NATO’s Stoltenberg warns of risks to alliance’s unity over Turkey

Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO Parliametary Assembly Plenary session. 14 October 2019, London. [NATO]

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday (14 October) the military alliance should not lose its unity in the fight against Daesh (IS), in light of Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish militants in northeastern Syria.

“We must not put in jeopardy the gains we have made against our common enemy,” Stoltenberg told a session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in London, in answer to questions from French and Italian delegates who had challenged what they described as his ‘conciliatory approach’ to Turkey.

“Turkey is important for NATO … We risk undermining the unity we need in the fight against Daesh (Islamic State).”

Stoltenberg’s visit to Rome, Athens and Istanbul last week had been overshadowed by the situation in northeast Syria, which developed into a cross-border ground operation that could transform the eight-year-old war.

“I count on Turkey to show restraint and to ensure that their actions in northern Syria are measured and proportionate and avoid even more human suffering,” Stoltenberg told journalists after his meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis last week.

Cracks in the military alliance have emerged after NATO member Turkey began its offensive in Syria last week, with EU governments threatening sanctions against Ankara.

During Stoltenberg’s visit to Istanbul, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglou reiterated that Ankara expects the alliance to show strong solidarity against what it said were threats to Turkish security.

At the same time, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused NATO of not providing enough support to Turkey. “Is this because Turkey is the only country in NATO whose inhabitants are Muslims?” he was quoted as saying.

Article 5 scenario?

Alliance members are increasingly concerned that the situation could develop into an Article 5 scenario if the Syrian army or allied actors respond militarily to the Turkish offensive.

Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty states that an attack on a NATO country is to be treated as an attack on all NATO countries, which could potentially trigger a common response.

Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn warned in an interview with German broadcaster BR that more countries could be drawn into the war.

“For me, it is very alien what happens there. Imagine Syria or allies of Syria strike back and attack Turkey,” Asselborn told BR.

“In German, this means that if all of NATO countries were attacked, then they would have to step in to help Turkey, which is why I say alien.”

The divide between European NATO members and Turkey might widen further as EU foreign ministers are discussing a possible common position on Turkey on Monday, with conclusions being expected later in the day.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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