Turkey and NATO: An Enduring Alliance

“The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” This ancient saying, accompanying the fate of the Kurdish people, seems to apply to the realpolitik inspiring the several actors engaged in the Syrian theatre. The United States, the Russian Federation, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have pursued their interests in the Syrian conflict, giving rise to changing line-ups which, once contained the threat of Daesh, have frustrated the autonomist aspirations – if not the independent ones – advanced by the Kurdish fighters from Syria to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The operation “Olive Branch”, launched by Turkey in Afrin against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units of the YPG – considered in the same way as the PKK terrorists – and in contrast to the US interests of establishing with them a Kurdish unit able to ensure a presence in northern Syria, is the consequence of the unfinished settling of the policies pursued by the various actors present in this crucial area of the security scenario.

In fact, this crucial region reflects the tensions of two arches of crisis that, from the East and the South, intersect in Syria, placing Turkey at the centre of a crossroads of instability originating several terrorist attacks.

As a hinge between East and West, and the guardian of the straits, Turkey has always been a fundamental ally for the Atlantic security. Despite a more autonomous reorientation of the Turkish foreign and security policy, the swinging relations with the Russian Federation, and the acquisition of the S-400 air defense missile system, Turkey continues to play a primary role in NATO.

Ankara hosts the NATO Centre of Excellence for Counter-Terrorism, which since 2005, has trained over twelve thousand officers and civil servants coming from more than one hundred countries. Moreover, Turkey has offered a significant contribution to the ISAF mission, also in command roles, and is in the process of increasing its military contingent in the Resolute Support mission to Afghanistan, currently made up of 550 units.

Turkey is also actively involved in NATO’s assistance, cooperation and projection of stability programs beyond Afghanistan, in Asia, Iraq, Ukraine and the Balkans.

Finally, in the advanced base of Konya, Turkey hosts NATO AWACS aircraft that provide air surveillance and support to the operations of the Anti-Daesh Coalition.

TK_UK_US_NATOOver the past five years, NATO has further contributed to strengthening Turkey’s air defense through the deployment of several Patriot and SAMP-T missile batteries at the southern border, protecting a potential missile threat from Syria. This mission is currently jointly carried out by Italy and Spain.

At the same time, NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean.

The mutual commitment linking Turkey and NATO for over sixty-five years cannot be easily scratched by contingent interests or frictions, or replaced by other strategic directions. It is not likely that Ankara is interested in replacing NATO’s current security guarantees or the funds and trade that bind Turkey to Europe and the West, with new relations with Moscow or Tehran.

The solidarity between NATO and Turkey has shaped the visit that the NATO Deputy Secretary General, Rose Gottemoeller, has made to Turkey on 22-23 January, following the launch of Operation “Olive Branch” in Syria. On that occasion, the DSG Gottemoeller pointed out that “although NATO is not present in Syria, we recognize Turkey’s security concerns.” Turkey constitutes a “key ally” that “has suffered a series of brutal terrorist attacks” being ” most exposed to instability and turmoil stemming from the Middle East.”. These issues will be the subject of the forthcoming meetings of the Atlantic Council, NATO defense ministers and the Summit that in July will bring together the Heads of State and Government of the Alliance.

Once again, NATO decided to share Turkey’s security threats by immediately opening up the line of dialogue with Ankara and by calling the members of the Alliance to express solidarity and cooperation, especially in the face of tensions. In doing so, NATO has outlined once more the unique role of the Alliance as a transatlantic forum for political consultation on security issues.