This is clearly what French President Emmanuel Macron meant when he declared in the aftermath of Turkey's counterterrorism action, Operation Peace Spring, that NATO was in a sorry state of “brain death.” He was extremely angry against the Turkish military operation in northern Syria, which aimed to remove the PKK-linked People's Protection Units (YPG) from the areas near Turkey's borders.
A strong reaction against Macron’s declarations was expected on the part of Turkish authorities, who initially thought that it would perhaps be a better idea to remain calm and steady, to discuss the issue at a more appropriate time and place, like the NATO summit presently being held. This was a clever move to defuse the tension between two important allied countries.
Last week, President Macron received a visit by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. The whole issue got out of hand when the two organized a joint press conference, where Macron rephrased his opposition to Turkish policy to remove the YPG from its southern border. He was determined to show that such “unilateral” moves would totally undermine the functioning of NATO. He insisted upon the fact that unilateral military actions cannot open the way toward “solidarity” between allied countries, and that that kind of “fait accompli” would ultimately render the whole organization obsolete and pave the way for its demise.
The comments come as Turkey has reportedly resisted a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland unless NATO provides Ankara more political and military support in its fight against the YPG terrorist group in northern Syria. Before this, Ankara had been adamant in participating in all the NATO maneuvers in the Baltic Sea, to show the flag alongside NATO members such as the Baltic states and Poland, whose military deterrence is, at best, not “dissuasive” enough. While participating in these military maneuvers, Turkey succeeded in establishing very close cooperation schemes with the Russian Federation, something that both France and Germany wanted but were unable to carry out.
The last critical declaration on the part of President Macron did not go unnoticed this time by Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a few days later, took the floor in one of the numerous large meetings he is fond of and launched a vitriolic attack against President Macron’s attitude and declarations. His attack was so virulent that the next day, French authorities summoned the Turkish ambassador in Paris to the Quai d’Orsay to listen to the explanations pertaining to what they called “insults” by the Turkish president.
This is not the first time that President Macron has felt “insulted.” A similar incident occurred with Brazilian President Bolsonaro, who really professed declarations, through social media, that were very hard to swallow and totally misplaced. That brings us to the issue of the use of “diplomatic language” in international relations, and the need to work in close collaboration in foreign affairs in such cases.
President Erdoğan has a very direct and blunt style; on the other hand, President Macron has a more polite, convoluted, but at the same time striking and violent style. Both men are very individualistic when it comes making ground-breaking declarations in foreign affairs. In Ankara, most of the diplomats learn about the position of Turkey through the declarations of the president, and it is the same at the Quai d’Orsay. Even people close to Macron at the Elysée Palace are seldom informed of the president’s decisions. This sometimes creates quid pro quo situations especially with German authorities.
In this particular situation, German Chancellor Merkel declared, against Macron’s position, that the Turkish military was badly needed by NATO.
It is a fact that, starting from the end of the Cold War, NATO had been looking for a new “soul.” In 1949, when the alliance was formed, it aimed, as the saying goes, “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.” It worked relatively satisfactorily so long as the USSR was the threat. The leading role of the U.S. has never been questioned, as far as it remained the essential force and the backbone of the alliance.
Today, NATO is a formidable military force, but it also remains a legacy. Bertrand Badie, professor at the famous Sciences Politiques in Paris, said in an interview given to French Daily Libération: “The very notion of alliance is extremely demanding – it does not imply a simple coalition, but a sustainable union around clearly shared finalities and around common values. None of these three factors is today present.”
This is the essential question: Can we simply get rid of a formidable military and political force, or shall we sit at the table and discuss the finalities of NATO, be it in northern Syria, the Baltic Sea or the Sahel, taking into consideration the numerous needs of the member states? Not facing a “visible” enemy creates immense difficulties and, at times, conflicting perspectives.
Will Turkey leaving the alliance solve any of these problems? Definitely not.