In Turkey / Türkiye

By David J. Climenhaga, published on, Nov 29, 2015

Does it benefit Canada in any way to remain part of NATO, an organization that harbours at least one member country that quite openly supports the so-called Islamic State terrorist organization?

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey

I speak, in case you had any doubts, of Turkey, which is now apparently willing to risk dragging the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance, of which Canada is a fully paid-up member, into a shooting war with a righteously angry nuclear-armed power — an ill wind, if ever there was one, that’s likely to blow no good!

Anyone who has been following the news knows that last Tuesday fighter jets of the Turkish Air Force on Tuesday shot down a Russian bomber over Syria that may or may not have flown through Turkish air space for 10 to 17 seconds on its way to bomb undoubted militants who may or may not have been associated with Islamic State. One Russian crew member died; another was rescued. A Russian Marine was also killed during the rescue of the surviving crewman.

Obviously, in a relatively sane world, even with a vicious civil war raging in the country next door, such a momentary border violation would not have resulted in a military plane being blown out of the sky, even if it didn’t happen to belong to a nuclear power with a historical and geographical interest in the region. This should be especially obvious since the nuclear power in question was already very, very angry because it had just lost 224 of its citizens in a terrorist attack for which the very same Islamic State group had taken credit.

As someone who should have some expertise in such situations said not so very long ago: “Even if the plane was in their airspace for a few seconds, that is no excuse to attack.”

The speaker quoted above, by the way, was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, back in 2012, when the Syrians shot down a Turkish military aircraft that violated their airspace for a few seconds. But that was then and this is now, I guess, and this is not a particularly sane world.

Anyway, when they pulled the trigger on the Russian plane, our Turkish NATO partners and their Islamist president were furious about the Russians’ military opposition to their regime-change project in Syria, of which Islamic State clearly appears to be part. They were quite likely also enraged that the Russians had bombed a convoy of Islamic State fuel-tanker trucks full of purloined Syrian oil thought to have been owned by a company run by, wait for it … Erdogan’s son Bilal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described the Turks as “accomplices of terrorists,” which given their support for Islamic State as an agent of regime change in Syria, and perhaps for religious and ideological reasons as well, sounds about right.

For their part, having shot down the Russian bomber, the Turks quickly retreated behind NATO’s skirts, with NATO gingerly supporting them. The alliance’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, mumbled something about how “we stand in solidarity with Turkey.”

Lots of folks in the West seem to be willing to elucidate a somewhat clearer sense of what’s actually going on in the region: German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, for example, noted that “there is a player in the region who is unpredictable, and that is Turkey and not Russia.”

Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn observed that many NATO leaders “will not be dismissive in private of President Vladimir Putin’s angry accusation that Turkey is the accomplice of terrorists. Turkey’s support for the Syrian armed opposition, including extreme groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, has been notorious over the last three years. Its relations with ISIS are murky, but it has been credibly accused of allowing the self-declared Islamic State to sell oil through Turkey.”

Even The New York Times, ever cautious when dealing with supporters of regime change in places on the U.S. State Department’s hit list, oh-so-cautiously observed: “NATO officials acknowledge that Turkey’s agenda in Syria does not always match that of Washington, Britain or France — let alone Russia.”

But notwithstanding all this, Turkey remains a part of NATO, and NATO continues to welcome Turkey in its ranks. In other words, the “we” in Stoltenberg’s solidarity pledge to the Turks includes Canada.

That means that no matter how crazily they act, if the Turks invoke the notorious Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which states that an armed attack on one member “shall be considered an attack against them all,” we’d be obligated to go to war on their behalf — and on behalf of their presumed Islamic State proxies too!

No wonder the French, who like the Russians now have their own serious beef with Islamic State, have always been leery of NATO, maintaining a military posture with one foot in the alliance and the other firmly outside.

Now, you may be wondering what Turkey is doing in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the first place. Indeed, you could argue that as a powerful southern country led by an Islamist president it belongs in NATO about as much as, say…the Islamic State?

As for NATO itself, it’s not entirely clear why it continues to exist either. We are informed the alliance was set up in 1949 to challenge the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact, which actually wasn’t formed until 1955. (Don’t trouble your little heads about the dates, children. We have always been at war with Eurasia…)

One might have thought that with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO would have been quietly dismantled. Instead, the alliance has done its best to find excuses to keep its expensive military bureaucracy in business by absorbing new members right up to the borders of Russia — which some cynics dismiss as just an attempt to find new markets for the U.S. military-industrial complex, but which is naturally viewed in a considerably darker way to the east.

Canadians should be asking themselves what we are doing in a military alliance whose stated purpose no longer exists that ties us to an aggressive and increasingly Islamist state.

You shouldn’t doubt for a minute that if Turkey invokes Article Five, those same NATO military bureaucrats will argue it must be honoured despite the Turks’ ideology and irresponsibility lest the alliance lose credibility, never mind that pride goeth before destruction.

So if the Russians were to respond to the Turkish provocation in the way the United States certainly would have, with a tit-for-tat shoot-down of a Turkish aircraft, we could be Article Fived into a war we want no part in, and on the side of real terrorists to boot!

Fortunately, the Russians have kept their cool. But as NATO allies, we obviously shouldn’t have to depend on our supposed adversaries, not our supposed allies, to save our skins!

I recognize there is likely absolutely no appetite for this in any of the three neoliberal-dominated parties that hold the bulk of the seats in Canada’s Parliament, but we Canadians really should be reassessing our membership in this alliance.

The bottom line is this: If Turkey remains part of NATO, Canada should get the hell out.

David Climenhaga publishes, where this commentary also appeared. He is a journalist and journalism teacher, author, poet and trade union communicator. He has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. His Alberta Diary blog focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.



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