The NATO Council and Mediterranean Dialogue Partners Meeting took place in Ankara earlier this week, at a time when Turkey and the United States are experiencing tensions over the former's plan to purchase the S-400 missile defense system from Russia and disagreements on Turkish drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Whether or not NATO, which experts have been calling an alliance in crisis, can contribute to the solution of pressing problems between Ankara and Washington is a critical question. The alliance could witness a further deepening of the current crisis if it fails to help two of its most powerful members overcome their issues.
Delivering the meeting's opening speech, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on all member states to "respect Turkey's rights." He identified common threats in the international arena and took a jab at NATO for failing to assist Turkish efforts to neutralize threats against the country's national security. Erdoğan recalled that Turkey had been dealing with irregular migration, terrorism and the negative side effects of the Syrian civil war for the last eight years.
The Turkish president also noted that Turkey contributed to NATO operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Afghanistan. "It goes against NATO's very existence to expect member states to overcome serious challenges, such as terrorism, unilaterally," Erdoğan said: "We expect our friends in NATO to merely act in line with the spirit of our alliance and defend its founding values. We want our allies to take measures against groups that they regard as terrorist organizations. It is impossible to legitimize the false steps that have been taken under the pretext of fighting ISIS [Daesh]. Nor are the legitimate rights of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [TRNC] in the Eastern Mediterranean subject to discussion. We expect NATO to contribute to the de-escalation of tensions."
Most of Erdoğan's messages were obviously addressed to the United States.
The main reason behind tensions between Turkey and the United States is Washington's disregard for Turkish security concerns. Tactical decisions by the Americans, such as their cooperation with the terrorist organization PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), hurt Ankara's strategic interests. Hence Erdoğan's call on NATO to play a positive role in Turkey-U.S. relations. In other words, the Turkish president reminded NATO what it was supposed to do and responded to the incessant questioning of Turkey's position within NATO. Erdoğan also urged member states to contribute to each other's defense: "We will take steps required by our national interest whilst maintaining our strong position within NATO. The relationships that Turkey nurtures with various countries and regions complement, not contradict, each other."
Turkey is determined to remain part of NATO and do what its national interest requires. Failure to answer Erdoğan's call would only serve to deepen NATO's current crisis.
The alliance, which marked its 70th anniversary last month, faces many challenges. The single greatest challenge against NATO is U.S. President Donald Trump's disregard for the alliance and his view that NATO is obsolete. This is unprecedented in the organization's entire history.
Former U.S. Ambassadors to NATO, Douglas Lute and Nicholas Burns, believe that NATO also faces the following challenges: Restoring European defense strength, upholding NATO's democratic values, streamlining NATO's decision-making, containing Russia, ending the Afghan war, refocusing NATO partnerships, maintaining an open door for future members, winning the technology battle in the digital age and competing with China.
If NATO fails to solve the problems between Turkey and the United States on account of the latter's dominance over the organization, it will further deepen its own crisis.