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NATO and Erdoğan: What did he want, what did he get?

From left to right, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to meet again in February 2020 in Istanbul to discuss Syria. (Photo: Turkish Presidency website)

On his way to London for NATO’s 70th-anniversary summit, when asked about whether “Turkey would veto the defense plan for the Baltic region if other NATO member-states do not designate the YPG as a terrorist organization”, Erdoğan had a clear response. He said that “If our friends in NATO don’t recognize as threats those that we consider as terrorist organizations and fight against, then they should take no offense but we will stand in the way of every step they take.”
But despite his edgy tone, Erdoğan was leaving the door half-opened by saying “if the issue comes up on the agenda”. So despite the manipulation of the Turkish public opinion for days, Erdoğan wasn’t actually saying that, he would open up the subject of YPG with a threat of veto during talks about the join-protection of Poland and Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from Russia. He was saying that there could be a Turkish response if the issue was opened up during discussions.
Apparently, French President Emmanuel Macron was in London to get all the spotlights on him as he declared days before that NATO suffered a “brain death”; despite the fact that later on he approved the declaration that NATO was stronger than ever. On Turkey, Macron went as far as to publicly accuse Erdoğan of “cooperating with ISIS proxies from time to time” on December 3, despite the four-party meeting that they would have on Syria. On the same day, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that he had no hope of resolving the issue at the Summit.

Relying on Trump’s promises?

And Stoltenberg was right. On December 4, before the leader’s summit, Stoltenberg said that they had spoken with Erdoğan and were still looking for a solution. It’s unknown what Stoltenberg, and then U.S. President Trump spoke about in their meetings, but it looks like these talks made Erdoğan approve of a “Gradual Defense Plan” for the Baltic region. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said that nobody had asked for anything in return and they had all “thanked Erdoğan” for the “solidarity” he had demonstrated. However, Trump had said that he and Erdoğan had discussed issues like “Syria, Kurds, ceasefire, and migrants”. In the Summit’s final declaration, there was no reference to the YPG, the Syria proxy of the PKK that has been designated as terrorist by NATO and pro-government media in Turkey had already started to highlight the stereotype expression of being against all kinds of terrorism as a “compromise” formula and a “success” of Erdoğan.
If there was a compromise here, what was it that Stoltenberg, or Trump, or both, promised Erdoğan in return for NATO not recognizing the YPG a terrorist organization? What did the vague expression that “Turkey’s sensitivities will be eliminated”, which had been fed to the Turkish media, really mean? In a press conference in London after the Summit, Erdoğan did not give any solid answers but said “Let’s wait for another six months”, praising the approaches of both Stoltenberg and Trump.
Of course, Erdoğan wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get all he wanted. For instance, Macron couldn’t get what he wanted from Erdoğan, which was an explanation of why he’s purchased the S-400s from Russia; this was not mentioned in the NATO final declaration either. Macron had even made a pass against Turkey, thinking that it could please Trump, but was disappointed when Trump replied that because his predecessor Barack Obama refused to sell Patriots to Turkey, Erdoğan went to the Russians. (Macron, on the other hand, asked Trump to be “serious” when Trump made a weird joke about sending ISIS fighters to France.) No reporter asked Macron, who was questioning Turkish efforts to protect its borders what was France doing in sub-Saharan Africa in Mali or Niger.

Who won in NATO?

In the end, Stoltenberg’s diplomatic success was to save the day by avoiding the contradictions among NATO members and bringing forward nothing but the common goal of “All for one and one for all”.
And that meant in London that Trump got what he wanted. Those were pursuing other NATO members for more defense spending and putting the main U.S. adversary China in NATO’s agenda.
The NATO, which had been established 70 years ago against the Soviet Union but could not find common ground in making a strong Russia a target at this point. With this decision, it’s no longer a North Atlantic alliance as its name expresses: it will extend its zone of influence to China, and therefore the Pacific region.
In other words, NATO’s 70th-anniversary summit had two winners: U.S. President Trump, who turned his national target into a NATO target, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’s no longer the only target of NATO, at least on paper.
In summary, if the main issue was the YPG/PKK for Turkey, there is no solution for the time being. Nor is there any reference to the issue of migrants returning to Syria. But whether maintaining the current uncertainty in the world’s current state of affairs is also a success, is up for debate. It looks as though the story is not over yet.


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