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Opinion For Biden and NATO, Turkey is a headache that is here to stay



So Joe Scranton will give Erdogan “Come on! No pain! ‚ÄúTreatment? That would certainly warm the hearts of a number of lawmakers, political experts, journalists, human rights activists and dissidents, but it probably won’t be much, even if Biden reads Erdogan in private. Despite requests for a pound of Turkish flesh in Washington these days, those expecting fireworks at the Biden-Erdogan meeting are likely to be disappointed. Biden can’t do much about Turkey’s geopolitical dilemma, and is unlikely to acknowledge tensions – at least publicly – given its focus on repairing transatlantic ties and solidarity with allies. Ankara will remain a NATO ally on paper, but it has long since ceased to be a partner ̵

1; and that will not change any time soon.

Turkey’s advantage in NATO has always been its location. Close to Russia, the Middle East and the Balkans, the country is an indispensable asset on NATO’s southeastern flank. This has always given Ankara some freedom to pursue policies that are not entirely in line with NATO, whether it is the soft authoritarianism of four successful military coups between 1960 and 1997 or the occupation of northern Cyprus that began in 1974. and continues today. In recent years, Erdogan, who sees Turkey as a great power in itself, has tested the limits of Ankara’s privileged position.

Although Biden is unlikely to take on Erdogan’s task in front of cameras in Brussels, his administration has responded to a long list of irritants on the US-Turkish agenda by changing the tone of bilateral ties. The State Department was unusually harsh (by its own powdery-mouthed standard) on the use of the Turkish government by police for riots against student protesters and the fake trial of a Turkish businessman and American academic who were absurdly accused of plotting a failed coup in July 2016. ‘etat. The White House itself issued a statement when Turkey withdrew from a 2011 multinational agreement to combat domestic violence against women, which the Turkish president’s office said was a “kidnapping”.[ed] from a group trying to normalize homosexuality. ”

And then, of course, there was the recognition of the Armenian genocide, something Armenian-American activists had hoped to see from President Barack Obama, but he punished for fear of upsetting an important American ally. However, much has changed since then.

Other, longer-standing differences between the allies include the fight against Islamic State in Syria, where the United States relies on a Kurdish fighting force that Turkey considers a terrorist organization; the presence of Erdogan’s arch-enemy Fethullah Gulen in the United States; and the beating of Turkish security agents by US citizens protesting against Erdogan in May 2017.

Less understandable on this side of the Atlantic is that Ankara has proved to be a major headache for NATO, given its frequent unrestrained relations with other members of the alliance. Last summer, for example, Turkey sparked a crisis with other NATO allies, Greece and France. In short, Turkey has delineated a maritime border with Libya, which has no legal basis, and has essentially halved the Mediterranean Sea – in addition to approaching the Greek island of Crete dangerously (where there may be significant underwater gas fields). France, which is considered a Mediterranean power, made an exception to the Turkish move, as did the Greeks, for obvious reasons. At the same time, Turkey was seeking gas in the waters of the Republic of Cyprus – which is a member of the EU but not NATO – by speeding up demonstrations of Greek and French military support for the island.

There were no shots, but that was hardly a given. Across the Mediterranean, Turkey also threatened to send Syrian and other refugees to Greece and other European and NATO countries last year.

In a sense, all this muscular flexion was a rational response to what Turkish leaders see as an attempt by Greece (and its allies Egypt, Cyprus and Israel) to steer Turkey into a very small part of the Mediterranean, despite its 995-mile coastline with this water body. In another sense, Turkey has demonstrated that it has its own geopolitical interests, separate from those of NATO – a reality that the alliance will still struggle with, but also cannot do much.

And then there is Russia. Turkey and Russia have deepened trade, diplomatic and military ties in recent years, but these relations are not as clear as is commonly thought.

The most important indication of Turkey’s ambiguity with NATO is Erdogan’s determination to buy and deploy Russia’s S-400 air defense system – the most sophisticated in Moscow’s arsenal – against US and European allies’ objections. Despite repeated US warnings, the removal of Turkey from the F-35 joint fighter program and the imposition of sanctions by a furious Congress, Turkey has completed the transaction.

For some observers, the S-400 saga clearly shows that Ankara obeys Moscow. Similarly, a few weeks ago, angry European diplomats leaked to the press that Turkey had reduced a NATO statement condemning the hijacking of a Belarusian Ryanair plane to detain a dissident journalist. Europeans have hinted that Turkey wants a softer stance against Belarus because of Erdogan’s desire to admire Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Loud critics of Ankara in Europe and the United States often overlook the fact that the Turkish and Russian governments are on opposite sides of any major conflict in the regions concerned, including Syria, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh and Ukraine. If so, why would the Turkish government buy the S-400 and why have Erdogan and Putin worked so hard to divide their differences?

The answer can be seen in a statement by Interior Minister Suleiman Soylu just before the first components of the S-400 arrived at an air base outside Ankara. The prodigal minister said it was Turkey’s “Independence Day” – that is, independence from NATO and the United States. Turkish nationalists such as Erdogan and Soylu are struggling with NATO’s long-term efforts to turn Ankara into a mere appendage to the alliance, which is expected to pursue the interests and goals of other countries. Instead, leaders in Ankara see Turkey at the same level as major European powers. They also see their country as a Mediterranean power, a Eurasian power and a Muslim power.

In this context, Turkey’s relations with Russia take on a slightly different tone. Erdogan’s co-operation with Russia in certain areas is not a sign that he is a supporter of Putin, and his opposition to Russia on other issues does not make Ankara a bulwark against Moscow, as its NATO allies want it to be. Rather, Erdogan’s two-pronged approach underscores Ankara’s determination to be an independent and powerful player on the world stage.

This is what makes the debate in NATO on how to deal with this troubling ally so complicated. The Allies understand Turkey’s value and want to put it aside, but Erdogan seems to disagree on whether NATO matters to Turkey. He does not want to back down, but his actions suggest that he does not believe that an international order led by America – and thus by NATO – is strengthening Turkish power. Whatever happens between the US and Turkish presidents in Belgium, Turkey’s leaders are and will continue to inform their NATO partners that the country will pursue its own goals, even if it means a conflict with its allies.

Instead of sweeping Turkey’s bad behavior under the rug, as previous administrations have done, Biden seems to have taken a different approach: working with Erdogan on areas of common interest, such as Ukraine and Black Sea security, but not emphasizing what he once did. has been seen as a critical two-way relationship.

The Biden-Erdogan summit is likely to be as cool as the April reading, but the NATO summit will end just as it began: with leaders still grumbling about Ankara’s role in softening the alliance’s withdrawal against Belarus, the issue of The S-400 is probably still unresolved and American doubts about an important but difficult ally unchanged. In other words, Turkey is a problem, and don’t expect Biden or Erdogan to do much soon.


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