The timing of Turkey’s blockage in NATO

The timing of Turkey’s blockage in NATO

There is yet another tension between Turkey and its Western allies.

According to Reuters, Turkey is refusing to back a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland until the alliance offers Ankara more political support for its fight against the YPG, which Turkey says is the Syrian wing of the illegal PKK.

Turkey wants to strike a blow to the so-called “tactical” relationship between its allies and the YPG, an offshoot of the PKK which is recognized as a terror organization by Washington and European capitals.

The YPG is often described by the Western media as “Kurdish militants” in Northern Syria.

I wish my Western colleagues could go to some Western politicians and get, for instance, from a Polish or U.S. foreign minister a clear-cut statement and make them say: “The Turks are talking nonsense. There is no relationship whatsoever between the YPG and the PKK.”

Life would have been so much easier if they would have come with such a statement. Life would have been even easier if some would simply say, “In fact, we made a mistake in the past: We no longer think the PKK is a terror organization. It is a group of freedom fighters using violence for their right cause.”

But the public relations world of diplomacy is less about truths and more about perceptions. And the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is failing big time to play the game according to the rules. Ever since it dragged its feet to help save the Kurdish town Kobane in Syria from an ISIL siege, it is failing to pass the message across that its enemy are not the Kurds but the PKK terrorists. Yet how convincing can you be when the leader of the pro-Kurdish political party is in prison based on legal arguments that do not meet the universal judicial criteria.

In addition, if Turkey wants to get its allies on its side against the PKK, it needs to make the right move at the right time.

Let’s look at the timing.

It is not the first time that Turkey is showing its uneasiness concerning NATO’s strategy to focus on the “eastern” flank at the expense of the “southern” flank. In view of Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia, this could be perceived as a Turkish effort to please Moscow. This is not the case. It has to do more with answering Turkey’s security needs facing the challenges on the southern front than underestimating the threat coming from Russia. Otherwise, Turkey would not have approved previous NATO plans against Russia.

Turkey’s move comes at a time when there are deep rifts among allies concerning the future of NATO.

It has been only a few weeks since France’s President Emmanuel Macron called the brain death of NATO, sparking fierce reaction from other members. While Macron talks about strategic autonomy, the Baltics, and Eastern European countries, among them Poland, do not favor the weakening of defense ties with Washington.

Some believe that the story was intentionally leaked to prove Macron’s point that NATO cannot be trusted against Russian aggression. While Turkey’s move might be seen as vindicating France’s point, to what degree will it help Turkey’s cause?

At any rate, whose idea was it to test Russian anti-ballistic defense system S-400 with Turkish F-16 fighter jets ahead of a NATO summit? Was it a calculated move to send a signal to those who claim the deployment of S-400s will put at risk sensitive technology of NATO’s inventory? If so, what’s the point of strengthening the hands of those who claim Turkey can no longer be a trusted ally? If it is not calculated, then we are talking about a totally different situation where diplomacy without coordination and consistency can lead to detrimental consequences.

Turkey looks set on capitalizing on its nuisance value by using a brinkmanship method. We will see whether this will bring the desired outcome. And if it does bring the desired outcome, we will also have to see the damage that will be inflicted on Turkey’s already strained relations with its allies.

On the other side, Western opinion leaders (and I am not talking about politicians who seem not to do much thinking these days) should think about the reasons why Turkey felt the need to use its nuisance value. Could it also be because it was left no option by its allies, which remained indifferent to its repeated calls on its security concerns no matter how inappropriately they were voiced?