NATO’s role in the fight against extremism

NATO’s role in the fight against extremism

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be in Turkey on Monday to hold talks with Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz. Rasmussen and Davutoğlu will appear before the press on Monday and will give information on issues concerning the alliance, especially on the eve of the NATO Summit in Wales this September.  

However, Rasmussen will surely be questioned about the potential role the alliance can play in diffusing the ongoing crisis sparked after one of the world’s most savage terror organizations, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), seized Mosul and continued to advance towards Baghdad.

Although Rasmussen condemned the kidnapping of 80 Turkish citizens, including its consul general in Mosul and an eight-month-old baby, and urged the immediate release of them, he said: “I don’t see a role for NATO in Iraq, but of course we follow the situation closely and urge all parties involved to stop the violence.”

Rasmussen made this statement on June 12, a day after Turkey informed the NATO Council about the sour incident in Mosul but without making any sort of demand from allies. It did not invoke Article 4 of the NATO Treaty that calls allies for consultations in the case a member country believes its national security is under threat.

According to Ambassador Douglas Lute, the permanent representative of the United States to NATO, it’s sure that NATO has a role to play in this theater but it does not have to be a military one, speaking to a conference titled, “Turkey and NATO in a Changing World: What Priorities for Leaders at the NATO Summit 2014?,” held by the German Marshall Found on June 12 in Ankara. “Military engagement is not the only option,” he said, referring to NATO as an important political forum in addressing such challenges.

But the agenda of the alliance's summit in Wales this September will not cite developments in Iraq among the top issues that NATO should address. Ukraine, Afghanistan and the future of NATO will dominate the summit, along with the fight against terrorism and extremism.

Even Turkey is not pressing for this, although it has been one of the countries that were pushing NATO to do more against terror given its long-standing fight against separatist terror. It is of the belief that although its citizens have been kidnapped, the incident is far from posing a larger scale threat to its national security and is something that it can resolve on its own.

However, the hostage crisis is just one part of the story. It is just one of the side effects of a greater threat emanating from the growing existence of extremist jihadists in our immediate neighborhood. ISIL, the al-Nusra Front and some other minor extremist groups are getting more visible every day by terrorizing Syria and Iraq. More than 10,000 armed jihadists are spreading fear in the region, horrifying non-Sunni groups.

Everyday we read more analysis and assessments detailing the roots of this problem, overwhelmingly blaming the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq without waiting for the full stability and maturity of the local political environment. In the Syrian case, as Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador, highlighted in a commentary in the New York Times that the Obama administration’s hesitancy in supplying adequate military equipment to the Free Syrian Army was seen as one of the major reasons for the growth of foreign jihadists. Apart from the U.S., almost all regional and international actors - including Turkey - have responsibility in the deterioration of security conditions in Syria.  

That is why time is up for concerted action to eliminate this growing danger in the Middle East. There are reports that the Obama administration is mulling a military air strike against ISIL militants to stop the terrorists’ march toward Baghdad, and to restore authority in the country.

A military option against ISIL seems to be inevitable in this phase, but the international community should think about a more complicated set of actions against the growing threat of extremism in the region. This is because neither Iraq nor Syria can eliminate this threat with their own sources. Neither Turkey nor other regional partners can deal with this problem either. The issue requires an international platform that would address all its aspects.