend itself

Let me focus on more operational issues. Turkey has launched a cross-border operation into Syria with the Free Syrian Army to clear its border of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadists. How do you evaluate this initiative of Turkey in general terms? 

I welcome Turkish efforts to fight ISIL. This is important for Turkey but this is important also for all NATO allies. Turkey is the NATO ally most affected by the turmoil and violence in Syria and in Iraq. Turkey has suffered many terrorist attacks. Turkey has the right to defend itself, as all nations have. So NATO supports the coalition fighting ISIL. We do that in different ways. At the Warsaw Summit, we decided to provide surveillance flights helping the coalition. And we also augmented the air defense of Turkey and helped Turkey in different ways against threats coming from Syria. 

It seems Turkey has established a de facto safe zone along its border with Syria, but it is now calling for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Syrian airspace. Do you think it’s doable?

All NATO allies are part of the coalition fighting ISIL; of course, the United States plays the key role and NATO provides support to the coalition. NATO is present in Turkey and is augmenting Turkey’s defenses against threats stemming from Syria. But NATO is not in Syria. We don’t have NATO forces or NATO command in Syria. So we are not part of the operation. That’s something to be decided by the coalition and not by NATO. 

NATO to increase presence in Black Sea

Turkey and Russia have taken steps to normalize their relationship. Do you think this conciliation between the two countries will weaken NATO’s stance against Russia in Ukraine, Crimea and the Black Sea region?

I welcome the improved relationship between Turkey and Russia. That’s fully in line with NATO’s approach to Russia. We believe that we need strong defense, we need deterrence and we need a strong alliance, but there is no contradiction between a strong defense and political dialogue. And actually after the downing of the Russian warplane last fall, I was among those who called for direct talks between Ankara and Moscow. 

We, as NATO, do not seek confrontation with Russia. We do not want a new Cold War. Actually, we believe in dialogue based on a strong alliance, credible deterrence and defense. And, therefore, I welcome the improved relationship between Turkey and Russia. That’s good for Turkey and Russia, but that’s also good for the stability of the whole Black Sea region. There are still challenges in this area, so NATO is increasing its presence and readiness in the Black Sea region. But, at the same time, we should also seek ways to reduce tension and to improve dialogue with Russia. That’s why I welcome what Turkey has done with Russia.