Turkey, NATO should mend broken ties

Turkey, NATO should mend broken ties

The Syrian crisis is not the first conflict that has caused deep disagreements among NATO members. The United States’ intervention in Iraq in 2003 could be cited as the most recent source of divergence at the NATO headquarters, although one can recall the Suez incident of 1956 and France’s decision of withdrawing troops from NATO in 1966 as other important fractures within the alliance.

Turkey, for instance, in 2003, was among the NATO countries that refused to join the U.S. campaign at the expense of worsening its allied relationship with the world’s superpower. The U.S. response against Turkey was very harsh. Furious with the Turkish military for failing to be steadfast when the U.S. called upon it in a moment of need, the American troops had arrested 11 Turkish commandos in northern Iraq in the summer of 2003 in an incident known as the “hood event.”

There are those who still believe that one of the main reasons between the continued mutual distrust between the two armies dates back to 2003.

The Syrian case, however, has turned Turkey into a target in the eyes of the NATO fellows. Prominent NATO members, particularly the U.S., France, Germany and so on, have imposed sanctions on Turkey by either banning arms exports or threatening with economic sanctions. Many have suggested that Turkey’s intervention in Syria was a violation of international law as well as the principles adhered by the NATO since its foundation in 1949.

However, all these countries that sought to punish Turkey through sanctions have never thought to do so against the U.S. and the United Kingdom in their offensive into Iraq in 2003, an intervention that has been seen as a blatant breach of international law.

This column has no intention to compare the U.S.’s Iraqi mission with Turkey’s “Operation Peace Spring” against the presence of the YPG across the Syrian territories. But it wants to emphasize that all these discussions over the Turkish operation should not lead to irreversible and irreparable damage at NATO.

After a deal reached between Turkey and the U.S. on Oct. 17 on the situation in northeastern Syria, it may be time when allies should start to discuss how best they can contribute to the efforts for a breakthrough in Syria.

As stated by Tacan İldem, assistant secretary-general of NATO, in an interview with private broadcaster CNNTürk on Oct. 21, the Turkish-American agreement introduces a window of opportunity for ending the eight-year-long civil war in Syria. In a different context, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar emphasized the importance Turkey has long been attaching to continued allied relationship with the U.S. as he said Turkey has no intention to break it.

It’s no doubt that this message will be reiterated during the NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels this week especially after the immediate reaction by the Western nations on the operation has partially calmed down.

A further de-escalation in northeastern Syria as a result of the YPG’s full compliance of the Turkish-American deal and Turkish-Russian reconciliation would also allow NATO ministers to engage in a more constructive dialogue in Brussels.

In this context, news reports that Germany’s Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer will present a proposal for an internationally controlled security zone on the Syria-Turkey border to NATO allies make the upcoming meeting much more important.

Germany’s idea would be seen as an effort to let Europe to return to the negotiation table after a very long time of passiveness on issues concerning Syria. But still it’s important that Berlin has decided to come with a proposal that includes setting up a security zone.

“The question of what this solution might look like lies in the creation of an internationally controlled security zone involving Turkey and Russia, with the aim of de-escalating the situation” and continuing the fight against ISIL and the constitutional process set in motion by U.N. Security Council resolutions, Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

It seems unlikely for Turkey to accept an internationally controlled zone in the northeastern Syria after almost all European nations harshly slammed its operation and imposed sanctions.

The question now is how to mend the broken dialogue between Turkey and the rest of the NATO allies. Correctly, it seems the intention of many NATO countries is to decouple their engagements with Turkey at NATO from their individual stances on the Turkish military operation into Syria. That’s the best and wisest way to prevent further disagreements within the alliance. In return, the Turkish officials should not re-engage in a megaphone diplomacy against the NATO members by accusing them of supporting terrorism.

As NATO is preparing to celebrate its 70th anniversary in early December in London, all the members should recall that they still need this alliance as the world has not become safer since the end of the Cold War.