Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today announced his country’s withdrawal from a NATO military exercise in Norway after an alliance document related to the manoeuvres allegedly depicted Turkey as an enemy target.
Erdogan asserted that his name and that of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, appeared among a list of “enemies” for the purposes of the exercises.
If so, it is an unprecedented and apparently inexplicable decision by alliance to depict a member-state as an enemy force.
Turkey is among the oldest NATO members, having joined the alliance in 1952, along with Greece, and it served as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism for decades.
It has NATO’s second largest army, after the US.
An ‘inconceivable alliance’
Erdogan announced the move at a meeting of his ruling AKP party leaders.
Erdogan said he was en route to Canada that when his chairman of the joint chiefs of staff briefed him on the situation, and that he ordered the withdrawal of the 40 Turkish officers participating in the exercise, even if the document is withdrawn.
The Russian S-400 missiles factor
“Such an alliance and such allies are inconceivable,” he declared.
The move comes on the heels of a dispute with the US over Ankara’s decision to buy super-advanced Russian S-400 missiles.
Ankara’s efforts to gain influence in the Middle East and its cultivation of close ties with Russia and Iran have also been matters of deep concern for the alliance for some time.
NATO has steadfastly opposed the purchase of Russian weapons systems by alliance members. The stated reason is the lack of inter-operability with Western-made systems of the alliance.
Erdogan said recently that he made the deal with the Russian because Western arms companies had not offered an economically viable alternative.
“They went berserk after we agreed to the S-400 deal. What were we to do, wait for them?” the Turkish president quipped recently.
The Cyprus precedent
The US, the UK, Turkey and other NATO members exercised huge pressures on Cyprus when in 1998 it ordered the S-300 air defense system.
Then Cypriot president Glafcos Clerides was forced to not activate the missiles on his territory, and under additional pressure from then Greek prime minister Costas Simitis, the advanced system was moved to Crete, where it remained inactive for years.
Yannakis Omirou, who was defense minister of Cyprus at the time, has recounted the S-300 debacle thus:
“In 1998…I was being constantly visited by the ambassadors of Great Britain, the United States and EU member states. Their message was the same. The missile system must not be installed in Cyprus because this would create tensions in the region and undermine, supposedly, prospects for a peaceful resolution of the Cyprus problem and pose difficulties for Cyprus’ EU ambitions.
“Of course, behind these arguments lay the concern, mostly of Britain and the United States, over the capability of the Russian missile system to end the exclusive monitoring of the region by British radars,” he said.