Turkey “is undermining NATO’s strategic relevance” in the Middle East, with military campaigns in Ankara making it more difficult for the alliance to bring stability, leading security academics have said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s interference in the conflicts made Turkey “the most unpredictable actor” in the region, the Royal United Services Institute said.
Military excursions, largely organized to distract national attention from the failing economy, could also lead to more serious conflict as Turkey continues to encroach on the Iranian “sphere”.
Ankara’s actions pose significant challenges for NATO as it sends more troops to stabilize Iraq, while Turkey, which joined the alliance in 1952, is conducting its own military operations in the north of the country. “In doing so, it actually undermines the strategic relevance and leverage of NATO,” said Maria Fantappie, special advisor for the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue. She said it was a “major challenge” for NATO.
This week, the Greek defense minister said tensions between Turkey and other NATO members posed the greatest threat to alliance cohesion following Ankara’s belligerent actions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Pierre Razoux, of the Mediterranean Foundation for Strategic Studies, cited Libya as a flashpoint where, if Turkey became more troublesome and destabilized the country, NATO would engage “to contain, control and discipline essentially the ‘one of its own members’.
Analysts have ranked Turkey alongside Iran as one of the biggest security risks in the Middle East. âTurkey is going to be a very big player in the Middle East, but it is meddling with Libya, it meddles with Syria, carries out attacks in Iraq, pushes into Lebanon and wants to enter Yemen. This is ultimately a problem for NATO, âsaid Vali Nasr of Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
He said that while the Iranians and the Israelis “know what each one is going to do”, with Turkey “you don’t know which side of the bed Erdogan is going to come out of in the morning”. He highlighted Turkey’s aggressive involvement in supporting Azerbaijan in its Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia last year, using drones and recruiting Syrian mercenaries.
By wandering into northern Lebanon and Iraq, President Erdogan was probing “areas that the Iranians could have considered their sphere.” The tongue between the two countries in recent months has become “quite strained” and there is now a potential to “get in each other’s hair” which would be problematic, Nasr said. .
He told Rusi’s webinar, titled âA Changing Middle East and Its Implications for NATO,â that Turkey’s actions meant that it would be increasingly difficult for the alliance to resolve issues with it. “A major disruptor in the region” in “expansionist mode”.
Rusi analyst Michael Stephens called on NATO “to step up and talk about the long-term security guarantees” it can offer the Middle East over the next 30 years. He said the region now realized that Russia and China were “not real options” for providing security, with America being the only realistic country with the power to offer stability.
Mr Razoux suggested that it was China, paradoxically, that could force countries to respect the red lines in the Gulf by exerting pressure through trade. After the recent trade deal between Beijing and Tehran, Mr Razoux said the Chinese have made it clear to Iran that the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman must remain free and peaceful areas, providing energy. and that the Iranians must there will be no blockers and no military action in this area â.
Ms Fantappie feared that the additional 4,000 NATO troops in Iraq could “fuel the fire” and exacerbate an already delicate situation given the presence of ISIS and Iran’s proxy militias.
With Turkey being an unreliable partner and NATO divided, Middle East leaders were entitled to question how a non-cohesive body could “bring stability and security to the region,” Razoux said.
âI suppose that, first of all, NATO has to become a very coherent partner with a renewed strategic vision. Then it can help the Middle East, but certainly not in the current situation, âhe said.
Ms Fantappie said that if NATO was looking for a renewed function, it was important that it did not make the mistake of âgiving itself a role to impose its presence in very difficult scenarios because it could backfireâ.