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.Advertisement
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.
Turkey is not only NATO's second-largest military, behind the US. It also anchors the alliance in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
The Cold War is over, but Turkey and its military remain important to NATO because of something most of the rest of the alliance can't do.Advertisement
NATO officials have said repeatedly that the alliance's relations with Turkey, and Turkish involvement in NATO operations, continue unimpeded.
But Turkey need not divorce its NATO allies for the alliance to be seriously weakened.Advertisement
Without Turkey's involvement, Romania and Bulgaria would be the only two NATO member-states on the Black Sea.
Ukraine and Georgia are not in NATO, but both are under pressure from Russia and have drawn close to the alliance.Advertisement
Greece doesn't border the Black Sea but is in NATO and has a history of contentious relations with Turkey, which could be exacerbated if Ankara spurns NATO.
While Turkey may be a problem for NATO, it's not the only one in the neighborhood.Advertisement
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