Turkey grows further from Europe as European countries change location of NATO summit

PKonweb Report– Several European countries are leading a campaign to block Turkey from hosting the NATO summit in 2018.

The military alliance meets in June to finalize the location of next year’s summit but Germany, France, the Netherlands and Denmark are said to be “vehemently” opposed to the summit being held in Istanbul.

(L-R) Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, US President Donald Trump look on as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prepares to speak during a working dinner meeting at the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) headquarters in Brussels on May 25, 2017 during a NATO summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Matt Dunham (Photo credit should read MATT DUNHAM/AFP/Getty Images)

German newspaper Die Welt reported Wednesday that 18 EU countries along with Canada will fight for Belgium to host the 2018 NATO summit instead of Turkey.

Officials allegedly wanted to avoid the impression that NATO supports Turkey’s “internal policy,” the influential paper reported.

The report said these countries agreed with the decision to prevent the meeting from taking place in Istanbul.

Turkey, which is also attempting to join the EU, offered to host the summit slated for 2018 in Istanbul during the alliance’s 2016 meeting in Warsaw, but it has found itself at odds with other European nations over its increasingly authoritarian politics and diplomatic spats with other countries, reported Newsweek.

According to the Politico Europe, the leaders, had informally agreed at the time.

But a high-ranking NATO diplomat told DW, “We do not want to enhance Turkey’s international credentials and [we want to] avoid the impression that NATO supports the Turkish government’s internal policy.”

NATO defense ministers are expected to make a final decision when they meet in June. According to reports, the favored proposal envisions the meeting at NATO’s new headquarters in Brussels.

“At the meeting of NATO leaders last week, Turkey made an offer to host one of our next summits, although not necessarily next year,” Cazalet said.

“Having a full-fledged summit at the new headquarters in Brussels is also an option. These options are not mutually exclusive,” Cazalet added.

The change of heart likely comes in response to a series of political battles between Turkey and Western European nations, especially Germany, which Turkey accuses of harboring Kurdish militant groups labeled terrorist organizations by Ankara and of granting asylum to Turkish officers fleeing accusations of their alleged involvement in a July 2016 coup attempt. The failed uprising has resulted in tens of thousands of arrests and a widespread crackdown on civil freedoms in Turkey.

Tension between Turkey and EU states also flared earlier this year when some European countries prevented Turkish officials from campaigning in their country for the Presidential referendum. The decision prompted a harsh response from President Erdoğan who accused one of the countries, the Netherlands, of showing “Nazi” tendencies.

He said at the time: “Nazism is still widespread in the West. I thought Nazism was dead but I was wrong. The West has shown its true face.”

Worsening relations

The move effectively marks further twist in relations between Berlin and Ankara, which have seen a notable downturn over the past two years.

Earlier this month, Turkey blocked German lawmakers from visiting a Bundeswehr deployment stationed at Incirlik air base. Ankara said it was in response to Berlin’s decision to grant asylum to Turkish military personnel accused of participating in a failed coup to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Since then, Berlin has assessed alternative host countries for the deployment, including Jordan, Kuwait and Cyprus, according to German officials.

Ahead of a key meeting with Erdogan during last week’s NATO summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel threatened to withdraw the German deployment at Incirlik if the two leaders were unable to find a way to move forward.

“I will make it very clear to the Turkish president during our talks that it is indispensable for our soldiers to be able to be visited by members of the German Bundestag, as ours is a parliamentary military,” Merkel said.

An eventual decision to withdraw troops was postponed on Wednesday when a parliamentary majority agreed to hold off on a committee vote, reported Christian Thiels, managing editor at German public broadcaster ARD.

More than 250 troops are currently stationed at Incirlik to aid in the US-led coalition against the “Islamic State” militant group, providing reconnaissance and support for the international operation.

Incirlik: Alternatives and the issue of withdrawal

Since the dispute kicked off last year, Berlin has assessed alternative host countries for the deployment, including Jordan, Kuwait and Cyprus, according to German officials.

Major Rayk Hähnlein, defense expert at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told DW that Jordan’s Muwaffaq Salti air base offers the “best alternative” to Incirlik.

He said that several factors, such as the US military operating out of the base, its proximity to the main area of operations in northern Syria and Iraq, and Amman’s willingness to host the deployment, make it a suitable choice for the German division stationed at Incirlik.

Some analysts have warned about the potential fallout a withdrawal could have on NATO operations and the US-led coalition against the “Islamic State,” especially as the alliance has agreed to formally join the coalition.

But Hähnlein told DW that while a withdrawal would have a “short term impact,” especially due to preparations to recapture the “Islamic State” stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, it would not undermine the operation.

“From 2014 to December 2015, the coalition got along without German support as well, so it will overcome the situation,” Hähnlein said. “If prepared well and with full support from Jordan and US partners on the Jordanian base, Germany’s absence would only be felt for several days or weeks.”

Hähnlein warned, however, of withdrawing all German troops from the country, noting that removing the five soldiers stationed in Konya “would be a wrong signal to NATO” since they are key to the AWACS surveillance operation.

When asked about the reported attempts by Germany and other NATO nations to block a NATO leaders summit in Turkey, Hähnlein suggested that it may be too early to comment on the impact.

“But of course, one can question if it is the right signal that Turkey hosts a NATO summit under the current circumstances,” Hähnlein said.

NATO values at risk?

The fallout between the two military allies partly stems from concerns for democratic processes in Turkey. While NATO effectively forms a military alliance between its member states, it also forms a political one that seeks to “promote democratic values.”

In 2016, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told an audience of students in Georgia that part of what makes NATO stand out from other military alliances is that member states share common values.

“Democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the media, independence of the judiciary (and) protection of minorities: these are the values that unite us. They are the values NATO has defended since its foundation in 1949,” Stoltenberg said.

However, although member states have not used NATO as a medium through which to voice concerns over Turkey’s crackdown and its consolidation of power under the presidency, European institutions, including the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, have warned that the country is “on the road to an autocracy.”

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