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The NATO summit and Turkey's stance on the Middle East's crises

The North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) held its annual summit in Warsaw, Poland, on 8-9 July. Several decisions were made during the summit related to the issues in the Middle East. Prior to the summit, the members of NATO more than likely had a discussion on where best to hold their annual meeting and more than likely chose a place that held a significance to the Western countries within NATO; and that place is Warsaw. The reason behind the significance of this city lies in the fact that the Soviet Union ruled this city for approximately 40 years following the Second World War. And yet, the failure of the Warsaw Pact did not end conflicts with the West and with NATO members but instead served as a message to Russia that NATO members still viewed Moscow as a threat outside of Russian borders. In order to counter Russian expansionism, 28 countries agreed to unite their military power in Eastern Europe in response to Moscow's presence in Crimea, as it seeks to annex part of Ukraine. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has called for an end to Russia's support for the separatists who are currently fighting Ukrainian government forces.

The second issue that was discussed was the extension of the deadline for financial aid to Afghanistan to the amount of a billion dollars a year, which goes to support troops in Afghanistan who are meant to protect western military and security interests in the country. Yet, this is to be done without a total withdrawal of military presence from Afghanistan as was hoped for in the past. In fact, the plan now is to send more American troops to Afghanistan in the hopes that, first of all, the west can better control the country and second, to better counter Russian threats by sending more ground forces to eastern European countries that were formerly NATO members or were once under Soviet control and do not seek to share Ukraine's fate. The American NATO general in Afghanistan, John Nicholson, recently summarised Obama's intentions by saying that the "president sent a clear and direct message to the enemy" over the slow pace of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and "gave us the means of combatting terrorism."

The third issue discussed at the NATO summit was the expansion of the fight against Daesh as well as creating the conditions necessary for expanding the naval blockade on Libya. NATO members described the threat of Daesh as "imminent and one that required immediate action", whereas, they believed that the Russian thread in Ukraine and the instability of the Middle East and North Africa merely constituted a security threat. NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg assured summit attendees: "A new operation will be launched in the name of the navy in order to better combat terrorism. More forces will be sent to the Mediterranean." Stoltenberg did not provide any indication as to when the operation would start.

The most important decision undertaken in the summit was NATO's "decision to engage in countering (addressing) ISIS by training Iraqi troops in Iraq by providing them with AWAC reconnaissance aircrafts to better monitor both Iraqi and Syrian territory," it said using another acronym for Daesh. This decision shows NATO's willingness and ability to enforce safe zones in Syria and Iraq and protect large portions of both populations. However, such a step could also be interpreted as a source of concern for the Russian military presence in Syria since 30 September 2015. Russian aircrafts have maintained a consistent air presence despite Moscow's announcement that it would withdraw from Syria on 15 March. Russian involvement in Syria directly affects European countries and Turkey, all of whom are NATO members.

Thus, NATO members vowed to protect member countries and President Obama ensured commitment to European security in the long term and the defence of the allies by emphasising that cooperation of member states was under way stronger than it has been in the past in an effort to protect all members. What this ultimately means is that Turkey is in a better position than before despite the tensions between Turkey and Russia after Turkish forces struck down a Russian aircraft in the former's airspace. Yet, Turkey's NATO allies have urged the country not to further escalate its conflict with Russia, as it will not defend Turkey in any future disputes with the country. However, NATO had considered Russian violations of Turkish airspace as a violation of NATO airspace as well.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's presence at the NATO summit was of the utmost importance and was oriented towards the conflicts facing the Middle East specifically. The Turkish president pointed the attention of his fellow allies and members to three specific issues pertaining to the Syrian crisis and stressed the importance of changing the alliance's understanding of how security can best be achieved. The Syrian crisis was among one of the main challenges threatening Turkey's national security and the security of the region at large as well as Turkey's relationship with it. The three points brought up by Erdogan were:

  1. The lack of initiative to bring an end to the Syrian crisis does not threaten Turkey alone; it threatens all NATO member states and the entire world.
  2. The Syrian crisis creates a hotbed for terrorist activity, as is evident through Daesh.
  3. The migration of refugees to Turkey and to Europe poses many security threats in the eastern Mediterranean and Europe and increases levels of racism and xenophobia.

These are the issues that are currently facing Turkey that everyone is working to solve but this requires for NATO members to provide their utmost support. The military issues that NATO strives to solve to better ensure state security cannot be isolated from the security threats and the violence facing both Syria and Iraq. This is due, first and foremost, to the presence of sectarian political systems and second, because support for such sectarian systems is given by countries such as Russia. Russian threats are not limited to Crimea or Ukraine. On the contrary, they extend to Syria and while NATO should have countered this threat, the alliance has focused its energy on issues that primarily and directly affect Europe and the life of people living in the West. NATO has not given any significance to the threats facing the lives of those living in the East.

Translated from AlKhaleejOnline, 11 July 2016.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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