A wake-up call for NATO

In a wake-up call to Europe, Macron warned that if Europe did not begin to think strategically and not just commercially, there was a considerable risk that it would disappear geopolitically.

NATO and Turkish flags flutter at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, (photo credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR)
NATO and Turkish flags flutter at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium,
(photo credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR)
France’s outspoken President Emmanuel Macron created a furor when he spoke of NATO’s “brain death,” in an interview with The Economist.
In a wake-up call to Europe, Macron warned that if Europe did not begin to think strategically and not just commercially, there was a considerable risk that it would disappear geopolitically.
This warning was prompted by the US’ abrupt withdrawal from northeastern Syria, which Macron characterized as a military retreat. As he pointed out, both the American decision and the Turkish offensive have had the same result: sacrificing our partners who fought against the Islamic State on the ground, the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-led militia.
However, his ire was directed at NATO: “You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None. You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake. There has been no NATO planning, nor any coordination. There hasn’t even been any NATO deconfliction.”
Furthermore, Macron explained that the reason he spoke of NATO’s brain death is that as a system it doesn’t regulate its members.
“As soon as you have a member who feels they have a right to head off on their own, granted by the United States of America, they do it. And that’s what happened.”
Macron also made it clear that the rise of radical political Islam is the foremost enemy of European humanist values. The preamble to NATO’s charter states that it was founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law, which has not prevented Turkey from allying itself with jihadists in Syria.
As the Free Syrian Army (now renamed the Syrian National Army), they have fought alongside the Turkish Army in the invasion and occupation of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, and now in Operation Peace Spring in Syria’s northeast. In both cases they have been accused of atrocities against the civilian population.
Turkey’s, or rather Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s game plan, is to return these areas to their “real owners,” Syrian Arabs.
Despite accusations of ethnic cleansing, Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay has announced that 370,000 Syrian refugees have already returned to “areas cleared of terror.” Erdogan’s safe zone plan, which he presented at the UN General Assembly in September, is with international support to resettle two million Syrians in “a peace corridor,” stretching 480-km. wide and 30-km. deep (300 miles by 18.5 miles) along the Turkish border.
NOW, IN agreement with Russia, the safe zone has been restricted to 145 km. (90 mi.) between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn.
Turkey’s incursions into Syria have had a double function. First, to deflect attention from the precarious state of Turkey’s economy, and second, to find a solution to the growing animosity in Turkey toward the country’s 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
The driving force behind Turkey’s economy since Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power has been construction rather than production. But with the collapse of the Turkish lira, this has come to an end. In one year the official number of unemployed has risen by 980,000 to 4.65 million, half of the newly unemployed from the construction industry.
Erdogan’s resettlement plan for Syrian refugees in the Kurdish areas east of the Euphrates River involves the construction of 140 villages, complete with houses, schools, mosques, hospitals and social facilities, at a cost of 27 billion dollars for the first million refugees. As this will depend on foreign funding, Turkey, at the NATO summit in London on December 3 and 4, will propose a donors’ conference.
However, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has made it clear that if Turkey’s latest offensive involves the creation of a so-called safe zone, “don’t expect the EU to pay for any of it.”
As Turkey is heavily dependent on foreign investment, particularly from the EU, Volkswagen’s plans to build a new factory, which would have created 5,000 jobs, came as a relief. Now, as Volkswagen shares the assessment of the German government and the EU on the conflict in northern Syria, the company’s CEO, Herbert Diess has stated, “We are not laying the foundation stone next to a battlefield.”
Turkey has begun testing the S-400 missile defense system it acquired from Russia, and may sign a new contract next year. Turkey could also finalize a deal with Russia to buy SU-35 fighter jets instead of the canceled US F-35s. In addition, Turkey has blocked a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland in retaliation for a refusal to include the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia as a terrorist threat in a defense plan for Turkey.
NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has hitherto maintained a conciliatory stance toward Turkey, but there is a question whether he will receive support for this line at the NATO summit.
The writer is a commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press and a member of the advisory board at Vocal Europe in Brussels.