The row between Washington and Ankara over Turkey’s involvement in Syria’s war with the islamists is turning into a major crisis between the NATO allies. It also carries huge implications for the future of the alliance.
Ankara’s provocative behaviour towards the Russian forces in Syria has been a major source of concern to NATO, who fears that Turkey’s rash actions may drag it into a conflict with the nuclear power.
Under article 5 of the NATO treaty the member countries are obligated to come to the defence of a member subject to attack.
After a series of private warnings, Washington has now given Ankara a stern public rebuke: provoke a war with Russia at your risk.
The implication is that Turkey is an aggressor or a loose cannon, and so doesn’t qualify for NATO protection. It also signals America’s mistrust in Turkey as a responsible NATO ally.
The warning has been all the more humiliating for the way it was delivered. It was voiced in a newspaper interview by Jean Asselborn, foreign minister of Luxembourg, a junior NATO member much denigrated by Turkish president Erdogan just recently in secret talks with EU top officials.
Asselborn said NATO couldn't afford risking a conflict with Russia on Turkey’s behalf. As to article 5, he flatly stated that it only applies to NATO members clearly under attack.
Now, that’s unfair. It’s not the question of how clear an attack is.
In their view, by abandoning Turkey in its fight with the Syrian Kurds, the US is reneging on its NATO commitments. Which raises the question: who needs a supposedly all-powerful ally that turns out to be a wet rag?
To Ankara, Washington’s message is more than a public rebuke, it’s an outright sellout.
If Turkey can’t rely on NATO to stand with it against a major threat, what’s the alliance good for? Ankara may press the issue by formally invoking article 5. While the US is legally within its rights to provide only such protection as it deems necessary, what really counts is the attitude.
Anyway, it now seems only a matter of time before Turkey leaves NATO, following what it perceives as Washington’s betrayal.
It may not happen tomorrow, but it will happen, however improbable such an outcome may appear now. And it’s not necessarily an Erdogan issue.
The Turkish generals and establishment have long been disenchanted with Turkey’s treatment by NATO, seeing the organization as essentially a one-way street for the promotion of Washington’s interests.
It’s highly ironic that the US destructive Middle East policy is now coming back to haunt it in the form of a bad case of NATO decay.