Is Berlin's decision to get out of İncirlik part of something bigger?

Published 11.06.2017 22:17
Updated 12.06.2017 15:02

The U.S.'s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and Germany's decision to leave İncirlik base are both signaling a warning alarm for the future of NATO

Sharp disagreements between U.S. President Donald Trump and European leaders that became visible at the NATO and G7 summits held in Europe led to the rift between the U.S. and Germany grow further. This fracture right at the heart of the Transatlantic alliance became clearer when German Chancellor Angel Merkel, who has been rallying for her fourth term spoke to her supporters in a beer tent in Berlin and said: "The times when we could fully rely on others are to some extent over — I experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands," referring to Trump and the U.K., which has been shaken by the election results of last week. Trump's response further increased tensions: "We have a massive trade deficit with Germany, plus, they pay far less than they should on NATO and military. Very bad for the U.S. This will change."

These words had an earthquake effect in Germany; Merkel's rivals chose to stand with her. The former president of the European Parliament said: "Trump is a destroyer of Western values. We must stand in his way."

Even though Trump stopped calling NATO "obsolete," and it took two weeks for him to commit to Article 5 of NATO, i.e. the mutual defense provision at the heart of the alliance, his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord to seek better terms just added fuel to the fire. From Pope Francis to Silicon Valley billionaires, many expressed their disappointment over Trump's decision, while Merkel and the leaders of France and Italy released a joint statement rejecting Trump's assertion that the climate deal can be redrafted.

After all this, and with Britain's Brexit, it is obvious that we will talk about the fate of the Western alliance, and particularly NATO, more in the near future. While the key purposes of NATO were to keep Americans in and Russians out of Europe and to keep Germans under control in an international framework to prevent it becoming a threat to Europe as it had been in World War I and II, it looks like things are changing greatly. Considering that Turkey, NATO's second largest army, is repeating its criticisms of NATO, such as the alliance has to do more in the fight against terrorism, more questions will be asked openly about the future of the Atlantic pact soon. Germany is getting ready to host the G20 summit in July; there is no doubt that the event will be as awkward as the G7 summit in Taormina or the NATO summit in Brussels, and what Trump will say and do in Hamburg is really unpredictable. But rumors such as the last one about Germany leading a drive to block next year's NATO leaders summit from taking place in Turkey is clearly not helping to cement ties between members.

If true, the move will once again affect relations between Ankara and Berlin, which have seen a notable downturn in the last two years. As is known, the two capitals hit a low several times since the German parliament passed an Armenian genocide resolution last year. Ankara is disappointed with its long-time ally's moves in the aftermath of the attempted coup in Turkey last summer, while Gülenists who infiltrated the Turkish military as well as outlawed PKK members find safe haven in Germany. During Turkey's April 16 referendum campaign, Germany prevented some politicians from meeting Turkish citizens, which further deteriorated relations. In addition, the biggest controversy has been over İncirlik Air Base.

Following German parliament's resolution last year, Turkey reacted by preventing visits by German parliamentarians to İncirlik where some 280 German troops, six Tornadoes and fuel tankers are stationed as part of the anti-Daesh coalition. A formula was found in September, however, after recent developments following the July 15 failed coup, the blockade against the German parliamentarians was back. Turkey insisted that parliamentarians visiting İncirlik base should at least not be well-known supporters of PKK terrorists. While Berlin was giving messages via the media that its troops could be transferred elsewhere, such as Jordan, it was also pushing the U.S. to solve the problem. German authorities asked their American counterparts to pass their demands on to Turkey.

The visit by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to Ankara on June 5, despite all their bluffs, showed the critical importance of İncirlik for Germany. As is known, İncirlik is not a NATO base; it is Turkey's property, and ever since it was built, the U.S. military presence there is due to NATO defense operations as a requirement of bilateral agreements. No significant result was reached during Gabriel's visit, however, Berlin suddenly decided to withdraw its forces on the same day. The decision did not seem to be a problem for Ankara, however, after all insistence and patience, the Germans' sudden move to give up was interesting.

Ankara announced on June 5 that it had suspended the ratification process for the Paris climate accord following Trump's withdrawal decision and said it will monitor further developments before proceeding. Could Ankara's move have something to do with Berlin's sudden İncirlik decision? Are Germans getting out of İncirlik not just because of an attitude toward Ankara; can the decision be related to their problems with the U.S.? The decision to withdraw from the Paris climate deal by the U.S., which is the biggest funder of the accord, has endangered the future of the agreement, but it holds a much more important place than the agreement itself in terms of the future of the Western alliance that takes steps together in every area from defense to the environment, from culture to economy. Berlin's İncirlik decision seems like one of the bridges between NATO allies has collapsed.

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