The US dispute with Turkey over Russian weapons could mean more problems on NATO's 'most troublesome' front
- Turkey's October incursion in Syria further strained ties with the US that have frayed for months over Ankara's purchase of a Russian-made air-defense system.
- Those disputes add to longstanding rifts in NATO, which relies on Turkey as a major player in a strategically important region.
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The White House meeting this month between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yielded no progress on two major issues dogging the long-time allies.
Ankara has spurned US demands that it not activate its Russian-made S-400 air-defense system, and it isn't backing down from its incursion in Syria that the US and others have criticized.Despite that strife, however, NATO officials have maintained that the alliance is strong.
"Turkey has been an important ally of that alliance since the mid-1950s. That situation has not changed. The geostrategic reasons for Turkey's membership have not changed ... and [it] plays a full role in the NATO command structure," Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach of the UK's Royal Air Force, who heads the NATO Military Committee, said this month at a Defense Writer's Group breakfast in Washington, DC.
But with the S-400 purchase alone, NATO is "already skirting going beyond that definitive shift" in intra-alliance relations, according to Omar Lamrani, senior military analyst at the geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor.
Turkey arming itself with Russian weaponry would erode "interoperability, which is quite necessary ... to work with other NATO members and to have a combined focus and combined objective," Lamrani said.
Turkey doesn't need to leave NATO to weaken it. Just a lack of Turkish cooperation could undermine the alliance in a strategically important region.