After the attack on Turkish military posts in Idlib, Ankara seeks NATO help. The alliance promises solidarity – nothing more. The EU reacts nervously but waits. From Brussels Barbara Wesel.
Compassion and “political support” – the allies of Turkey have said both. He spoke to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu last night about the situation in Idlib and the Syrian airstrikes on Turkish posts said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg after a two-hour meeting of the NATO Council. The alliance is already helping in the crisis region by monitoring the airspace with its flying radar system AWACS. And finally, Stoltenberg added a few warm words: “Turkey has suffered the most from the crisis in Syria”, NATO expresses its solidarity. What does not exist are concrete measures of any kind.
NATO: Alliance commitment in the event of a crisis
The government in Ankara had relied on Article 4 of the NATO Treaty to get the allies to comment. It is only the sixth time since NATO was founded that Article 4 has been called by a member country. A government can then request consultations if it feels that its territorial integrity, political independence or security is under threat.
The threshold is lower than for the so-called Article 5 alliance, in which NATO supports a member country militarily if it becomes the target of an armed attack. The principle behind it: An attack against a NATO country is considered an attack against everyone. However, it would have to be against a military strike on the floor of the member concerned. The only time Article 5 has been used was after September 11, 2001, when NATO countries agreed with the US government’s assessment that the terrorist attacks were directed against the United States.
There was already a situation in 2012 when Turkey asked NATO for help. At that time there was a series of attacks on both sides of the Syrian-Turkish border because Turkey was supporting rebel groups in the fight against the Assad regime. In the course of this conflict, Syria shot down a Turkish fighter jet, among other things. The NATO foreign ministers then decided to deploy “Active Fence” and stationed Patriot missiles and other anti-aircraft weapons on the Turkish-Syrian border. Among other things, Bundeswehr soldiers were stationed there at the time.
Ankara: signs of a political turnaround
The appeal to NATO seems to indicate a certain turnaround in Turkish foreign policy. At the NATO summit in Watford, the UK in December, tensions between the United States and Turkey were still high because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had decided against buying all the warnings from Washington to buy the Russian S400 missile system. An open scandal could hardly be prevented.
Since then there have been doubts about Ankara’s allegiance. The political flirtation with Moscow gave the impression that Erdogan wanted to change partners. After the attacks on Turkish observer posts at Idlib last night, however, the Turkish president had to ask himself whether Moscow was only pursuing its own interests – and was not prepared to set limits on the Assad regime to protect Turkish soldiers.
Meanwhile, a Turkish government spokesman called for a no-fly zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. “The international community must act to protect civilians,” Fahrettin Altun wrote on Twitter. Only the United States could fulfill this request.
Millions of civilians are being bombarded by air for months now. Infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, is being targeted by the regime systematically. A genocide is happening slowly before our eyes. Those with conscious and dignity must speak up!
— Fahrettin Altun (@fahrettinaltun) February 28, 2020
There are first voices from the US Senate in Washington, where Republican Lindsey Graham said: “The world is watching Idlib being destroyed by Assad, Iran and the Russians.” If the community of states led by the United States “struck back against these forces”, he was confident that they would “withdraw and open the way for political negotiations to end the war in Syria”.
Graham is considered a confidante of U.S. President Donald Trump, but it is unclear whether he spoke on his behalf. The president ordered his soldiers to withdraw from the Kurdish region in northwestern Syria last year. At the same time, a statement by Kay Bailey Hutchinson, US Ambassador to NATO, indicates that the US is interested in Turkey returning to NATO: “I hope Erdogan will recognize that we were his allies in the past and it is for the future. “
EU: Defense against refugees
EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell meanwhile warned: “There is a risk of slipping into an open international confrontation.” The EU foreign ministers have been trying to de-escalate the Idlib region for weeks and are constantly warning of a humanitarian catastrophe. However, their words are not heard because they are not an active player in the region and have no troops or leverage to emphasize their desire. NATO’s engagement, in turn, depends on the decision of the United States whether it wants to be drawn into the political and military conflict at the end of the Syrian war.
The spokeswoman for the EU Commission again tried to defuse Turkey’s alleged threats from last night that Ankara would open the borders to Europe for refugees. “There is no official notification from Turkey, we assume that it will honor its commitments under the EU agreement,” said Dana Spinant. The contract concluded in 2016 stipulates that Turkey will prevent refugees from traveling on to the EU and in return they will support Turkey with six billion euros in order to supply the almost four million Syrian refugees in the country. President Erdogan had repeatedly threatened last year that he wanted to open the borders to Europe.
There are reports that large groups of refugees are already gathering on the border with Greece. Various spokesmen for the EU Commission said that they wanted to wait for reports from the region. Above all, they emphasized that the warring parties would have to grant immediate access to the region around Idlib because of the threat of another humanitarian catastrophe. According to UN reports, around one million Syrians have now fled there.
In Brussels, the concrete situation at the EU’s external borders was said to be better prepared to prevent refugees from crossing the border. However, direct measures for border protection would be in the hands of the member countries. On the other hand, the EU must abide by the obligations under the human rights charter and asylum laws. Note that the neighboring countries of Turkey, i.e.Greece, and Bulgaria, are currently reluctant to hear.