Turkey’s poor relations with the West risks paralysing NATO - analyst

The deteriorating relationship between Turkey and its European allies risks undermining the ability of NATO to make collective decisions, analyst Antoine Got said on Thursday.

Got said NATO’s reliance on consensus made it vulnerable to bilateral disputes between members, such as Turkey’s threat to veto a defence plan for the Baltic states and Poland against Russian aggression unless the alliance designated the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria a terrorist organisation.

Turkey considers the YPG the Syrian-wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an internal conflict against since the 1980s. However, the YPG forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) a key western ally that provided the ground troops for the U.S.-led coalition's campaign to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

But perceived Western support for the YPG eroded NATO’s credibility with Turkey just as the country gained leverage over the European Union by threatening to “open the gates” for Syrian refugees, Got said. “Given its shrewd sense that the tables have turned, Ankara has lost many incentives to cooperate.

“As Ankara grows more defiant, NATO members are indeed finding it difficult to reign in their southeastern ally,” he said.

Turkey is also as odds with the EU in the Eastern Mediterranean, where the recent discovery of natural gas reserves has given new impetus to long-standing territorial disputes with Greece and Cyprus.

But Got said NATO can play a constructive role in de-escalating tensions with Turkey in a way that the EU has thus far struggled to achieve: “NATO can generate the much-needed safety valve where diplomatic efforts have a chance of succeeding.”

The central role of the United States in the alliance had also proved crucial in the past and could so again under President-elect Joe Biden, he said.

“When Greece and Turkey were on the cusp of war over Cyprus in 1974, a decisive factor that prevented hostilities from occurring was the ability of the United States to lean in and force the contenders into making concessions.”