Forget Trump for a minute. What was Turkey’s Erdogan up to at NATO summit?


An American Army helicopter flying over Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Credit Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

All the attention before, during and after the NATO summit has been focused on Donald Trump and the US attitude to the 29-country military alliance.

There’s been little notice taken of Turkey, which has the second largest standing military force in NATO, after the US Armed Forces, recently re-elected Recep Tayyip Erdogan and elevated him to the sultan-like position of super-president.

More to the point, Turkey is bent upon buying Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries, which are not compatible with NATO’s defences, and has defiantly said it will carry on doing the best for itself no matter what the American or anyone else says.

So, what’s up with Turkey and NATO? Is Turkey really contemplating an end to its membership?

Doesn’t seem like it and there’s the conundrum.

When President Erdoğan attended the Brussels summit on July 11-12, Ankara proposed greater contributions to NATO’s upcoming missions and a new command structure. It suggested that the Turkish army’s military headquarters in Istanbul be designated NATO’s new land command structure. It said it would probably send a deputy commander to NATO’s newly-launched training mission in Iraq, and more trainers too. And it stands ready to assume command of NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in 2021.

This sounds suspiciously cordial considering that Turkey is seen to be slipping into Russia’s sphere of influence and that’s the very country that NATO was created to deter.

If the current US president had any strategic insight or nous beyond cavorting disgracefully on the world stage like a drunken reality TV star, he might have lobbied for NATO to read the riot act to Mr Erdogan’s Turkey.

But that didn’t happen. It’s not easy to gauge Turkey’s intentions within NATO but enquiring minds question its sudden emollience even as it cuts billion-dollar defence deals with Moscow.