Turkey to press NATO to reinforce its air defense system

Turkey to press NATO to reinforce its air defense system

The heads of state and government of NATO member countries will have a packed agenda during the upcoming summit in Warsaw, Poland, on July 8 and 9. The summit’s timing makes it even more important than usual, as NATO faces both symmetrical and asymmetrical challenges and threats emanating from instability in the Middle East, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. 

It has been already announced that reinforcing the security structures of the Baltic countries and Poland against Russian military deployments to its Western borders will be among the issues discussed at the summit. The Ukrainian crisis and Crimea issue will also be one of the preoccupations at the summit, which is likely to be followed by the NATO-Russia Council. 

The summit will see NATO’s enlargement welcome Montenegro, while Bosnia Herzegovina, Georgia and Macedonia will all have to wait until they fully fulfill the required membership conditions. This will also mark the first security summit since Brexit, seen as a test to observe how the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU will affect its position in NATO as well as NATO affairs generally. 

For Turkey, the Warsaw summit is particularly important for a number of reasons. As outlined by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in a recent interview, the top issue that Turkey will emphasize at the summit will be the fight against terrorism and terrorist organizations.

Anti-terror fight Turkey’s priority 

Obviously, when Turkey mentions the fight against terror, this includes the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which killed 45 civilians in an attack on Istanbul Atatürk Airport on June 28 - part of a series of massive bomb attacks since mid-2015. It is also refers to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), against which security forces have long been conducting military operations in southeast Anatolia, and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, considered to be an offshoot of the PKK and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). 

In addition to these organizations, NATO’s decade-plus fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan could also be considered in this category, as the Turkish government will likely present it as an example why NATO should do more against ISIL in Syria and Iraq. 

What can NATO do against ISIL?

NATO, as an institution, has little appetite for diving into the Syrian theater, although many of its members are actively taking part in the anti-ISIL coalition and as a result have themselves been hit by ISIL terror attacks. A change in NATO’s line is not much anticipated, but there could be other non-combat measures that the alliance might opt for.    

Increasing the capacities of the Iraqi and even Libyan military forces in their fight against ISIL will be on the table during the summit. The Turkish government has already shown a willingness to take part in such plans. Turkey will continue his contributions to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission and will also announce that its troops are to remain in the country to manage the Kabul airport. 

Full protection of Turkish air space 

However, Turkey will also have important demands from allies in the fight against terror. Both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, who will represent Turkey at the summit, will likely urge NATO members not to impose “double-standards” in the anti-terror fight, emphasizing that the PYD should not be encouraged by Western countries simply because of its fight against ISIL. 

Turkey will also ask NATO to keep its promises to provide additional air defense systems to protect Turkish air space against threats that could be posed by different fighting groups in Syria. In addition to the Patriot systems deployed by Spain, Italy has recently contributed to Turkey’s air defense by sending SAMP-T missiles - the latest generation of surface-to-air air defense missile systems – against ISIL attacks. NATO will also provide an additional Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) for Turkey by the end of July.

Effects of normalization with Russia 

Turkey’s demand for the termination of the NATO mission in the Aegean, which started as part of a deal between Ankara and Brussels to stop the flow of irregular migrants to Europe, will also be on the table. The NATO is expected to be cool to Turkey’s call, on the grounds that the original migration challenge remains. 
Another issue to be taken into consideration will be the security of the Black Sea and Turkey’s earlier demands from the alliance to be more visible in the region to prevent the Black Sea from turning into a “Russian lake” as Erdoğan suggested a while ago. It remains to be seen whether there will be a softening in Turkish leadership’s approach to Russian dominance in the region after the normalization of bilateral ties. 
It will be very interesting to observe the results of the important Warsaw summit, especially regarding future phases of the fight against terrorism and NATO-Russia tension.