Viva la France

By Johannes de Jong

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.

The NATO summit has been painted as a diplomatic disaster for NATO and U.S. President Trump. This, however, is simply not true. What is true is that it was a complete disaster for Turkish President Erdogan at all possible levels. One person is responsible for that. French President Macron dealt a number of blows to Erdogan during the summit. This may mark a shift in the relations between Turkey and NATO precisely because it has been a diplomatic victory for Macron.

Let’s start with the first reason that it has been a disaster for Turkey: Erdogan himself. Erdogan came to the NATO summit with ridiculous demands and after having made a seismic strategic mistake.

Turkey signed a deal with Libya’s internationally recognized government on 27 November that designates new maritime boundaries between the two nations in the eastern Mediterranean and signals both countries’ attempts to stake claims in these highly coveted waters. Turkey’s pro-government news outlet Daily Sabah reported that the country’s maritime borders now extend from Turkey’s southwestern coast to the Derna-Tobruk coast of Libya – a move that essentially cuts the Mediterranean in half. Obviously, this infuriated Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, and especially France, who is working hard to become the most important player in the Mediterranean. On top of all that, the Nigerian army opened an investigation into Turkish arms deliveries to internationally recognized terrorist organization, Boko Haram.

The move by Turkey to extend its claims in the Mediterranean meant that Erdogan entered the NATO summit after he, yet again, showed Turkey to be a problematic partner. Erdogan also came with the ridiculous demands that NATO should support his invasion of Syria and put the People’s Protection Units (YPG) on the terror list.

Macron entered the NATO summit after having made a strategic analysis that extremism, not Russia, was the real challenge and that NATO needed a rethink. Regardless of the critique from Germany, there was, in most commentaries, a recognition of this analysis.

At the summit, Macron decided to go on the attack against Erdogan. He stated openly and clearly that the demands of Erdogan would not be accepted. More importantly, Macron is the first western world leader who has publicly stated that Turkey cooperates with the Islamic State (ISIS). This is a slap in the face of Turkey and something that will now easily become a talking point of every MP in Europe who is against Turkish policy.

Turkey, on the other hand, suffered a double blow. The first was that it was clear after Macron’s attack that there was no chance whatsoever that NATO would agree with Erdogan’s demands. In addition, Erdogan was forced to give up his threat to block NATO deployment in Poland and the Baltics.

This whole episode may have far-reaching consequences. Experts in academia and major think tanks smell blood. They define Turkey as a liability and there is now an open debate whether Turkey should be expelled from NATO or frozen out from all active engagement (which would have the same effect). This has serious influence on policymakers as the taboo surrounding NATO expulsion or sanction has been broken.

Moreover, if Macron’s analysis is accepted, it means that NATO does not need Turkey anymore as there are better ways to deal with Russia. If extremism is the real problem, Turkey is a real problem. Turkey’s support of ISIS and al-Qaeda and Boko Haram means that Turkey is importing problems into NATO. The combination of the analysis of Macron and his accusation against Turkey regarding ISIS may in the long run be the biggest blow for Erdogan. This may be a turning point as people finally open their eyes. Turkey may soon discover that its partners now believe that Turkey needs NATO more than NATO needs Turkey. In the U.S., the push for sanctions against Turkey has restarted again and Turkey may enter a cold winter due to a shift in its relations with NATO.

Johannes de Jong is director of Sallux and a regular contributor to SyriacPress.