Turkey's efforts to have Israel and the EU barred from the Chicago Nato summit risk alienating the rest of the military alliance, writes Muddassar Ahmed.
Prime Minister David Cameron talks to journalists during a press briefing at the second day of 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago Photo: EPA
By Muddassar Ahmed
3:17PM BST 24 May 2012
As the Nato summit in Chicago edges closer, organisers are still unsure how many name badges to print out. Turkey, the Nato member with the second-largest army after the United States, is manoeuvring to bar the EU and Israel from attending the summit, while calling for the inclusion of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC). This series of last-minute demands highlights dramatic shifts, both within Nato's power structures and in terms of Turkey’s own foreign policy aspirations.
In the past few years, unprecedented regional events around Turkey and shifts in policy under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) have improved Turkey’s strategic position and relationship with the United States, as well as its economic power and regional influence. However, old grievances still linger in the back of her mind, and Turkey’s "conservative democracy" has been increasingly eager to use its new influence, risking progress in foreign diplomacy. Is it worth throwing a spanner in the works at world stage events such as the Nato summit?
Turkey has always found itself in a volatile neighbourhood (and has occasionally contributed to that volatility), but never more than now. With refugees flooding in from Syria, sanctions tightening against Iran, and Europe’s worst economic crisis in Greece, Turkey’s geopolitical self-awareness and regional leadership aspirations saw it pushing against Nato during the Libya crisis, even as that intervention was prompted by the Arab League and recognised internationally as a genuine success once the Gaddafi regime fell.
But despite burgeoning anti-US sentiments within the country (driven more by tensions with Israel rather than the US), Nato is still seen as an important security umbrella by most Turks, who feel emboldened by membership against conflicts with Syria, Iran, lingering Kurdish separatist movements and, politically, with the EU itself. As long as it is denied EU membership, Turkey will continue to use its place within Nato as a bargaining chip – hence its call for blocking the EU from the summit.
Simultaneously, Turkey still demands an apology from Israel over the flotilla attack in May 2010 in which Turkish civilians were killed, and wants Israel to bear the consequences of these actions. The risk with this strategy is that Nato is an alliance built on common interests, and bilateral grievances between its members (or guests, for that matter) are frowned upon. Griping between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar, for example, or between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus, would overshadow the alliance’s common purpose.
As expected, the reaction from other Nato members has been negative, with many allies urging Turkey to withdraw its veto over an Israeli presence in Chicago. The danger is that by misusing the Nato platform to push a narrow, self-interested agenda, Turkey risks progress on issues where it could still find some sympathy, such as support for its policy towards Syria or its regional peace-brokering efforts.