Poland has openly come out against Turkey’s leading role within NATO’s Rapid Deployment Force — particularly in the eastern Mediterranean region — and US President-elect Joe Biden’s team as well as some CIA and Pentagon officials have also laid down some conditions to Ankara for their final approval before it will get the greenlight for its key security role.
Turkey’s New Global Reach
Despite being embroiled in a web of conflicts from central Asia via Syria and all the way through the Mediterranean to Libya, Turkish President Recep Erdogan and his Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Hulusi Akar have worked to form new alliances, particularly with Pakistan, a nuclear state, and the Ukraine — Vladimir Putin’s pain in the neck — where sensitive military and industrial exchanges including highly sensitive missile engine technology are widely believed to have been relayed to the Turks. This includes a joint Turkish-Ukrainian deal to produce 48 of the Bayraktar TB2 drones.
Erdogan views what happened recently in Nagorno-Karabakh and the defeat of the Armenian army by his Azari allies as a victory made possible only thanks to Turkey’s direct involvement in the war, especially the decisive role played by Turkey’s state-of-the-art drones, the Bayraktar TB2s.
Will the Split Among NATO Members Undermine Ankara’s Ambitions?
Poland is a former cornerstone of the Warsaw Alliance and current NATO member and it has clearly voiced its objection to Turkey leading the Alliance’s elite Rapid Deployment Force. The final say in such a strategic step, however, lies in Washington, whose newly elected president has had some fiery exchanges, even threats, with Erdogan during the Obama administration.
Biden and Erdogan clashed over many issues including treatment of the Kurds, Ankara’s regional expansionist plans and human rights violations in Turkey.
Despite Polish opposition, Washington is reportedly willing to grant Turkey such a vital military task, but not without its own preconditions. Biden’s initial approval must have come as a shocking surprise to many pundits — including some in Turkey itself — given the tense relationship that had existed between Biden and Erdogan personally.
Furthermore, members of Biden’s team are said to have contacted Ankara over this issue, relaying the reservations of some senior US army and CIA officials over the matter and laying down Washington’s conditions for a final go ahead. Surprisingly, Greece — Turkey’s arch enemy and fellow NATO member nation — has not vetoed the move, perhaps driven by Athens’s keenness not to find itself at loggerheads with Washington over this issue.
Why is Poland Taking the Lead Against Turkey?
Some observers argue that the root of the Polish veto of the new Turkish role lies in the fact that Ankara has been excluding many former Eastern Bloc nations seeking major military as well as economic cooperation deals and have been left out of Turkish endeavors for one reason or another.
Poland might be looking for a larger role of its own through objecting to the Turkish assignment in NATO. Many nations — pundits argue — might be willing or even trying to join the new alliance, within NATO itself or alongside it. This includes mainly Turkish speaking nations such as Azerbaijan, and other key Asian and East European countries both inside and outside the Alliance, such as Pakistan and Ukraine, whose parliament adopted a legislation in June 2017 reinstating the nation’s membership in NATO as a foreign strategic and security policy objective.
Ankara has recently embarked on an extensive ballistic missiles program — especially following Greece’s deployment of drones over the disputed Aegean and Mediterranean waters. Tension — a common phenomenon between the two nations — has been running even higher in recent months over ongoing controversial gas and exploration ventures by Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Details of Turkey’s New NATO Mission
With enough trouble at their hands — both internally and externally — before Biden is officially sworn into the White House, Biden’s advisors have told Ankara that it should shoulder adequate responsibility and pull its own weight within NATO if the Turkish army wants to uphold such the key task of leading the Alliance’s RDF.
This is particularly true in the volatile eastern Mediterranean. This role will undoubtedly strengthen Ankara’s position and Erdogan’s internal as well as regional status, building on Washington’s fear of Erdogan’s Turkey drifting outside NATO — particularly following Ankara’s controversial S 400 arms deal with Russia and now the qualitative cutting-edge technological exchanges with the Ukraine.
The new mission of leading NATO’s Rapid Deployment Force will be entrusted to Turkey’s 1st Army elite battalions, with some 4000 highly trained and US- approved officers along with some 6,000 elite operators and military personnel who currently operate mainly in the Istanbul region all the way to the Bulgarian borders.
However, Biden’s team is reported to have also asked Turkey to reinstated at least 200 senior army officers — mainly US-trained — who were summarily discharged by Erdogan following the failed 2016 coup attempt. Team Biden also stressed to the Turks that the new defensive force should be supportive, and in no way compete to replace or contravene NATO itself in nature or in mission.
Whether the high-riding Turkish president is going to comply with Washington’s conditions or not remains to be seen, but his decision will inevitably determine the fate of Ankara’s ambitious aspirations.