Turkey could invoke the collective defense provision of the NATO treaty against Syrian Kurdish militias, a presidential adviser said amid a dispute over the American partnership with those fighters, the Washington Examiner reported.
“We do not question the viability of Article 5; on the contrary, we expect it to be fulfilled,” Gülnur Aybet, a senior foreign policy adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said Tuesday at NATO Engages, an international town hall in advance of a main summit. “A NATO that is ‘fit for purpose’ would acknowledge this existential threat to Turkey, and this would actually make NATO stronger.”
Those remarks underscored Erdoğan’s commitment to a policy that has worsened his relations with the United States and with the broader alliance, as a Turkish assault on the Syrian Kurds has angered American and European leaders. The Syrian Kurdish militias did most of the fighting to dismantle the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but Turkey regards them as a separatist force that threatens Turkish security.
“If NATO members do not recognize this existential threat to Turkey, I think this will undermine NATO,” Aybet said. “You cannot have a compromise and address the immediate national security concerns of some allies and not address the immediate national security concerns of another ally. So, in terms of national security concerns, we really have to be on the same page. Otherwise, we will not be able to agree on anything else.”
Aybet also said Kurdish forces in Syria represent a “dire threat” and that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia and fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist group that has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey for the past four decades, are continuing to plan and execute attacks killing Turkish — and thus NATO — soldiers and civilians, according to Newsweek.
Aybet added that Turkey’s NATO allies have “failed to understand” the nature of Ankara’s concerns over the Kurdish statelet across its border, which she said is a prominent “national security threat.”
Aybet said that failing to recognize the threat could “undermine NATO” and called for a “realistic and frank dialogue” about the issue.
Erdoğan’s forces attacked the Syrian Kurds in October despite warnings from the US that the assault would empower ISIL. The operation left US President Donald Trump vulnerable to criticism that he had given a green light for the assault, raising doubts about how the US treats partners and sparking a war of words between Erdoğan and French President Emmanuel Macron in the lead-up to the NATO meeting.
“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron said last month. “You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the US 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.”
Erdoğan took the comments personally. “I’m addressing Mr. Macron from Turkey, and I will say it at NATO: You should check whether you are brain dead first,” he said last week.
The Syria dispute is only the most recent split between Turkey and the rest of NATO, following Erdoğan’s decision to buy an advanced Russian anti-aircraft missile system. The purchase of the S-400 defenses prompted the US to expel Turkey from the F-35 stealth fighter program, but Aybet maintained that it was essential for Turkish national security.
The Syria issue has widened into another controversy as Turkey blocked a plan for how NATO would defend Poland in the event of an attack from Russia out of frustration with NATO’s refusal to denounce the Syrian Kurdish militias.