Turkey's relationship with NATO tested over Peace Spring

Al Jazeera
Turkey's relationship with NATO tested over Peace Spring

Days after Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned Ankara against destabilising the region, Al-Jazeera writes in the article Turkey's relationship with NATO tested over Syria operation. After meetings on Friday with Turkish officials in Istanbul, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Stoltenberg stopped short of condemning Ankara's move, but said that the global efforts to put a stranglehold on ISIL (banned in Russia) could be "jeopardised" should the operation continue.

"Turkey is a great power in this great region, and with great power comes great responsibility," he said. In response, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, said at a press conference alongside Stoltenberg: "Turkey has always been very sensitive about the civilians." He lashed out at some members of the international community, including fellow NATO allies, which have criticised "Operation Peace Spring", saying: "They all know that the PKK and YPG are one and the same.

"On one hand you (the international community) are calling them terrorists and acknowledging our concerns and on the other hand you are not approving this operation. Turkey has tried its best to resolve this problem in the international community. And it had to do this because there was no resolution."

Ankara began its long-threatened operation on October 9 in northeast Syria after US President Donald Trump on October 6 said American troops would withdraw from the region. Turkey says it wants to create a 32-kilometre (20-mile) safe zone which would protect the country against Kurdish "terror" groups and ISIL, and where it could relocate Syrian refugees.

Ankara considers the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency against Turkey for 35 years and is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and EU.

Stefano Stefanini, Italy's former permanent representative to NATO, told Al Jazeera that the alliance was effectively "powerless" in trying to manage Turkey's action in Syria, without US backing. "Stoltenberg is playing a weak hand," he said. "NATO cannot do anything beyond these verbal warnings." Stefanini added that NATO has before been challenged by Turkey, a member state he said was "acting against all the advice of other alliance members".

NATO has previously had to assuage internal tensions between members, with military coups in Turkey and Greece as part of the Regime of the Colonels junta from April 1967 to 1974 and the Turkish military uprisings in 1960 and 1971 respectively. Now, schisms between Turkey and other NATO members amid the current crisis are starting to surface. For instance, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands have said they were suspending arms sales to Turkey. And following Erdogan's threat that he may "open the gates and send 3.6 million refugees" into Europe, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on NATO to step up naval patrols in the Aegean Sea.

Hasim Turker, senior researcher at the Ankara-based Bosphorus Center for Asian Studies (BAAM), told Al Jazeera: "Turkey does not have the luxury to turn a blind eye to the security issues along its borders. "Turkey has the right to be supported by its allies in its endeavour to counter terrorism along its borders. "However, no action has been taken by these allies during all these years. It has left Turkey no choice but to deal with the problem on its own." With regards to NATO's stance, Turker said that it would be in the alliance's "best interest" to "refrain from alienating Turkey and acknowledge its security concerns".

Meanwhile, Lucia Yar, Turkey and Middle East Analyst at Comenius University in Bratislava, said Erdogan's advance into Syria would be perceived in Turkey as a greater priority than maintaining diplomatic relationships with Western allies. "Domestic issues, including Kurds at the borders, take much higher importance among the public than Western-related cooperation," she said.

After the US withdrew its troops from the border area, it gaveTurkey responsibility for all ISIL fighters in the region.