The 70th anniversary of NATO was solemnly celebrated in Washington. Celebrations took place against a background of controversial statements. Disagreements among the member states have led to a series of events, which prompted experts and analysts to make forecasts, including on the state of U.S.-Turkey relations. But for some reason one point is disregarded – the United States is now at loggerheads with NATO members. Washington’s stance forced France and Germany to come up with an initiative to form a single European Army. In this context, Washington’s motive for unfounded claims against Ankara seems understandable. On the other hand, the role of the Russian factor should not be downplayed. In this article, we will focus on several important aspects of the geopolitical relations among superpowers in the context of the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Alliance.
Why disagreements within the Alliance are deepening?
Washington hosted a gathering of Foreign Affairs Ministers of the NATO member states to mark the 70th anniversary of the Alliance. NATO is considered the world’s most powerful military bloc in which the U.S. has the strongest army. Turkey has the second largest army in the Alliance. But there is now some uncertainty between these two NATO members. Ankara and Washington even traded serious warnings on the eve of the NATO anniversary. Politicians and experts from several countries try to exploit the situation to fuel tension between the U.S. and Turkey. In fact, the root causes of the problem are quite serious.
After Donald Trump’s election, the U.S. has been at loggerheads with each NATO member state. The American President openly said that the member states of the Alliance spend Washington’s money, but do not give a helping hand when needed. He said many countries are not paying what they should. But America’s European allies have taken a cautious approach. France and Germany did not welcome NATO’s target of 2 per cent of funding from their budgets.
Leaders of the two countries, especially Emmanuel Macron, put forward an initiative to form a European Army, independent from the U.S. This encouraged a wave of protests in France. President Trump said the French love him more than they love Macron. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also echoed the French President’s call for the establishment of a pan-European Armed Force in a sign of strained Berlin-Washington relations.
This shows that there is much disagreement within NATO, which cannot be confined just to U.S.-Turkey relations. In general, structural and functional contradictions are deepening within the organization. This, undoubtedly, shakes confidence among member states, forcing them to act independently in order to ensure their own security. The strained Washington-Ankara relations lead to interesting conclusions.
The U.S. warned Turkey against buying Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. Washington believes that if Turkey operates the S-400, crucial data might be gathered by the Russians. But Turkish experts call these suspicions ungrounded. Greece has long been operating the S-300 system, but no one has ever voiced any suspicions that this poses any threat to NATO. And what is the reason behind such an attitude towards Turkey?
There are different reasons. First, Turkey is pursuing an independent foreign policy. Indeed, Turkey is now demonstrating an independent and influential position on the global scale. Turkey refuses to fulfill all U.S. instructions. This negatively affects Ankara’s relations with both Washington and Brussels. Nevertheless, Ankara remains committed to its attitude. And the situation with the S-400 is related to hard facts.
Turkey’s ”blame”: striving to be independent and powerful
The point is that when the wave of terror hit the Middle East, Turkey requested NATO’s help in strengthening its air defense capabilities. Several Patriot systems were supplied to Turkey. But these systems were operated solely by U.S. and European servicemen, while the Turks were not given any training on the Patriots. In addition, when Turkey was targeted by missile attacks from Syria and when Russian fighter jets were flying close to its border, NATO remained inactive. Turkey then realized that there is a big threat to its airspace security. Ankara shot down a Russian fighter jet (SU24) in 2015 to demonstrate that violations of its airspace will not go unpunished. The move caused a serious standoff between the two countries, but the Turks managed to cope with this issue too.
On the other hand, Ankara demanded that NATO supply it with defense systems. But the Alliance remained silent again, with Turkey then requesting support from other superpowers. Ankara signed an agreement with Beijing. This prompted Russia to normalize relations with Turkey. Moscow and Ankara eventually agreed on the S-400 systems, and Turkey rejected the deal with China. The two countries have expanded their relationship in all areas to elevate it to the level of strategic partnership. Russia and Turkey are now developing the bilateral cooperation at a rapid pace. Washington warned Ankara against buying the S-400, in fact, trying to sow disagreement between Turkey and Russia.
America’s warnings came on the eve of the 70th anniversary of NATO. Washington warned Ankara of the risk of sanctions if it pursued plans to purchase Russian S-400 missile defense systems and also said it would not sell F-35 jets. Nevertheless, Ankara remains firmly committed to its stance. Washington was given a message that it should choose between terrorists and Turkey. And by choosing terrorists Washington threw NATO into abyss, putting its security at risk. So, it is Washington that needs to make a choice. As regards the S-400, Turkey will not reject the deal with the Russians. At the same time, it may purchase the Patriots too.
Washington’s attitude is the main reason behind these problems that emerged as the North Atlantic Alliance is celebrating its 70th anniversary. For the sake of its own interests, the United States is ready to throw any of its allies into difficulties. That was the case with Germany, France and Turkey. Turkey has suffered the most taking into account what is happening in the Middle East. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg admitted that among member states Turkey has suffered the most from terrorists in the Middle East because it is located in this region and armed clashes continue along its borders.
In addition, it is the United States which is helping terrorist groups hostile to Turkey, in particular PYD/YPG. Interestingly, Washington does not change its position. Now it is supplying weapons and providing financial assistance to terrorist groups in the Middle East. What should Turkey do under these circumstances? Of course, it should think of ensuring its own security. Ankara should not step back even in the face of the threat of termination of its NATO membership because at stake is the existence of the Turkish state. So, Washington was acting in vain on the eve of the NATO anniversary.
Experts believe that Turkey-Russia relations will be developing against this backdrop. In Russia, some say Moscow dictates its terms and gave an ultimatum to Ankara to seek rapprochement with it. But the reality is that Turkey is a big power and no one can give it an ultimatum. Otherwise, Washington wouldn’t have been out of the game now. Russia-Turkey cooperation is mutually beneficial. In addition, it is advantageous for the entire Eurasia because these two powers can give a serious impetus to the elevation of security, cooperation and relations in a large region to a new level. A look at ongoing processes in this context leads to conclusion that Washington and Brussels are the most concerned sides. The reason is that if Turkey leaves NATO, it will become more independent and more powerful. NATO membership is not a disadvantage for Ankara, and Turkey’s only condition is that no one impedes its development. If the United States changes its position, it will be able to remain friends with the leader state in the Middle East region. And Washington has no other choice!