No surprise in the NATO summit of 70th anniversary

The decades-old NATO practice of disagreeing on several issues, but eventually arriving at a compromise was re-confirmed at the NATO summit in London this week to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the alliance.  

The only exceptions were the outspoken statements made immediately before the summit by three NATO leaders; French President Emanuel Macron, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump. Macron said one week before the summit that NATO was “brain dead”. He made this statement referring to several weaknesses of NATO including its relations with Russia, the subject of Turkey, and who its biggest enemies are. 

Since Turkey was mentioned among the reasons why NATO was “brain dead”, Erdoğan felt the need to respond and said: "Look Mr. Macron, I am addressing you from Turkey, but I will tell you again at NATO. First, have your own ‘brain death’ checked".  

Referring to Macron’s comment that Turkey had launched out a military operation in Syria without consulting NATO countries and only the United States, Erdoğan said France had no right and authority to be in Syria. 

Trump called the French president’s description of NATO as brain dead insulting and a “very very nasty statement”.  

On Macron’s criticism of Turkey, Trump sided with Ankara and said Turkey “could not be nicer, more supportive, very helpful”. He added that Turkey had cooperated in the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 

One of the most sensitive issues was the reciprocal blockage of certain NATO decisions by Turkey and the other NATO countries.  

Many NATO countries refused to agree with Turkey’s perception of the threat from the Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG). To challenge this policy Turkey decided to abstain from joining the consensus of other allies on the measures that NATO was planning to take to protect Baltic countries from Russia. This reciprocal obstinacy was maintained until the last session of the summit. Eventually, wisdom prevailed and both sides agreed to join the consensus, and NATO’s traditional culture of conciliation was confirmed once more.  

Some countries accused Turkey of blackmailing NATO. But I remember similar reciprocal methods used to apply pressure and mutually lifted at the last moment.    

Turkey’s achievement in this exercise was to highlight the importance it attributes to the recognition of the YPG as terrorists. Several NATO countries will probably maintain their policy of not considering it a terrorist organisation, but will probably abstain from voicing it publicly.  

Similar mutual recriminations and less-than-polite statements made by the leaders about each other were not reflected in the final communiqué and NATO displayed an image of harmonious organisation. This has to be perceived as a success. 

NATO continues to be an alliance against the Russian Federation, but from this week’s summit on, equal attention will be paid to monitor what China is doing.     

Apart from the NATO-wide problems, a quadrilateral summit of 50 minutes was also hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Erdoğan’s behest, with the participation of Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Erdoğan said that it was a useful meeting. The statements made by the other leaders indicate that Erdoğan informed his counterparts of Turkey’s attitude on various issues, but the other leaders seem to have been unconvinced.  

The British prime minister’s office issued a statement saying that the leaders “agreed to put an end to the attacks on civilians, including in Idlib and northeast Syria”. It adds that the leaders agreed to make efforts to create suitable conditions for the safe, voluntary and sustainable return of refugees. Merkel said more talks were needed for Turkey’s demand to establish safe zones. Macron said they could not eliminate the divergence of approaches to the question of the YPG.  

The results have to be considered satisfactory for Turkey, but it must have noticed that some NATO allies continue to disagree with it on several issues. 

© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.