Experts say NATO blunder aims to "provoke" Turkey

Li Jiayao

by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) -- The incident that has caused tensions between NATO and Turkey during an exercise in Norway last week was a "provocation" against an indispensable ally of the western world but actually snubbed because of contentious foreign policy decisions, local experts said.

"I think it was a planned and deliberate provocation ... I do not agree to the judgment that this matter should be considered as a minor incident. On the contrary, it is a major scandal that would lead to the reaction of the Turkish people," said Mustafa Kibaroglu from MEF University in Istanbul.

Kibaroglu, expert on international relations, was referring to the blunder in a NATO military drill, where a civil contractor depicted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as an "enemy collaborator," and Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was shown as "hostile."

An angry and outraged Turkey immediately decided to withdraw from the drill followed by apologies from NATO and Norway, and Erdogan lashed at a "vile" and "treacherous" attitude towards his country, sign of a serious rift between Turkey and the west in general.

"The fact that the person who is behind this is not within NATO's institutional structure does not reduce the scope of this scandal," noted Kibaroglu.

The main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), as well supported President Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) requests for a full blown investigation on the incident. One of its influential parliament members Mustafa Balbay also implied that this was an orchestrated effort to undermine Turkey in the alliance and certainly a "planned" one.


President Erdogan's chief adviser Yalcin Topcu went however radically further and said that "it's time to reconsider the issue of Turkey's membership to NATO," according to local media.

"The presence of the great Turkish nation in its institution (NATO) has become questionable," Topcu said, branding the alliance's behavior towards Ankara as "dishonorable."

But Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tried to tone down talks that Turkey intends to sever relations with the military alliance, demanding that a comprehensive investigation be launched into the incident.

Experts like Kibaroglu think that "a perception is being led lately as if Turkey was ostracized (in NATO) because of its preference to acquire Russian S-400 air defense systems and that there are divisions between Turkey and its western allies," which are not true, according to him.

If Turkey would one day consider to leave NATO, "this should be discussed the broader way possible with all its implications," indicated Kibaroglu, who insisted that the western world would suffer more than Turkey if Ankara called it quits, "because a NATO without Turkey cannot fight effectively against threats to which will be confronted western nations today and in the future," he argued.

Turkey is a NATO member since 1952 and has the second largest army in the alliance after the United States. There is growing antagonisms between Ankara and some of its allies within the military bloc. Ankara's decision to buy sophisticated Russian air defense systems caused concern among NATO members, including the United States, because mainly of lack of interoperability with NATO weapons.

The incident in Norway may look somewhat minor to the unknowledgeable but it certainly constitutes a new and unprecedented outburst of ongoing tensions between the Turks and their western allies.

The failed coup attempt of last year and the reluctance of western powers such as the United States and Germany to condemn and to extradite plotters has changed Turkish foreign policy's trajectory. Turkey turned towards Russia and then Iran in policy regarding the Syrian war made growing popular mistrust and resentment in Turkey towards the west.

Ties with Washington and the European Union soured and Turkey found itself more distant than ever to the camps to which it had belonged since the early days of the Cold War.

"Regarding quitting, Turkey should on the contrary strengthen presence in NATO in order to rebut these circles who are trying to conspire against her, otherwise, those who are behind this plot (in the Norway exercises) will have won," said Deniz Ulke Aribogan, a professor from the department of international relations of Istanbul University.

"Leaving NATO is not an option for Ankara," she added.


Turkey has considerably strengthened cooperation with Moscow after a bilateral spat in 2015 over the downing of a Russian fighter over Syria, and the two countries' presidents, Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, as well as their Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, will meet on Wednesday in Sochi, Russia, to coordinate their cooperation in Syria, another high-level meeting closely followed by western capitals, especially Washington.

Ahead of this crucial trilateral meeting, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was received at the Kremlin by President Putin. Turkey until recently absolutely wants Assad to leave power before any solution to the civil war.

In this context, for Turkey to align too much on Russian positions is also a risk, Deniz Zeyrek, daily Hurriyet commentator said.

"Putting all the eggs in the same basket is not good," he remarked, reminding that the history of the two nations were marred by strategical differences and conflicts.

"If Ankara were to be dependent on Moscow's line in Syria and other regional matters, it would be forced to cave in to concessions towards Russia in the end," argued Zeyrek.

And precisely when it comes to dependence in diplomacy, some analysts think that it's time for President Erdogan and his government to return to basics and to follow into the footsteps of the founder of Turkish Republic, Ataturk, who led a "national foreign policy" based on the sole interests of Turkey.

"Looking at the general picture today, Turkey is not leading anything or setting the stage for anything significant that might contribute to how the new Middle East will be shaped," Semiz Idiz, Hurriyet Daily News columnist wrote.

"It is instead hanging defensively on the coattails of soft global and regional powers, vacillating from one side to the other, in an attempt to secure what it can for its own interests," he argued, criticizing the state of its ties with major players, the United States and Russia.


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