Turkey, Russia, NATO and the missile shield

Turkey, Russia, NATO and the missile shield

The list of participants in the NATO summit to convene in Chicago on May 20-21 is an example of diplomacy with a heavy dose of realpolitik.

The participants are grouped into five categories. In the first category there are the 28 members of NATO. They will adopt the western military alliance’s new Smart Defense strategy. The next group, which will be represented, like the first, at the level of presidents and heads of state is called the “28+13” group: the 13 being NATO’s partners in global projects, including in Afghanistan. These are: Australia, Austria, the UAE, Morocco, Finland, South Korea, Georgia, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Qatar, Jordan and New Zealand.
A third group consists of countries contributing to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan but which are not members of NATO, and includes, in addition to the members of the second group, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Bahrain, El Salvador, Ireland, Montenegro, Malaysia, Mongolia, Singapore, the Ukraine and Tonga. The United Nations, European Union, and Japan as NATO supporters, Russia because it is Russia, and Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as neighbors of Afghanistan, as well as that country itself make up a fourth extended ISAF group. 

It seems that the hidden opposition from a number of NATO members (including Turkey, who said that it was wrong not to invite other contributors as well, such as the Arab League or the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, for example) to the participation of the EU in the NATO summit has been broken (although it seems that the Turkish objection to the participation of Israel was not broken).

A fifth group is called the “28+4,” and will be represented at the foreign ministers’ level: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro and Macedonia, as four applicants for NATO membership.

Two things require mention here: First, Russia will not participate in any NATO meetings other than those related to the Afghan issue. Despite pressure from the White House, the Kremlin does not want to discuss the missile shield project with the U.S. in front of others. Knowing that Barack Obama is likely to have a freer hand after the presidential elections in November to hold START-like one-on-one talks, Vladimir Putin would prefer to wait another few months and maintain his position as a global power.

The early warning radar site in Turkey, which is already active now, is an issue Russia keeps raising, but in diplomatic corridors it is widely known that Moscow’s real problem is with the missile sites in Romania and Poland, which are to become active in coming phases of the project. Concerned about the technical superiority of the system with respect to its own, Russia regards these sites as a threat to its security and has asked for written assurances from the U.S. that the system will not be used against Russia. And the U.S. continues to say that the shield is a NATO project, not an American one; a valid excuse perhaps, but the problem is still there to be solved.

Secondly, Iran and Pakistan are neighbors of Islamist radicalism-struck Afghanistan too, but they have not been invited to the NATO gathering. Iran is under sanctions because of its nuclear program, which it is expected to discuss with the P5+1 in Baghdad on May 23, right after the NATO summit. It is more difficult to find excuses for the absence of Pakistan, because it provides a supply route for the NATO operations in Afghanistan, and as a country is worried that the bill for the West’s Afghan adventure will fall on its shoulders (already weakened by the Afghan situation) after the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan begins in 2014.

This summit is going to be a very interesting one, with regard to its possible effects on global political balances for the next decade.